“Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. It was deeper and more intimate that the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo’s fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself.” (Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe)
I have a list of books I’m working through. They’re books one would expect a reader to have read by this point in their lives. The Big Ones; books referenced casually by other books, always with the expectation that you’ve waded through them yourself at one point. I’ve put off reading many of them because I always think I can guess what they contain. Oh, Things Fall Apart, that’ll be about the plight of indigenous peoples, I thought, it’ll pull my heartstrings and make me feel terribly.
Yet, unexpectedly, Achebe doesn’t put the reader in a place where it’s easy to empathize with the Igbo people he describes. If sympathy were his goal, he could have made his main character more likable, fleshed out some of the tertiary characters, or glossed over their infanticide, wife-beating, and casual murders. Instead, you leave the book half on the tribe’s side, half on the missionary’s side. Achebe doesn’t try to sway the reader, he doesn’t use overly emotive writing for the benefit of either, he tells the tale unadulterated and leaves us with our reason intact, perfectly capable of contemplating the rights and the wrongs ourselves.
So, wrong again; and I’ll probably be wrong many more times before the list is through.