Based on how the publishing process functions for African writers, Griswold concludes that this “nudge[s] Nigerian novels away from being anything too local, too Nigerian, or even too African, and towards some presumably universal themes” (19). This is a dilemma faced by most writers in developing nations. In order to have success as a writer, they must appeal to a readership outside of their country because local publishing companies are usually unreliable and are simply unable to reach a significant amount of readers. Therefore African writers are subject to the demands of foreign publishing companies. Therein lies Griswold’s argument; Nigerian novels are not allowed to be “too Nigerian,” which allows us to summarize common themes within African novels into a relatively short list. As we discussed in class, the archetypical Nigerian stories consist of any combination of the following (and probably a few more): tension between the old and new generations, tradition versus modernity, fertility and reproduction, and anxieties regarding gender and marriage. These themes are deemed “universal” enough to be worth publishing for foreign companies, meaning Western readers, like ourselves, can understand and relate on some level to the issues presented. This entry isn’t necessarily a criticism of the ordeal that African writers find themselves in, instead I merely intend to point out how this factor can be noted in almost every Nigerian/African novel.
Within the first part of Things Fall Apart, Achebe develops the traditional lifestyle within the harmonious village of Umuofia. The main theme of this novel, in terms of what I discussed above, is the tension between tradition and modernity, the individual versus the community. However, since we have yet to finish the book, I’ll refrain from fully analyzing this theme. Instead, I’ll focus on the issue of gender with Okonkwo’s children, specifically Nwoye and Ezinma. Nwoye is a quiet, reserved boy who inherited very little of Okonkwo’s loud masculinity. Okonkwo is clearly ashamed of his son throughout the novel. Contrastingly, Ezinma is Okonkwo’s daughter who adopts the mannerisms of an Igbo boy. Okonkwo scolds her to “sit like a women” and prohibits her from doing certain tasks because it “is a boy’s job” (44). Nonetheless, Okonkwo grows especially attached to Ezinma, despite the flouting of her assigned gender role. Okonkwo secretly wishes Ezinma a boy and Nwoye a girl. This tension of gender and gender roles is commonly seen within African literature and is one that many citizens of the world can attest to.
Furthermore, another element of Things Fall Apartthat demonstrates that is was written for foreign readers is the fact that Achebe explains many practices and ideas that normally go without explanation in the local culture. Achebe explains how compounds are organized, the common use of proverbs within conversation, and the significance of yams for the community. These clarifications would only be necessary if this work of literature intended foreign readership, which could explain the novel’s success in the Western world.