Networking Novels and Form

Networking Novels and Form

Networking novels such as Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange and Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome disrupt the norm of realistic novel boundaries through a networking system.  These networking novels introduce readers to a world that has the potential to be full of chaos because of society’s interconnectivity.  The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms discusses realistic novels as:

“A type of novel that depicts characters, settings, and events in accordance with reality or, at least, in accordance with reality as most readers perceive it.  Realistic novelists seek to write fictional narratives that present a plausible world.  To achieve this goal, they typically include a variety of concrete details meant to ground their story lines in human experience… They typically present well-developed, rounded characters whose experiences and interactions with other characters could occur in real life and situate these characters in a specific cultural group, locale, and historical era.”  (Murfin 399)

A realistic novel’s form may have a beginning, rise of plot, climax and resolution framing one main protagonist in first person narrative.  This first point of view is also known as the Cartesian Self.  Instead of sticking to tradition and the Cartesian Self in western thought, post-modern networking novels eliminate individualism in deterritorializing the self by melting many personas together.  This creates a more fluid narrative between many points of views thus creating a larger picture.  By exploring fluid scenes from Tropic of Orange and The Calcutta Chromosome, the networking novel will be appreciated as a post-modern text that reflects the whole of collective personas.

Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange introduces a novel from varying points of view.  At first, this appears very cryptic and hard to follow, but as each character is broken down they can be appreciated as products of a networking society.  Characters such as Bobby introduce the idea of mixing cultures together such as:  Chinese-American, Thai-American, Japanese American, Afro.-American, etc. Because he’s Chinese from Singapore with a Vietnam name who speaks Spanish, he has more capacity of freedom without sacrificing the idea of sticking to one culture.

Yamashita also presents L.A. as a disjointed, yet unified location.  Throughout the city there are many varying social groups that make up a larger metropolis.  It’s also a city buzzing so fast that nobody notices their surroundings until traffic flow is stopped and everyone’s forced to view their surroundings.  Here, each persona is no longer disjointed in their own personal agenda and is forced to embrace the layers of culture surrounding them.  Each social group becomes blended as citizens are allowed to walk across the freeway and mingle with each other tearing down the personal borders and proximity and creating a more unified atmosphere.

The idea of deterritorialization is further explored when the character Arcangle relocates the Tropic of Cancer and merges the Mexican border into L.A.  This creates a complexity of layers as each generation and culture is stacked on top of one another.  This globalized event creates chaos compared to the realist novel because there is a loss of authentic identity.  The “I” is now replaced by an influence of many cultures interacting in a non-plausible world.

Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome takes another fluid approach between different character viewpoints.  Characters such as Antar are able to access information mainframes through the female A.I. named Ava. Ava gathers information on relatively anything creating layer on top of layer of knowledge.  Through Ava’s vast knowledge, Antar is able to learn that the identity of the mysterious ID-Card is Murugan – a character who is literally networked into everyone’s life.  In meeting with Murugan, Antar learns of a more omnipresent cult that has possible control over elite scientists such as early research on malaria.

Murugan draws connections between malaria research and various characters that he believed influenced it.  He recognizes that the cult has stegonographic characteristics leaving various clues in different locales to be pieced together.  He is in and out of the novel interacting with characters to unravel the mystery behind whom and why malaria research was influenced and not discovered.  Another fluid character, such as Farley, travels to eastern labs for research, but instead stumbles across ritualistic medicine practices such as Mangala beheading a pigeon.  This reveals the melting of two practices, empirical and ritualistic, as Farley takes the sacrificed pigeon’s blood for further study.   This acts as the deterritorialization of two sciences melting together.

Another act of deterritorialization is the chromosomes acting as vessels to reincarnate and deterritorialize the body.  There is no more authentic Cartesian Self because a soul could be layered on top of an already existing layer removing the authentic self.  This is a direct reflection back to Ava because she is an immortal, ever evolving, A.I. mainframe who crosses boundaries at will to gather infinite amounts of information.  She is constantly building herself upon a complexity of networking layers.

The networking narrative of the post-modern novel clashes with the realist theme because it builds layers upon layers to cipher through.  This is what it means to “sift through the dirt” (Ghosh 7) because there is no such thing as one point of view.  The networking point of view is fluid and viewed through a collective amount of viewpoints to see a larger whole.  One story is just a piece of the larger puzzle that has been influenced by the rest.  The networking novel may disrupt the realist novel, but it does so in style.  It encourages readers to strip away any egocentricity and travel the fluid network witnessing the evolution of our post-modern society into the future.

