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Narration Analysis in Things Fall Apart Essay


In this essay I will first define narration and focalization, explaining the meaning internal and external focalisation, and intradiegetic and extradiegetic forms of narration. I will then go on to support these definitions with examples from the text Things fall apart and using these examples I will point out both the similarities and differences between the forms of focalization and the forms of narration.

Firstly, narration, as already stated in the question, is who speaks, which is an accurate interpretation. The narrator tells the story and is the voice within the text, which most, if not all, books have. The narrator of Things fall apart is not a character within the story, but at the same time it is clear that the narrator is familiar with the Ibo culture from all of the background knowledge that is displayed throughout the novel, The Feast of the New Yam was held every year before the harvest began, to honour the earth goddess and the ancestral spirits of the clan.(Pg35) this shows the narrators knowledge of the Ibo tribe and its customs. The narrator of Things fall apart is a heterodiegetic because A narrator who does not participate in the story is called heterodiegetic (Genette 1972, pp. 255-6) and even though at times it seems that he could be a character within the book he clearly is not, Di-go-go-di-go. It was the ekwe talking to the clan. (Pg 113) here we see the narrator has recorded the sound, which suggests he can hear it within the text, which shows a slight homodiegetic element, but this is defined as one who takes part in it, at least in some manifestation of his self(pp. 255-6) and though the narrator recorded the sound, there was no manifestation of self within the text, so this recording of sound comes within focalization. The narrator here is clearly a narrator-focalizer, meaning that the narrator is viewing this scene through an anonymous character that plays no part in the main story, but this does not make the narrator a character.

