Postcolonial Literature (Persepolis & Things Fall Apart)
There are many different critical approaches to studying literature. With reference of both texts you have studied, show what you believe the value to be in using a particular critical approach. ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe and ‘Persepolis’ by Marjane Satrapi follow a postcolonial critical approach. Both books take place in a country considered politically inferior through western perspective and both texts, even though reinforce colonialists’ oppressive ideology, don’t stand completely against the colonialists and fault their own culture. They present the themes of dislocation on how western nfluences changes, religious, social and economical aspects in the Igbo and the Iranian society. ‘Things fall Apart’ presents an African response to British imperialism in contrary to Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’, which presents African as “savage”. As said by himself, “until the lions produce their own historians, the story of the hunt will glorify only the hunter”, so his intentions are to defend the African, more specifically Igbo, culture that suffer from western inferior stereotypes. The novel was written in English, directing it to western readers, but he includes many Igbo words to emonstrate its rich culture. Furthermore, the novel narrates many proverbs in from of oral tradition to once again show the reader the complexity and morals of the Igbo culture. Achebe expresses this through Oberika’s speech “Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten”, in which he metaphorically represent the importance of words as to that of food in Igbo, given their agricultural nature. Achebe represents Igbo’s rich culture through the different stylistic techniques to counter the Eurocentric preconceptions of
African culture. ‘Persepolis’ is a graphic memoir that shows the author’s experiences growing up during the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. The novel is a critique of Western racism, and implicates that Western involvement and interference in Iran has significant consequences on their culture, politics and economy. The medium of the book combines texts and images, which allows Satrapi to counter the largely visual stereotypes of Iranians by western countries. A graphic novel could be considered to be a childish medium to deliver such complex political message, however by this she istracts the reader into really relating to the characters in the book and consequently providing an insight of the Iranian culture through the eyes of a liberal Iranian family. Therefore, through the media of her book Satrapi is able to make readers effectively understand how the political unrest in Iran affects people’s life. An example is the representation of the veil in the paused panel in pg. 3 which sets an ironic tone as there are two girls that are wearing the veil, one pretending to strangulate her friend and saying “execution in the name of freedom” and the other one riding on the back f a girl without the veil. In this way she condemns the oppressive tradition of the Iranian culture. Furthemore Satrapi also tries to combat western stereotypes of Iranian women through the depiction of several women’s different facial features as they wear the veil in panel in page. To be able to explore the postcolonial characteristics of Igbo culture, Chinua Achebe creates the protagonist Okonkwo, a man of cultural pride, of both physical and social power which stubbornly defends his clan until the end. And as a conrast Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son, serves as the African who moves away from tradition
Through the protagonist’s voice the author seems to share his own thoughts on colonialism, such as when Okonkwo says “We were amused at his he [the white man’s] foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart. ” This statement not only blames the colonizers but also the Igbo men who have permitting the white men to impose their traditions and religion. This statement is one of the most significant to understand the postcolonial view of he novel, by referencing its title with the imagery of a knife breaking things apart expresses not only the cruel overpowering intentions of the colonialists but also the vulnerability of the Igbo culture. And lastly, as the book ends with Okonkwo’s suicidal tragic death it represents the futility and inefficiency in over fighting colonizing forces and the downfall of the protagonist is the final indication of the Igbo culture falling apart. Similarly, in Persepolis the protagonist Marji, also experiences the frustration of western overpowering influence on her culture. There are innumerous moments in
Marjane’s childhood in which she suffers from prejudgments due to the Iranian stereotypes. For example, when she is travelling outside the country for the first time she realizes that “as soon as they learn our nationality, they go through everything, as though we were all terrorists. They treat us as though we have the plague. ” This simile comparing being Iranian with having a disease victimizes the Iranian people, as it equates racism to an irrational and condemning repugnance. By sharing a young Iranian naive girl’s experience, westernized readers are presented with another erception and hopefully are able to overcome their own preconceptions. However Satrapi also condemns her conservative government by revealing the hypocrisy of the teachers as they ask the children to “tear out all the photos of the Shah from your books. ” Once again, the book shows children that are forced to grow in this censored government which explains why Marji grows up to desire western political and social beliefs represented by the different western material she values (posters, jean jackets, songs and Cadillacs) and the desire of equal rights of women and liberal education.
Therefore Marjane Satrapi, just like Chinua Achebe, combats stereotypes and condemns the westernized superiority at the same level she reveals the flaws of her own cultural system and impartially levels out the blame. Things Fall Apart exposes its readers to a different point of view on the cultural class between the British colonizers and the Igbo people. The novel applies a postcolonial critical approach by showing firstly the African expectations of the colonizers arrival and then their first thoughts and impressions. Achebe describes locusts that descend upon the village, as “They settled on every tree and on every lade of grass; they settled on the roofs and covered the bare ground. Mighty tree branches broke away under them, and the whole country became the brown-earth color of the vast, hungry swarm. ” This allegorical depiction symbolizes and foreshadows the arrival of the “white men” which will harm the landscape and social traditions of Igbo people. The anaphora “they settled” emphasizes the imagery of the locusts/white men invading the land, the branches breaking symbolize the destruction of the cultural and religious bonds “falling apart” and the imagery of the “brown-earth olor” transformation depicts the irreparable impact of the colonizers on the land. Chinua Achebe is able to symbolize the colonizers through the description of the locusts by assimilating their irreversible impact on the land and on the Igbo’s culture. In Persepolis, when Marjane moves to Austria she experiences the struggles of double cultural identities, which is a major theme of postcolonial literature. The protagonist moves to Europe alone when just a teenager, and she is forced to reconstruct social life by making new friends and adapting to their culture. As she dapts to the European lifestyle she has a realization: “I was distancing myself from my culture, betraying my parent and my origins. I was playing a game by somebody else’s rules”. This quotation shows an interesting view of cultural identity, similar to that presented in Things Fall Apart, in which one is forever bound to the country they are born, and that to distance yourself from your native culture is treason. It also reminds reader of the protagonist’s age as the metaphor of playing a game emphasizes a childish activity, but it also shows how Marji’s circumstances have required a level f maturity to be able to have such perception on topics such as culture. Nonetheless, the character uses the term “rules”, which indicates the sense of oppression on both the European and the Iranian side. This speech exemplifies the many struggles that the book presents of Iranian people undergo due to cultural clashes for their contrasting ideologies. Ultimately, both books are similar examples of postcolonial literature in showing the impact of the western empowerment on smaller countries with antithetical cultures. As Things Fall Apart relates to older ages, in which British olonizers invaded the African territory, devastating their culture and land just like described through the metaphor of the locusts. And Persepolis, more modern, depicts the social, political cultural and economical consequences of western interest on Iran, and the misguided western stereotypes of Iranian people. And to appear impartial, both authors present criticisms and weaknesses of their own culture, which leaded the country into the situation. Lastly, they both smartly show the individual experience of the protagonist with the clash of cultures as a microcosm to represent the macroscopic impact of it.