Works Cited

Ghosh, Amitav. The Calcutta Chromosome:  A Novel of Fevers, Delirium and Discovery. First Perennial Edition, New York, 2001. Pg 7

Murfin, Ross.  Ray, Supryia M.  The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms.  Second Edition, Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2003.  Pg 299

Yamashita, Karen Tei.  Tropic of Orange.  Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 1997.

Masculinities

Quiet Desperations of Becoming Self Made
Inspired from Michael S. Kimmel’s essay, “Born to Run”

By Kyle Lyman

The drive for success has been the cornerstone of ever evolving ideology throughout the history of mankind.  Michael S. Kimmel’s essay, “Born to Run”, retraces the journey of America’s masculine drive to capture the self-made man.  Historical cultures have all been governed by masculine models ranging from Ancient Greece-Macedonian expansion, Roman Hellenism and British Imperialism.  It has always appeared that humanity, individually and culturally, pushes into the unknown wilderness to expand their ideology and test their limits.  The birth of America was man’s attempt to create his own path from British rule – to break away and start over in a new way.  Kimmel’s article begins within 18th century America moving into a maturing United States.  The masculine test of worth in the working atmosphere is contrasted against domestic life.  This essay will trace the journey in becoming self-made and the cyclical thirst for liberation from home.

From the East to West, self-made Americans desired to create a nation in their own image.  It was a test of worth in the working force.  This ambition was a highly held virtue amongst men living in the east.  A man’s life was his job.  Anything else such as: home, wives, children and anything domestic was a distraction softening the edge towards success in competing industries.  This domestic phobia encouraged working men to run away from home life toward other industrious men.  Thus became the doctrine of self-control, or ways to repress human instinct, to become more productive amongst business rivals.

The doctrine of self-control was rooted by religious leaders who sought to control order in a disordered world.  Using business rivalry, they convinced society that any domestic sexual encounter, being self-stimulation or sexual union, would lead to a loss of job.  This control spiraled into diets such as: avoiding meats because of temptation for flesh, inhibition of alcohol to keep a sense of failure at bay and child strait jackets to control sexual urges.  Work was religion’s excuse to place a strangle hold on society keeping sin “in check”, encouraging men to work harder and to avoid domestication from female counterparts.

This separation of spheres kept wives at home while sons were encouraged to “grow up” faster to keep masculinity at the forefront.  The workplace became harder while the home softer.  The home was, indeed, a safe haven from work.  However, religious “How To” publishing encouraged women to refrain from anything more than being a housekeeper.  Stepping outdoors was highly discouraged.  Reverend John Todd, a Calvinist Minister, went on to convince women that “the great danger of our day is forcing the intellect of woman beyond what her physical organization will possibly bear” (Kimmel 39).  The term “father” or “husband” became nothing more than terms as men pushed farther away from their domestic relationships.  The road westward was being paved.

The ideology of the mid 1800s kept society working.  Even the slightest notion of settling down would be enough to atrophy man’s work ethic.  But there was opposition to this doctrine.  Transcendentalist writers such as Henry David Thoreau opposed the rigid Calvinists. Rather, these writers believed that “people can discover moral truths in nature with the guidance of their own conscience rather than dogmatic religious doctrine” (Murfin 488).  Thoreau believed that men, indeed, needed to work their muscles and not whither way in homes full of materialized possession.  Walt Whitman went on to chastise domesticated men as being too soft, but the “desperate haste to succeed in such desperate enterprises” led to vicarious men living through their jobs, desperate to prove their worth (Kimmel 42).  With too many men and only little success in the east, men decided to break away during The Westward Rush.

Westward alluded to adventurism and a chance to recreate oneself.  The 1849 California Gold Rush brought around 200,000 men, but hardly any women.  Not everyone felt inspired to leave, though, such as Thoreau who went on to publish Walden later in 1854.  Instead of leaving, men could find liberation in one’s own backyard.  Thoreau’s transcendentalist approach encouraged men to simplify their lives which were now “frittered away by detail” and to separate themselves from working pressures.  The challenge:  Go into nature to rediscover the beauty of simplicity.