The narrator also has an internal and external view, called intradiegetic and extradiegetic. Diegetic itself is defined as within or without the story, and extradiegetic is the voice outside the story. The external voice is not a character within the story, and can tell a lot more about characters and events. It is precisely their being absent from the story and their higher narratorial authority in relation to it that confers on such narrators the quality which has often been called omnisciencethe characteristics connoted by it arerelevant, namely: familiarity, in principle, with the characters innermost thoughts and feelings; knowledge of past, present and future; presence in locations where the characters are supposed to be unaccompaniedand knowledge of what happens in several places at the same time (Ewen 1974, pp. 144-6) these elements are clearly shown in Things fall apart in various places. The first of which is in relation to seeing the characters innermost thoughts and feelings, He could hardly imagine that Okonkwo was not his real father. He had never been fond of his real father, and at the end of three years he had become very distant indeed. (Pg 56) as you can see these are thoughts that Ikemefuna is having just before he is killed, and they are thoughts that an intradiegetic narrator could not know about since an intradiegetic narrator would be part of the story, or would be a character within the narration. This narrator would speak in the first person, using I to express themselves and being able to share only their own thoughts and feelings of the time, which would not necessarily be the same thoughts they have now as they look back and relate their tale. This section may also be seen as character-focalization in the sense that we are seeing things from Ikemefunas point of view, and as we are seeing things through Ikemefunas eyes a this moment we may well see it as focalization. This narrator also has knowledge of the past, As a young man of eighteen he had brought honour to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat. (Pg 3) this gives us knowledge of Okonkwos first achievement as a young man and also helps to build up his background. Knowledge of the present is also expressed, The Feast of the New Yam was approachingIt was an occasion for giving thanks to Ani, the earth goddess and the source of all fertility. (Pg 35) the approaching of the feast shows the story in the present time within the narrative, speaking about things as they happen. There is not an explicit example of the future, but with the rise of Christianity and the death of Okonkwo towards the end of the novel it is perhaps hinted that the old ways of the Ibo people are coming to an end, The story of this man who had killed a messenger and hanged himself would make interesting reading. One could almost write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any rateHe had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger. (Pg 197) this shows the short-term goal of the Commissioner, which is to write a book about the tribes, but it also shows in the act of this writing that the Ibo people are part of the past to be recorded in a book and, as you can see from the title, the aim is to move away from the tribes and bring the people into modern times and religion. There is perhaps a slight irony expressed here since the Commissioner said he would perhaps dedicate a paragraph to Okonkwo, but this narrative has been mostly based on Okonkwos life within the tribe. This also shows character-focalization where we are seeing things from the Commissioners point if view and getting an opinion of how the missionaries see the Ibo people, which is clearly seen in the chosen title of the book, though the readers opinion of the people may be very different to the missionaries by the time they reach the end of the book, indeed it seems almost that this last character-focalization was placed here to create even more dislike for the missionaries and invoke pity and sympathy for the Ibo people. For presence in locations where the character is meant to be unaccompanied there is chapter eleven when Ekwefi follows the priestess, who has taken her daughter Ezinma because Agbala wanted to see his daughter, (pg 95) Ekwefi followed the priestess, Chielo, through the forest to another village and then to the caves where Agbala lived. This part of the novel is written from Ekwefis point of view, but this is focalization and will be spoken about in due course. Because the narration here is character-focalization, what Ekwefi sees, and is a point where narrative and focalization cross, we do not know, or rather the narrator chooses not to say, whether Ekwefi is truly spotted by Chielo, or what Chielo is thinking. We know Chielo feels she is followed from her out burst, And then the priestess screamed. Someone is walking behind me! she said. Whether you are spirit or man, may Agbala shave your head with a blunt razor! May he twist your neck until you see your heels! (Pg 99) it is clear that Chielo knows she is followed in this instant, but there is no further indication that she continues to know she is followed. This may perhaps make the narrator seem a little more intradiegetic, but since the narrator is not a character and Ekwefi is not narrating this extract, but is merely a character-focalization, it is still extradiegetic. There is also a slight example of the narrator talking about events, which happen in many places at the same time. This occurs when Okonkwo has been banished form his tribe for seven years and flees to his mothers village. While he is there we continue to hear of Okonkwos life, but there are also details of what is happening back in his home tribe while he is away, as well as the villages around it, The missionaries had come to Umuofia. They had built their church there, won a handful of converts and were already sending evangelists to the surrounding towns and villages. (pg 135) this is perhaps not a true example since the narration never leaves Okonkwo and goes to Umuofia to record things as they happen, this all comes as second hand knowledge from Obierika to Okonkwo, but it is the narrators choice to tell us this information therefore it can be viewed as part of the extradiegetic narrative. As stated before the narrator of Things fall apart is not intradiegetic at any point within the narrative because an intradiegetic narrator must either be a character within the story or a character watching the story. In both of these instances the character would refer to itself as I when it spoke of itself, and would be aware of its existence within the story, but there are both character and narrator focalizers which allow the readers to gain the opinions and views of certain characters at certain points and to use this knowledge to help for their own opinions.

The narrator in Things fall apart also has two voices. One is an internal, or communal voice, the one that understands the tribe and seems almost part of it, and then there is an external voice, one that takes a more modern, or Christian, view on the goings on of the tribe, and this is perhaps the largest area where cross overs with focalization are common. Using chapter thirteen as an example, it is clear that near the beginning it is the communal voice speaking, Now and again an ancestral spirit or egwugwu appeared from the underworld, speaking in a tremulous, unearthly voice and completely covered in raffia. (Pg 114) this communal voice speaks of spirits and gives no explanation such as explaining that there were men dressed as spirits, because someone internal to the tribe would either truly believe that they were spirits or would not feel the need to explain it, and may also be seen as narrator-focalization because the description of the sound is very well done as if the narrator is there at the time, but since there is no self expressed at any point the narrator is looking through the eyes of someone else within the story. The voice then becomes external later on in the chapter when Okonkwos gun goes off and accidentally kills Ezeudus sixteen-year-old son, The only course open to Okonkwo was to flee from the clan. It was a crime against the earth goddess to kill a clansman, and a man who committed it must flee from the land. The explanation here is very detached from the tribe and matter of fact in its tone. The fact that there is an explanation also shows that the voice is now external since the internal voice did not feel the need to explain what was happening and the external voice is trying to explain and justify the action.

