Things Fall Apart, Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now

by Yvy Truong

I know it doesn’t matter whether or not I write any more blogs posts since yesterday was the last lecture and Arts One is for the most part, over. However, I’ll take it upon myself that I admit writing these blogs have been a (bit – not entirely) a chore. However, I find a certain amount of freedom now that I don’t feel it is mandatory to write them. I wish to. And if I don’t stress the freedom I have on this blog, I might explode into a million little pieces.

I want to talk both about the book and the essay prompts that were given to us for the last in-class essay.

The end of Things Fall Apart, strongly addresses history and the production of history. In the beginning of the novel, we follow Okonkwo and his wives, the Igbo people… Essentially Achebe is giving agency to the Igbo people in a way that is not under the microscope of the lens of the “other” – the “other” being British/Western Imperialists. By the end of the novel we reach the death of Okonkwo. A death that has no significance, and yet all the more importance. When Okonkwo dies that becomes the full end of the Igbo people as we first knew them to be. The Igbo people no longer matter. Customs, tradition, etc., become nothing more but an opening to “primitive culture”. The District Commissioner reduces Okonkwo (actually, by this point Okonkwo doesn’t even have a name) into a few pages. Perhaps barely a paragraph. Agency and history (history being a way that we may understand our existence, identity, and our selves) is taken a way, and rewritten. I feel like I understand the question as to whether or not Joseph Conrad is a racist but I also feel like I have to challenge my perspective of what racism is. Racism isn’t just blatant eradication of a culture. It may not be obvious. Racism in the case of Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart, is the act of erasing people. It is the act of writing people how you wish them to be and allowing no other way of being or constituting their own self. This has all to do with history and the production of history. It has all to do about how we understand the world and the past in present context. It very much has to do with Trouillot and Hacking. 

In the lecture of Coppola’s film Apocalypse Now, I admittedly was taken aback when I saw the quote about him saying that it was not a film. It was not a film about the Vietnam War. It was Vietnam. Vietnam’s identity becomes warfare, rape, and how the Americans saw it. Sure, I like Coppola’s films, but does he allow agency or room for the Vietnamese? No, I don’t believe he does. Are Vietnamese people seen as the other? Indeed.

And this leads to another question: Could we write history (and I mean this is present tense because the construction of history is in the present) that ignores the “Other”? Must the “Other” exist? I can only think that it is in some ways necessary, and yet I can only think about de Beauvoir and Fanon. I can only think about whether or not essence precedes existence or if it is the other way around. If existence precedes essence.

As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to also talk about the essay prompts that were given for the last in-class essay. I prepared for it, but I was unfortunately not able to write about it. It was the question about (and I unfortunately can’t remember the whole prompt) Okonkwo and how he understands masculinity/femininity and if he succeeds in being a man. It was interesting because it not only addresses gender roles, masculinity/femininity, but also what it means to be human.

As must as we have been studying the idea of the “Other”, I find that it doesn’t provide a full picture. There is the idea of the “Expectation” (or, the “Ideal”) as well, I think. It’s like the idea of the Golden Age in which we should aspire towards, but pertains to the individual. It is who we should be, what is expected of us to be… (Side Note: There is a tension between the agency which history provides and the idea that we can understand history only within the context of the present). Okonkwo aspires to be what is expected of him, or the ideal of what it means to be a man. However, he fails because what he aspires to be (the “Expectation”, the “Ideal”) does not acknowledge short comings, consequences, failure, etc., The “Ideal” is the standalone. Anything that opposes it becomes its opposite – something that cannot be constituted as what is “Ideal”. This also is reflected in Okonkwo’s wife, Ekweifi when she fails to provide offspring. In order to be a woman, she must fulfil the “Idea” – to be a woman is to bear children.

So what does it mean to be human? Does it solely mean achieving what is expected of us? This reminds me of Judith Butler in Antigone’s Claim. 

Well, that’s all the rambling I have for now.