Colonialism’s Date at the Funeral
Aravind Adiga and Chinua Achebe’s novels are very different. Their two protagonists, Numma and Okonkwo, are very different; Numma has a certain brash, fluidity and passivity while Okonkwo has pride and strength, unbeaten, called the Cat because “his back never touched the earth” (Achebe 6). Numma is in India; Okonkwo is in (what is now) Nigeria. Despite their differences in personality, location, and adaptability, the two main characters are both struggling with two concepts that go hand-in-hand: time and change. It is futile to fight- and Numma instead embraces the new opportunity- but one man will fight.
“The Autobiography of a Half-Baked Indian” is the title that Numma suggests (Adiga 4). After all, his wanted poster had him down to a tee: ignorant, “blackish” troublemaker and son of a rickshaw puller (Adiga 5). The picture he paints is gritty and honest. That’s how he is viewed, and that is the concept of himself that he accepts. However, in the true self-taught entrepreneurial spirit that he boasts of, he accepts the label and then turns it on its head. After all, he did not want to be a “human beast of burden” like his father in a society that had enough change already (Adiga 12). He overcomes.
The tones of these two novels are different despite their commonalities. The White Tiger is a flow-of-consciousness, honest, sometimes-crude representation of the real world of India at the time. It is cynical and whimsical at the same time; it observes the highs and lows of the life. Adiga stays outside of the problems in order to present a full and lasting image. Things Fall Apart is written in a disjointed, disillusioned, simple manner. Through Okonkwo’s eyes we see his inner struggles and his outer struggles to hide any hint of weakness.
Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart was named to the Times 100 Best Novels of All Time list. In Africa it was received with little fuss or attention. Okonkwo himself cannot be ignored; he fights everything. He wrestles; he fights insecurity through constant efforts to prove himself; he decides to die before he accepts defeat. The feminine aspects of his life, his wife, the goddess Ani, and his sensitive son Nwoye, are angered and pushed away by Okonkwo’s inability to accept his shortcomings and to see what is coming- imperialism and colonialism.
Typically imperialism is depicted as the veni, vidi, vici approach to change. However, in Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo describes his dismay at the collision of what seemed like unrelated events: “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart” (Achebe 98).
As was mentioned earlier, the attempt to elude time and change is futile. Cultures have their own cycles to live and die by. Social evolution moves from field to farm to city, and so it goes. Inevitably one circumstance or another will change events. The “New World” was not going to be held by Spain, England, France, and Portugal forever; the Greeks could not continuously dominate the majority of Western Europe. Time and change are also opportunities for growth.
Numma’s wanted poster sums up the clash of different patterns (as of the clothing that Numma was wearing), the urgency to nurture development, and the tendency to racially and socially profile that were prominent features in both novels. The discomfort, the upheaval, all of it is like watching the in-laws bring dates to your cultural family’s funeral. Some are buried, and some are digging the hole.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Heinemann Educational Books, 1959. Print.
Adiga, Aravind. The white tiger. 1st ed. Free Press, 2008. Print.