Focalization, as stated within the question, is who sees which is to say that the character being viewed is not the one telling the story, but is merely a part of it. Because sometimes the point of view is of a particular character, and in Things fall a part the narrator as well, the line between narration and focalization becomes blurred in places. Focalization can be either external or internal to the story. External focalization is felt to be close to the narrative agent, and its vehicle is therefore called narrator-focalizer (Bal 1977, p. 29) this is also shown in Things fall apart in chapter eleven, in fact it is very close to the communal narration. Go-di-di-go-go-di-go. Di-go-go-di-go. It was the ekwe talking to the clan. One of the things every man learned was the language of the hollowed-out instrument. Diim! Diim! Diim! Boomed the cannon at intervals. (Pg 113) as discussed earlier, this could perhaps be interpreted as homodiegetic but for the fact that the narrator is not a character within the novel and is not self aware within the story, it is in fact a narrator-focalizer. Here the narrator is seeing, or in this case hearing, through an anonymous character who is never seen or known as a character in the story. There are also internal focalizers, As the term suggests, the locus of internal focalization is inside the represented events. This type generally takes the form of a character-focalizer here is where you see things from a characters point of view within the narrative, He had had the same kind of feeling not long ago, during the last harvest season. Every child loved the harvest season. (Pg 58) Here we are a witness to Nwoyes feelings, which could easily be seen as extradiegetic narrative since we are seeing inside the character, but at the same time this character-focalization is here to allow the reader to look inside of Nwoye and to ask them to see things from his point of view. There is also the feel of the external narrator further down, but still in Nwoyes point of view, they heard the voice of an infant crying in the thick forestNwoye had heard that twins were put in earthenware pots and thrown away in the forest, but he had never yet come across them. A vague chill had descended on him and his head had seemed to swell, like a solitary walker at night who passes an evil spirit on the way. (Pg 58) this voice if that of the external narrator in the fact that it speaks in a disapproving tone and says, quite accurately, that the children were thrown away where as the internal voice would have seen this as a good thing since twins were rumoured to bring bad luck and must be left in the forest for the good of the tribe. The narrator here is external, but the focalizer is Nwoye, and this is from his point of view, and from his almost horrified reaction it is clear that he, at least in part, shares the disapproval of the narrator. At times, as has been seen before, the character-focalization and external narrator have very similar views, which almost make them seem as one, but the character will often be restricted by its role in the story as to how vocal it is in its objection, Obierika was a man who thought about things. When the will of the goddess had been done, he sat down in his obi and mourned his friends calamity. Why should a man suffer so grievously for an offence he had committed inadvertently? But although he thought for a long time he found no answer. He was merely led into greater complexities. (Pg 117-118) Here we can see Obierika has doubts about the banishment of Okonkwo and cannot find a reason for it. The reason, or lack of it, may be clear to the reader and the external narrator, but because Obierika is a character, internal to the tribe and its beliefs and way of life, he cannot object, not only due to fear of the goddess and her wrath, but because for him it is a way of life and has been that way since he was born, so unlike the reader and external narrator he does not have the freedom or knowledge to look at it and say it is wrong.

In conclusion the difference between narration (who speaks) and focalization (who sees) has been clearly depicted and explained in many forms. Looking back it is clear how very close focalization and narration come to crossing over, particularly in relation to the internal or communal voice of the narrator and the narrator-focalizer, just as the external narrator comes very close to some of the opinions of the character-focalizers, but there are also differences between the narrator and the focalizer, namely the fact that the narrator is extradiegetic and so has no role within the story where the focalizer looks very closely at the characters.


Narrative Fiction, Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, Routledge, 2002

Things fall apart, Chinua Achebe, Penguin books, (Penguin red classic) 2006

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