The desire to live freely continued on through fictional literature where writers such as Rip Van Winkle inspired men to take flight because they were fugitive outlaws “born to run”.  This mode of freedom spilled into contemporary literature and movies such as Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club were “life just seems too complete, and maybe we have to break everything to make something better out of ourselves” (Palahniuk Ch. 6) because “the things you own end up owning you…  It’s only when we lose everything that we’re free to do anything” (Flight Club motion picture).  Avoiding domestication by ethnomethodology, or the method of discovering reality by introducing entropy and throwing it into chaos, is one such quality of an outlaw.

But what is the self-made man?  The self-made man has been an ever evolving autonomous being that can be traced form the beginning of time.  This being could either find success in an area of expertise, live as a vigilante and or become the Tyler Durden Freudian “Id” who distorts life while creating mischief and mayhem – also known at the outlaw.  It is the desire to follow one’s own system of beliefs in achieving a certain respect amongst fellow peers.  The problem is that society has placed a heavy burden upon the masses to prove this worth.  Not everyone fulfills their quiet desperations.  The self-made man can, and will, place themselves into a situation where he achieves – at any cost.

The self-made man is rooted from the inner desire to liberate the human soul.  The Westward Rush had 200,000 men seeking to remove the enterprise chains of competitive business.  Men wanted to bond with each other in the wild because there were no rules to live by except their own.  In the east, men would have to step into the shoes of another executive to achieve success.  The west offered an equal opportunity to pave one’s own way – a Darwinist approach in survival of the fittest.

The difference between the 19th and 21st centuries is in the self-made woman liberating herself from the religious oppression previously discussed.  This hegemony is the woman choosing not to settle and stripping herself of material possessions.  Author Own Wister reflected this in his western novel The Virginian in creating an outlaw woman named Molly.  It is revealed that women could display the same conviction as well.  Perhaps nature would have it that woman no longer caused domestication, but the balance of equal companionship born to run as well.  As society continues forward, religious order is still condemning, but not absolute.  It can be shaken.  Now humanity can pave its own way, without its quiet desperations, finding success in an infinite amount of expression as savage masculinity is balanced out by the feminist counterpart within the wild.

Works Cited

Fight Club.  Dir. David Fincher.  Perf. Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Jared Leto.  DVD. Twentieth
Century Fox, 2002.

Murfin, Ross.  Ray, Supryia M. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms.  2nd ed.                   Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2003. 488.

Kimmel, Michael S. “Born to Run” Manhood in America:  A Cultural History.  2nd ed.  New
York:  Oxford UP, 2006.  30-53.

Palahniuk, Chuck.  Fight Club.  New York:  Henry Holt and Co., 1996.

Thoreau, Henry D.  Walden.  Stilwell:  Digireads.com, 2005.

Wister, Owen.  The Virginian.  Mineola:  Dover Publishing Inc., 2006.

Literary Lens

Modern Literature

Popular Modernism has a place between 1900 to the 1920s.  It introduced disjointed timelines and tried to make sense of a broken world during the WWI era.  Modernist writers moved beyond the limitations of Realism into stream of conciousness.  Many works reflect spiritual loneliness, alienation, frustration and disillusionment.  These writers consist of Thomas Hardy, Rupert Brooke, Siegried Sassoon, W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf.

Post Colonial Texts

Post Colonial Texts consist of the literature from de-colonization.  Typically, narratives consist of the struggle to adapt from their native culture into the new, dominant culture.  These writers consist of Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Post-Modern Literature

Experimentation is the best way to describe Post Modernism.  This form of Post WWII literature encouraged authors to write in fragmentation and multi-layered narratives.  Famous Post Modern writers are Thomas Pynchon, William Gibson and Karen Yamashita.

Masculinities

American Masculinities cover the U.S. East to West movement, male bonding and various male outlaw activities. Popular novels are On The Road by Jack Kerouac,  Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk and The Viginian by Owen Wister.

What Makes Modern Literature Modern?

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms describes the Modern Period (English and American) as the time between “1914 with the outbreak of World War I and ending in 1945 with the conclusion of World War II”.  The word “modern” in Modern Literature is often confused with words such as “contemporary” or “recent”.  Modern Literature writers are dubbed “Modernists”.  From a literary lens, it refers to the period of “works characterized by a transnational focus, stylistic unconventionality, or interest in repressed sub- or unconscious material; it includes works written in just about every established genre by writers such as W.H. Auden, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Robert Frost, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Doris Lessing, Marianne Moore, Eugene O’Neill, Ezra Pound, Dorothy Richardson, George Bernard Shaw, Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Virginia Woolf, and W.B. Yeats” (Bedford). 

