In the essay “Between Metropole and Colony” two ideas stand out: (1) “European literary forms have at once effaced empire and been shaped by it” and (2) we must “question the validity of generalizing” with our use of the term “post-colonialality” as in many places “cultural de-colonization has yet to be accomplished.” Additionally, if the most powerful conveyor of ideologies is language, is it then possible for the “post-colonial” writer to create something that doesn’t bear the effects of cultural imperialism?
The essay cites political and cultural protests, namely the Mau Mau Uprising and the concept of Négritude. In the early 1900’s the Kikuyu of Kenya, identical to the British in their zeal for domination, attempted to purge all British from their lands. Négritude sought to valorize distinctly African characteristics and aesthetics to undermine the perception that Africa didn’t have a culture as sophisticated as that of Europe. Leopold Senghor, who coined the term, believed that “L’èmotion est nègre, la raison est héllène” or “emotion is black, reason is hellenic.” Notably, the very idea being protested .ie. dominance and the conversion of difference into otherness to secure self-certainty, shapes the protest or is perpetuated by it. The writer’s work is defined by the struggle to authenticate a vision of himself and his country against the marginalizing forces of two diametrically opposed heritages – the colonial and the ethnic, neither of which he can fully claim.
We see echoes of this struggle in Things Fall Apart in the themes of femininity vs masculinity and/or reason vs emotion embodied by the friction between the “gentleness” of Unoka and Nwoye with the brashness of Okonkwo (11). In Achebe’s very proverb heavy and traditional telling, we witness language that stands out as distinctly European for .eg. “Okonkwo wondered what was amiss” (7). In another instance we see the influence of religion: “the founder…engaged a spirit of the wild for seven days and seven nights” (1). Could it be that this is true to legend or that the original legend was somehow bastardized with evangelical doctrine or that Achebe himself can only describe such a tradition with the language he was educated in?