The idea that the greatness of Things Fall Apart lies in its championing of African, specifically Igbo, culture in opposition to the racist literature of the colonial era has been repeated so often that it has almost become a truism. This essay makes use of Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” to explore Achebe’s novel as a project of historical reclamation. In so doing, I show how reading Things Fall Apart through the lens of Benjamin’s historical materialism can illuminate the revolutionary aspect of Achebe’s work, while the text emerges less as a defense of a specific culture than as a commentary on the rise of global modernity. At the same time, Things Fall Apart can be interpreted as a practical demonstration of what Benjamin calls on historians to do, thus bringing into focus the unique challenges involved in attempting to rescue the past while standing in the present.


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pp. 60-71
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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