Things Fall Apart
By: Chinua Achebe In Pratt’s speech, she defines a contact zone as the following: In Pratt's speech, she defines a contact zone as the following: "...social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism and slavery, or their aftermaths..." (319). What Pratt is picturing here is a place where ideas are presented to different groups of people in a space where they can debate and clash on cultural ideas with each other as to how these ideas pertain to their own cultures. She goes on to add that they are often populated by a dominant, and at least one subordinate culture. This is an important idea as it pertains greatly to the rest of her speech and to many other texts as a whole (including mine) as it puts to words the idea of a non-physical sort of battle ground. One would think this would cause a fair amount of tension in a defined area, and they would be correct, but these conflicts are generally non-physical and constructive in different ways. Now, I chose my book because it not only shows prime examples of this culture clash, but also the world of a subordinate culture before the introduction of a dominant culture. Showing in depth then the scale of the changes brought about by the introduction of the second culture. This book is also relevant to the points made by Pratt, because even though it is fiction, Achebe is writing about his own people and their culture before the introduction of the white missionaries to come later in the story. Of course some might object that Achebe’s heritage may influence his writing in the way of favoritism. Although I concede the validity of this point, I still maintain that Achebe’s writing is a very valid Autoethnography through Pratt’s lens. The story is based around a man named Okonkwo, a tribesman of the Igbo people living in (what is essentially) a region of Nigeria. The Igbo are a society whose religion is multi-theistic, in that the gods are representative of everything around them (the sun, the water, the trees, etc.) Their way of life is that of a predominantly farming populace, with each family inhabiting a compound with their own farm. They also have a number of very interesting (and often somewhat disturbing) rituals concerning justice and family, and the fact that they often tend to cast out much of their populous for various reasons, turning their backs on these outcasts making them easy targets for conversion to the coming dominant culture, so the culture itself played a large part in its own marginalization. These are all just examples of the lives and culture of the Igbo before becoming the subordinate culture.
Okonkwo is a very rigid man, in that he will not, and doesn’t, accept any other way of living other than this one that he knows. So in the setting of Pratt’s contact zone, Okonkwo would either be a large factor as a stern supporter of his own heritage, or a possible non-factor because of his lack of openness to other ideas, being profiled then as a kind of far wing fanatic. He would most likely just berate everything he heard of other ways of life as needlessly complex. And stemming from this point, it is important to pay attention to the relative simplicity of Igbo life, as this becomes in a way a major point of conflict between the cultures later on in the novel.
All of the previous are examples of Achebe attempting to set up for the reader a picture of the Igbo societal complex, perhaps to later show the drastic change that occurs when the dominant culture arrives. It sets of the view of what Pratt calls an imagined community. An imagined community is defined by Pratt as: “…Human communities exist as imagined entities in which people will never know most of their fellow members, meet, or even hear of them, yet in the mind of each lives the image of their communion”(325). What this