Certain characteristics of English Modern Literature experiment with stream of conscious.  These writers attempt to make “coherence in a fragmented, apparently senseless world” (Bedford).  Many writers expressed the absurdity of war while others turned to myth or symbols as Yeats “in order to express the psychological disease of modern life or to wrest meaning from an otherwise meaningless cosmos” (Bedford).  Yeats used “gyres” to allude to the cycles of life as a particular symbol.

American Modern Literature was influenced greatly by WWI and British writers of the time.  The Bedford Glossary refers to these writers (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, e.e. Cummings, Sherwood Anderson, and William Slater Brown) as the Lost Generation who viewed “traditional American values of their youth as a sham, given the senselessness of the war and its devaluation of human life” (Bedford).    

Many of these writers wanted to break away from traditional styles of writing.  They wanted to see what other forms or conventions could work.  I have personally found some of these pieces difficult to read.  They take time and understanding.  It’s best to understand the background of these authors.  What inspired them to write?  What were they going through?  What was happening in the communities or world they knew? Once we understand these questions, and apply them to the reading, true appreciation is gained.

For my studies and interests, the Modern Period is the foundation of that which I reach for.

Post Colonial

 

A Brief Recap of the Biafran War (Nigerian Civil War)

From the years 1967 to 1970, the Biafra War was a terrible result of social unrest within Nigeria.  Despite its liberation from Britain in 1960, Nigeria was a country split into three (amongst many) large ethnic groups:  northern Hausa-Fulani, southwest Yoruba and southeast Igbo.  While Christian missionaries were banned from northern, mostly Islamic Nigeria, the British still ruled indirectly through appointed officials.

Southwest and southeast Nigeria embraced education.  The Yoruba consisted of monarchs and appointed officials, but were less conservative allowing upward mobility for their people.  Many of the Yoruban population became civil servants, doctors, lawyers and other professionals.  The southeast Igbo people were very democratic with officials based on heredity and or election.  The Igbo took education and ran with it sending family members to British universities and allowed free discussion of politics.  When Nigeria gained its independence from Britain in 1960, the north was severely underdeveloped compared to its southern counterpart.  To top this off, an abundance of natural resources such as oil were located in the south thus helping the economy in a globalizing world.

In 1966, a military coup led mostly by revolutionary Nigerian-Igbos overtook the government.  This act was seen as only benefitting the Igbo, so the north launched a counter-coup.  Soon after, large scale massacres of Christian-Igbo living in northern Kano only enhanced tension. 

Michael Peel’s book Swamp Full of Dollars discusses the tipping point when “negotiations failed after General Ojukwu, then the eastern region’s military governor, claimed that General Gowan (from the north) had gone back on agreements made.  In May 1967, General Ojukwu declared the secession of the eastern Biafran Republic, with himself as head of state.  General Gowan imposed an economic blockade on the east, and in July the first shots of the civil war were fired.” 

The war revealed stark regional divisions in post-colonial Nigeria.  With this was Britain’s continued interest in Nigeria’s oil.  Peel notes that “Britain would have a strong influence on the conflict’s outcome.  From start to finish, London’s position was one of unequivocal – and highly controversial – support for the Nigerian federal government.  Arms continued to flow to the then federal capital, Lagos… much to the Lagos authorities’ relief and the Biafran’s dismay.”  Eventually food became a weapon and blockades left the Biafrans malnourished and unable to continue.  Nigeria won and reclaimed the southeast territory.

Estimates of the death total range from half a million to six times that, according to Peel.

Didactic Learning with the Novel

Literature is important because it helps us learn of our past, present and future in a very creative way.  From Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, Wole Soyinka’s Death and the Kings’s Horseman to Chris Abani’s Graceland readers can see the evolving country of Nigeria. 

The Pre-Colonial areas practiced no outside influence.  The soon to be called Nigeria understood its own identities and lived quite peacefully.  The tribes “would not go to war without first trying to find a peaceful settlement” (Achebe 12).  For example, a tribe who lost a member due to violence would demand a man price from the offending tribe as atonement for their loss.  While this was still bloodshed, it was far less than the thousands of innocent casualties of war.  There was much respect and understanding that the balance of a tribe was a priority that kept the medium gods and Chukwu [the one God] happy.  Striving for peace was everyone’s ultimate goal. 

