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Humanities Honors Program

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When Things Fall Apart: Understanding (in) the Postcolonial Situation

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Chinua Achebe (1930-2013) published his major novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), in postcolonial Nigeria. In it he presents a colonial narrative using English as its primary mode of communication. However, his use of native Igbo words and the world they invoke problematizes a eurocentric assumption of the totality and universality of a given language, in this case, English. He employs acts of translation and introduces hybrid languages in order to engender dialogue that subverts the dominance of any one language and the world that it creates for its speakers. In a parallel fashion, this thesis uses two different theoretical approaches that have not typically been placed in dialogue with each other — postcolonial theory and hermeneutics — to view and interpret the nuances present in Achebe’s text that neither could illuminate on its own. This dialogical approach reveals insufficiencies in the independent theories and allows them to mutually supplement each other. Together these theories show how the novel subverts the presumed authority of the English language and universalizing discourses in order to identify the confrontation of lived linguistic worlds and horizons in the postcolonial context. The novel reorients those structures of understanding and interpretation around a subject that has historically been denied a voice.

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