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Ikenga Shrines and Iron Horses

A Reader's Guide to Chinua Achebe's THINGS FALL APART

Cathy Kroll, Author
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Achebe's Commitment to Telling an Igbo Story to the World

Chinua Achebe tells the story of how he came to write Things Fall Apart (1958) in "The Empire Fights Back," an essay in Home and Exile (2000). Achebe recounts how, when he read Mister Johnson (1939) by the British author Joyce Cary, he was taken aback at the way Nigerians were caricatured in his novel: Mister Johnson was "an embarrassing nitwit" and Cary's depiction of Nigeria emphasized "a contagion of distaste, hatred and mockery" (qtd. in Thompson). Ironically, Achebe notes, Cary had never even visited Nigeria: "Cary was a European . . . the product of a tradition of presenting Africa that he had absorbed at school and Sunday school, in magazines and in British society in general, at the end of the nineteenth century" (39). Because of Cary's mockery of Nigerians in that novel, Achebe had a sudden realization that his "home was under attack" (38). While working as a radio producer for the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, Achebe conceived the idea of a novel that would dramatize the changes wrought by the coming of European missionaries and administrators to West African soil (Thompson).

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