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Young Goodman Brown and Things Fall ApartResearch Paper

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Young Goodman Brown and Things Fall Apart

A Comparative Analysis

Chinua Achebe (1930-2013) was a Nigerian poet, author, and professor who became renowned for his novel "Things Fall Apart," written in 1958. This book is considered a key part of African literature. Achebe, who was a chieftain of the Igbo tribe, wrote about his tribal society's traditions, and the manner in which Western civilization, including Christianity, affected it. As well, he depicted the conflicts between traditional African tribal values and those of Western society. He was renowned for his incorporation of folk stories and the Igbo tradition of oral narration. The novel 'Things Fall Apart', is focused on Okonkwo, an Igbo tribal leader, and begins with his personal history and moves on to illustrate the influences and challenges of the rapidly impinging Western society, particularly both Christian missionaries and British colonialism.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, (1804-1864) was an American writer of the 19th century from Salem, Massachusetts, who focused much of his work on Puritanism, a religious and quasi-political movement of the 16th and 17th centuries; he particularly tended to point out hypocrisies of the Puritan actions vs. their beliefs. Hawthorne often used such topics as a focal point for his discussion of issues with a moral message and/or moral imperative. He is most renowned for his novel 'The Scarlet Letter', but had several other stories and novels that have remained important, including 'Young Goodman Brown'. This short story focuses on the implied belief that all humans are 'depraved' until and/or unless they enter a 'state of grace'. The protagonist is originally a man of faith, but has an adventure where he sees and/or hears many of his friends and neighbors, including his own wife, involved in activities in the forest that go against his own Christian beliefs. Asking Heaven for protection, he escapes, but his purview is forever changed and he no longer has any faith in other humans or indeed in the supposed civilization around him.

Chinua Achebe and Things Fall Apart.

Chunua Acebe successfully showed in his novel "Things Fall Apart" the order present within the Igbo society; this is shown in comparison to the colonial impression of a society which Achebe believed to be anarchistic in nature and lacking in order and structure. The reason for the presence of order in the Igbo tribe was mainly because of their religious belief, as well as the clan order in the people of Igbo. It was believed by the Igbo that the will of Ani, the earth Goddess, was presented by the Oracle of the Hills and Caves, as well as Agbala, the female priestess. Both matters related to communal and domestic properties and life were related to Ani's will. The priest of earth also enforced the principles of behavior (Gassama & Saleh).

For example, to understand why his crops aren't growing well, Okonwo's father asks the Oracle of the Hill and caves for advice. The Priestess tells him that the reason for his bad crops is his own laziness and not because he doesn't have enough favors of the gods (Achebe, p 21).

In another example, the Umoufia villagers were gathered together by Igbo elders whenever important decisions such as war needed to be made. The gathering of villagers is one of the various indications of authority and power of the Umoufia clan shown in the novel. Understanding this novel requires understanding that the clan rules all of the Igbo society. The clan is considered to be a male in identity; there is one common first ancestor that is shared by all the nine villages of Umoufia. There are individual ancestors of each village who are the sons of the initial ancestor (Gassama & Saleh). The clan is also a community of people with ancestors living among them (Wren, p 15). When a tribal woman is murdered by a neighboring village, the tribe is summoned, and Okonkwo is sent to the neighboring village; a settlement is reached such that the village of Umoufia is given a virgin boy and girl (Achebe, p 11). The settlement made by the neighboring village was believed to be due to the religious awareness of the people of Umoufia and the great magical and clan power possessed by the village. "Enemies of Umoufia respected it due to its prowess in magic and warfare" (Achebe).

The will of the Umoufia clan is also depicted by the ancestral Egwugwu who have been shown as the living examples of the dead fathers of nine Umoufia villages. It is clearly stated by Achebe in the novel that Egwugwu are regular men; this point is further made clear by stating that the tribal women saw these Egwugwu as ordinary men - one of them thought that they resembled Okonkwo. "Okonkwo's wives and probably other women too must have felt that second egwugwu had a spring walk like Okonkwo" (Achebe, pg 79). However, no women expressed their thoughts out aloud; no one was allowed to acknowledge this because egwugwu were addressed as spirits of the actual ancestors.

Rituals are a very important part of society and religion in the Igbo tribe. One such ritual is that the week of peace which is practiced by the villagers a week prior to planting. This practice is a symbol of gentleness and kindness. The sacred rules are violated by Okonkwo in the novel as he severely beats his wife during the week of peace; as a result of which he is required to sacrifice in repentance to the Goddess of earth (Achebe, p26). This instance shows that denying or breaking of the order of Gods and rules is totally unacceptable in Igbo society. Here an argument can be presented that with regards to the volition of sacred traditions, rituals and religious beliefs in Igbo there was a lack of typical understanding of justice (Gassama & Saleh).

The utmost finality of the rules and laws practiced in Igbo can be understood from one dramatic instance where Okonkwo's daughter is abducted by the Priestess of Earth goddess (Achebe, 70-77). The girl, Ezinma, was retained by the Priestess Chielo for a complete night; the great warrior Okonkwo could do nothing but to wait outside the cave where Ezinma was kept for the priestess to return his daughter to him. The girl was returned in the morning. As well, either Western gender roles are different in the tribe, or the role of the 'Goddess/God' surpasses these traditional gender roles, because Okonkwo must obey the Priestess. Some critics see interchanges of Okonkwo as demeaning of his masculinity (Irele). Alternatively, it is shown from the outset that he is over-focused on this aspect of his life, due to his remembrances and shame of his father (Irele)."Pacification" was one of many ways by which British colonials governed and altered African society, and specifically in Igbo hinderland from the year 1900-1920. During the period when Okonkwo is exiled, his people become increasingly influenced by Christianity, and this is used also to show the power of Western influence. Okonko also learns that traditions of his tribe, such as killing a threatening person (in this case a lost 'white man') in accordance with the Oracle, brings only disaster. While he is in exile, such a death results in an entire village being killed by a small Western army (Gassama & Saleh).

Nathaniel Hawthorne and Young Goodman Brown

This story by Hawthorne is a multi-layered look at Puritanism, at organized religion, and at the concepts of Good and Evil. As background, it is important to recognize that Hawthorne is alive, living in Salem, Massachusetts in the era after the Salem Witch trials, and with a recognizance that those trials were false and to him evil. Hawthorne was so ashamed of his name, and a relative's participation in the trials, that he even changed the spelling of his name. This theme, of his personal shame, is played out in his novels (Guerin, 64). 'Young Goodman Brown' has been of significant importance to many authors, ranging from the modern Stephen King, to Edgar Allen Poe in the past

As with any work of fiction, the 'meaning' of the story depends upon the purview of the reader. The actual story itself has the protagonist leaving for an unknown reason to go to the forest at night. His young wife, Faith, asks him not to go, but he departs anyway. We also known that 'Young Goodman Brown' is a newly-wed who is concerned because he feels that marriage, and the carnality of the bedroom, are contradictory to his Puritanical Christian faith. The protagonist is also aware of confusing ideas, given that his wife Faith has "dreams and thoughts of the kind that sometimes she fears herself" (Hawthorne, 74). It is because of fear that Brown starts to see evil everyplace that he goes to in the forest (Ezghoul & Zuraika).

At this point, we can see that Hawthorne is using a literal device in naming his characters, similar to the names in John Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress' -- an… [END OF PREVIEW]

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