Chris Abani’s Graceland, introduces this with the city of Lagos [Yoruba territory] representing a torn apart culture primarily dominated by Western Colonialism.  The result of poverty and education has combined to form a distinct separation amongst social classes.  Instead of rediscovering the authentic tribe, American music and movies provided an influential culture to the split society.  While parts of Lagos are very attractive, others are very run down and malnourished reducing the citizens into illegal behavior.  Abani’s protagonist, Elvis, became a character trying to survive by impersonating Elvis.  Like the city Lagos, Elvis finds himself constantly changing with the outside influence of the characters King and Redemption – the one who “hooked Elvis up spots at the beach and in Iddoh Park and kept the hoods off of him” (Abani 26).  Because of the poverty, these characters find themselves smuggling what they think is cocaine.  Instead, they discover they’re smuggling “six human heads sitting on a pile of ice” (Abani 237). 

The withdrawal of Great Britain and the introduction of American culture after World War II contributed to the globalization of Nigeria.  As foreign interests play their roles, many controversial topics also surface in referencing the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in relation to debt.  But the topic of a Post Colonial world is not just about Britain and Nigeria.  Forms of colonialism are seen through many societies.  Here are a few events to consider: 

  • The Conference of Berlin saw that Spain, France, Belgium, Britain, Portugal, Italy and Germany gained fair shares of Africa in 1884-1885. 
  • Early U.S. policy had a “Manifest Destiny” to gain North American territory.  This practice relocated and destroyed thousands of Native American lives. 
  • French governed Martinique focused on the cash crop of Sugar Cane.  This led to exploitive labor practices of uneducated blacks in the 1930s Martinique.  See Euzhan Palcy’s film Sugar Cane Alley

The list goes on as many of our histories are actually far darker than we’d like to acknowledge. Some even say that colonialism and globalization did more harm than good, and if anything good is to come out of this practice it is a valuable lesson learned:  That we should not play the blame game.  Yes, there is a mess, and as Morgan Freeman said in the movie Bruce Almighty:  “No matter how filthy something gets, you can always clean it right up.”

I once saw a Granny D. Haddock quote on an office door at Wright State University reminding us that “life is about living, and helping other real people get through the world with a minimum of pain and a maximum of human dignity.  We simply can’t do that with authoritarian politics and its deadly abstractions.  We have a duty to look after each other.  If we lose control of our government, then we lose our ability to dispense justice and human kindness.  Our first priority today, then, is to defeat utterly those forces of greed and corruption that have come between us and our self-governance.”  This reminded me that we are all in this together.  It reminded me that the future possesses something special for us all… Hope. 

  Below is the Biafran Flag.

Works Cited

Abani, Chris. Graceland. New York: Picador, 2004.

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. 50th anniversary Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 1994. 

Peel, Michael.  Swamp Full of Dollars.    Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2010.

 

Things Fall Apart

Colonialism in the Name of Religion:  The Coming of a New Age

By Kyle Lyman

European colonialism introduced the coming of a new age for the continent of Africa.  Many traditions and customs fell to pieces as Nigerian author Chinua Achebe recounts in Things Fall Apart.  British expansion introduced the white man, bible in one hand a gun in the other, and his influence over the Nigerian Igbo tribe.  By comparing and contrasting colonial religion to the Igbo animism the motives to assimilate Igbo culture will be better understood.

During the early 1900s, mainstream society believed that African ideology was both primitive and savage.  Most published literature at this time only reflected European perspectives.  Chinua Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart as an attempt to encourage society to understand both sides of colonialism through a limited, third person perspective.  This lens captured the life of Okonkwo and his reactions to the new age of religion and colonialism.  Through an Igbo perspective Achebe’s audience would perhaps be able to empathize with this now-strangled culture.

