While African literature is not wildly popular in the West, many classic novels from the area are set in the continent. Works such as Heart of Darkness and Out of Africa paint Africans in a negative, inferior way, creating what is known as a single story for millions of readers. A single story is a term discussed by Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie over the course of a TED Talk titled “the danger of a single story.” During which she explained, “‘..
. To create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become,'” (Adichie). Readers of novels that make the word Africans synonymous with “savages” (Conrad) are left with a tainted view of the cultures and people of Africa. All of this is highly present in Chinua Achebe’s work, Things Fall Apart. The final line of the novel, “The Commissioner had already chosen the title of his book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger,” (Achebe 209) demonstrates how disfigured a richly African story can get when written through the eyes of a white man. The Commissioner eliminated the Igbo culture from his work, thus persuading any reader to think no further of Africans than the word primitive. ____In the novel things fall apart, Okonkwo, the protagonist, can clearly relate to Amy Tan’s situation in her essay, Mother Tongue, despite the jarring contrast between them since they both struggle with being stuck in two worlds.
Okonkwo is a rash and short-tempered man whose anger manages to get the best of him sometimes. During a sacred Week of Peace, an Ibo custom where the clansmen are not allowed to even “say a harsh word to their neighbor” (Achebe 30), Okonkwo beat his third wife because she forgot to prepare dinner. In addition, during the New Yam Festival, Okonkwo accuses his second wife of killing a banana tree so he beats her as well. Later, Ekwefi, the second wife, makes a snide remark on Okonkwo’s hunting skills and he shot at her but missed. Okonkwo, with his raging temper, violent tendencies, and fear of weakness, struggles to be a great warrior and clansmen of a tribe who values peace. Tan, similarly, tried to sought out a balance between her Englishes, as they elicit entirely different personas out of her.
The main Englishes, languages Tan grew up with, she is stuck between are the simple English she spoke to her mother and the proper, fluent English she spoke to everyone else. The former is what Tan calls “family talk” (Tan), as it is used with people she is close to, like her mother and husband. Tan uses short, plain phrases like “‘not waste money that way'” (Tan) which presents a stark contrast to phrases like “‘The intersection of memory upon imagination'” (Tan) used in a talk she gave about her book.
All things considered, Okonkwo and Amy Tan both struggle to manage their dual worlds in their respective situations.