Monday, September 24, 2007

Why the tortoise?

In chapter eleven, Ekwefi recounts the story of the tortoise to her daughter Ezinma. What is the purpose of this story? In other words, why did Achebe include it in this chapter? What value--either symbolic or metaphorical--might it possess? Write a short response--think informal SPA paragraph--to illustrate your thoughts.

This response is due Thursday, at the start of class.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Okonkwo is . . .

As we read and analyze Achebe's vibrant work, we need to look closely at the main character, Okonkwo, and start to understand him and talk about him as a complex and sometimes contradictory individual. For this posting, I'd like you to write a short paragraph (6-8 sentences) describing Okonkwo's emotional and physical strengths and weaknesses. Use evidence from the text to support your response! Due Thursday, September 20, at the start of class.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Achebe's thoughts on storytelling

" . . . only the story . . . can continue beyond the war and the warrior. It is the story that outlives the sound of war-drums and the exploits of brave fighters. It is the story . . . that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it we are blind. Does the blind man own his escort? No, neither do we the story; rather it is the story than owns us and directs us."
--Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah

In your own words, explain how this relationship, this dialog might be negotiated. How does the story "own us?" How does it "save us" or "direct us?" Can literature provide a lens through which we might view and attempt to understand the world around us and (perhaps more importantly) our role in the world? Does a story or the act of storytelling provide us with the tools we might need to shape our identities in this increasingly global and complex world which we inhabit?

Summary of Aristotle's Definition of Tragedy

Definition: "Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; the form of action, not of narrative; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its katharsis of such emotions" (

  • Tragedy shows rather than tells
  • Tragedy dramatizes what may happen (universal themes)
  • Creates a cause-and-effect chain that clearly reveals what may happen at any time or place
  • Tragedy arouses pity and fear in the audience
  • The beginning is called the incentive moment, the start of the cause-and-effect chain of events
  • The middle, or climax, must be caused by earlier incidents and itself cause the incidents that follow it
  • The end, or resolution, must be caused by the preceding events and should solve or resolve the problem created during the incentive moment
Complex Plot/Simple Plot:
  • Simple plot has only "change of fortune" or catastrophe
  • Complex plot has "reversal of intention" or peripeteia and "recognition" or anagnorisis connected with catastrophe
  • Peripeteia occurs when a character produces an effect opposite to that which he intended to produce, while anagnorisis "is a change from ignorance to knowledge, producing love or hate between the persons destined for good or bad fortune."
  • Best plots combine these two as a part of their cause-and-effect chain (i.e. the peripeteia leads directly to the anagnorisis); this in turn creates the catastrophe, leading to the final "scene of suffering."
Tragic Mistake/Tragic Flaw:
  • As the protagonist (a character of renown and prosperity) suffers, the audience experiences feelings of both pity and fear. Pity "is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves."
  • Hamartia: tragic flaw or tragic mistake. The protagonist has mistakenly brought about his own downfall--not because he is sinful or morally weak, but because he does not know enough.
  • The downfall, then, follows logically from the chain of events described above. The "peripeteia" is really one or more self-destructive actions taken in blindness, leading to results diametrically opposed to those that were intended (tragic irony), and the anagnorisis is the gaining of the essential knowledge that was previously lacking.