Primitiveness in African culture was condemned to be polytheistic, sinful and a lesser religion than Christianity.  Part I gives the audience details of Igbo customs and law, and Part II shows two opposing religions colliding: British Christianity and Igbo animism.  The influence of Christianity was rooted within the Jewish law forming what western society now calls Judeo-Christianity.  This movement alluded to the potential afterlife with one God through His son, Jesus Christ.  Assimilation required a culture to forfeit all false worship of idols and live a life pleasing to Christian worship.  Polytheism was not going to gain entry into Heaven. There was no room to expand upon Christianity and the British never took into account the other side’s worship.  Missionaries sought to impose their own ideology upon the “uncivilized” culture.  They failed to realize that what seems strange to one culture could have been a different interpretation of the very same practice.

Christian missionaries came into Igbo territory [southeast Nigeria] attempting to share the gospel for two reasons:  to save souls and to mold the soon to be Nigerians into a British lifestyle.  One missionary, Mr. Brown, attempted to understand the culture.  Another, Mr. Smith, sought only to cut and divide bringing only the “worthy” into Christianity. Each missionary had it wrong.  They didn’t realize that the fundamental Christian concepts of God were actually similar to Igbo theism.  This is revealed when Mr. Brown debates with a villager named Akunna stating that “We also believe in Him [the One Creator] and call Him Chukwu [Christianity calls him Jehovah].  He made the entire world and the other gods” (Achebe 179).  The problem was that Mr. Brown still believed that the “other gods” [animistic sculptures or human mediums] were idols, not speakers of God.  Without success, Akunna reminds Mr. Brown that if God “finds that he cannot do the work alone, then he appoints” (Achebe 180) others to serve for him. This is quite similar to contemporary ministries in which God is found through charismatic leaders.

Devout tribe members like Akunna refused to convert, but the missionaries were successful in converting Igbo osu, or outcasts, preaching messages such as “blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).  Christianity was a religion for the broken and the ambiguous struggle of light vs. darkness was quite appealing for outcasts such as Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye.  Those who didn’t convert had to deal with the establishment of a British government.  Since there was no such thing as separation of Church and State, the monarchy issued a legal system to be established “in Umuofia to protect the followers of their religion.  It was even said that they had hanged a man who killed a missionary” (Achebe 155) upholding God’s law.  This is where the problem lies.  This wasn’t just an attempt to share God’s word.  Instead it was an opportunity for the British to expand territory in an attempt to become a global power.

A British colonist, Frederick Lugard, argued in defense that “a higher civilization was brought into contact with barbarism, with the inevitable result, as history teaches, that boundaries were enlarged in the effort to protect the weak from the tyranny of the strong, to extend the rule of justice and liberty, to protect traders, and missions, and to check anarchy and bloodshed on our frontiers” (Lugard 40).  He goes on to argue that their sole purpose was to protect humanity, but only if a foreign land were under colonial rule.  As my professor Dr. Alpana Sharma stated: “This is language pertaining to British colonial interests, and not the interest of the natives.”  Igbo culture would be forever changed from this experience.

Non-converts recognized this and went on to call the missionaries “efulefu”, or the “worthless empty man who sold his machete and wore the sheath to battle” (Achebe 143).  Philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel would consider the “name calling” part of the coming of a new age.  The older existing ideology [Thesis] would always find disharmony with the new ideology [Antithesis].  No generation wants to let go of their habitual customs, but typically the newer generation prevails [Synthesis] (Orenstein).  This is taken into account with Okonkwo fighting back in the end without success.  Upon realizing that there wouldn’t be a revolution he resides to hanging himself.  This act is a symbolic reflection of the dying Thesis being replaced by the post-colonial Synthesis of Igbo culture.  While suicide was an abomination to the Igbo tribe, Okonkwo believed that there was no such thing as Igbo culture anymore – it was now a white man’s culture and he would rather die.

The Igbo learned that “the white man was very clever in coming quietly and peacefully with his religion.  The Igbo tribe were amused at the missionary’s foolishness and allowed them to stay, but the clan could no longer act as one.  The white man put a knife on the things that held them together and now the Igbo tribe has fallen apart” (Achebe 176).  Colonialism in the name of religion brought the coming of a new age that would inevitably leave future Nigeria in political unrest.  An example is the Biafran War.  Had this been about peacefully sharing western gospels, then perhaps Okonkwo and the Igbo tribe would still be alive with a choice in what direction to take.  Achebe’s writing reveals that cultures must always be aware of ulterior motives within an offering.  Things may have fallen apart for Igbo culture, but through their texts an authentic culture and be restored – to an extent.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. 50th anniversary Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 1994.

Lugard, Frederick. “The Value of British Rule in the Tropics.” (1920), 35-45.

Matthew. Biblegateway. 25 Apr. 2009 <www.biblegateway.com>.

Orenstein, Dr. David M. “Hegelian and Neo-Hegelian Perspectives.” Philosophy of Social Sciences Class.  Wright State University, Dayton, OH. Jan. 2009.

George Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant: a Summary and Reflection

George Orwell was “disgusted by the inhumanity of colonial rule that he witnessed while stationed in Burma” (2835 Orwell). Using his writing to confess the inner conflict of an imperial police officer, he wrote an autobiographical essay titled Shooting an Elephant. He notes that the Burmese civilians were not allowed to own guns during his stay – a testament of British control over Burmese resources. Feeling “stuck between his hatred of the empire he served and his rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make his job impossible” he knew that “the sooner he chucked up the job and got out of it the better” (2844 Orwell). Orwell repressed his emotions because acting out as the only white man would have been foolish. If he betrayed his country, he risked treason. If he sided with the Burmese, he would never fit into their culture. Every white man’s life long struggle in the East was to not be laughed at, so the safest choice for a man like George was to live without action. However, when a sexually aggressive elephant gets loose Orwell is called to take action.

Orwell responds to the call, taking his rifle, “an old 44 Winchester and much too small to kill an elephant” (2845 Orwell) in hopes of frightening it with the noise. This elephant was not wild, but normally tame and broke loose due to sexual desire. This first action is just an exercise of authority in maintaining order; however, in seeing a dead native victim he requests an elephant rifle and five cartridges. This is when the Burmese become quite excited and an “immense crowd of two thousand” (2846 Orwell) follow him. They believe that the imperial police officer is going to shoot the elephant when, in actuality, he just wanted to defend himself from becoming another devilish corpse.

This is where Orwell’s insecurities get the best of him. He is “pushed to and fro by the will of these yellow faces behind” (2846 Orwell). He knows, along with the Burmese, that his duty is to act as a British official in killing the elephant. He develops a strategy: he would “walk within twenty-five yards to test his behavior” (2847 Orwell). If they elephant came at him, he would shoot. If not, he would reveal that the tame elephant no longer posed a threat. Yet, his insecurities with a gun get the best of him and he discards a strategy that would have allowed him to remain neutral.

He shoots the elephant five times with the elephant gun, but it does not die. He calls for a normal rifle to finish the job, but it does not die. He leaves to avoid the dying, gasping elephant and later learns that it took another half hour for it to die. The Burmese get the meat that they wanted and Orwell learns that he is legally right for shooting the elephant. He is thankful for this because he often wondered “whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking like a fool” (2848 Orwell). This is how the colonizer became colonized.

I believe that George Orwell’s essay reflects what many of us go through today: the struggle to do what is morally right when an entire world sways us to conform. Orwell’s dilemma is no different than one that we might face with a job that goes against the very grain of our moral virtue. We face these challenges all of the time:

• A job offer presents to you over someone who is more qualified, experienced and has been working toward that same position for years. Is it right to take it over them?
• A co-worker is disciplined for an honest mistake, we want to stand up for them but fear that rocking the boat could jeopardize our own life-lines. Do we step away from the fire to keep ourselves from being scathed?
• We want to study literature and write, when everyone else advices us to go into education. Do we limit our passions in order to have a career?

The list goes on. Life gets harder. Some of us are born into situations that are not easy and we’re forced to navigate through the chaos and disorder. In result, we may make bad decisions. In my opinion, the life of an imperial policeman would have been quite difficult. I applaud Orwell for being brave enough to confess his inner dilemmas and questions about the situation he lived out. It reminds us that we all face these conflicts everyday. The great Ralph Waldo Emerson knew this to be true when declaring: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

Works Cited

Orwell, George. “Shooting an Elephant.” The Longman Anthology: British Literature. Third ed. Vol. 2c. N.p.: Pearson Longman, 2006. 2844-848. Print. The Twentieth Century.

*Blogger’s note:  This was a brief reflection that I wrote and edited during college.  It is by no means a 100% exact interpretation of Orwell or any of his writing.  I am not an Orwell scholar nor do I claim to be.  If anyone is looking to build off of this post, then please cite this blog in your paper and write away.  Please feel free to share what you write with me and what you discover about Orwell.