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Callaloo 25.2 (2002) 597-611

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The Diane Rehm Show
May 21, 1999, 11 A.M. - 12 Noon
A Discussion of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart

Editor's note: We are grateful to Diane Rehm and WAMU 88.5 FM for permission to publish this illuminating transcript of the May 1999 Readers' Review. The Diane Rehm Show is a nationally syndicated radio program with an enormous listenership produced by public radio station WAMU at American University in Washington D.C. and distributed by National Public Radio. Listeners from around the country responded on this day to the guests' discussion of reasons for the novel's durability with generation after generation of readers and totheir examination of this novel's function during the past forty years as a vade mecum, or manual of sorts, for living gracefully and meaningfully in a post-colonial, multi-cultural world.

The guests are:

Roger Wilkins, Professor of History at George Mason University

E. Ethelbert Miller, Poet and Director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University

Patti Griffith, Playwright and Novelist and Associate Professorial Lecturer at the George Washington University, Department of English

Valerie Babb, Associate Professor of English at Georgetown University

Several callers who identify themselves variously.

From WAMU in Washington, I am Diane Rehm. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe, is one of the best-known works by an African author. It's the story of one man, one village, and one culture, and how they changed when Europeans arrived to teach their own forms of religion and government. Joining me on the May Reader's Review panel: Roger Wilkins, professor of history at George Mason University; Patti Griffith, who is on leave from George Washington University to write a screenplay; Ethelbert Miller is a poet and also director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University; and Valerie Babb, professor of English at Georgetown University. We will take your calls throughout the hour, 1-800-433-8850, and good morning to all of you. It's good to see you all on this gorgeous May morning.

DIANE REHM: Patti Griffith, the title of this book comes from a line of a Yeats poem. Why is the title so appropriate?

PATTI GRIFFITH: Because what happens basically in this story (and the title describes the story completely) is that, when the white man comes in the form of a missionary into this Igbo village, things fall apart. Achebe has a wonderful line in the book. One [End Page 597] of the characters describes the white man as "very clever": "He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart" (Chapter Twenty).

DIANE REHM: Ethelbert?

ETHELBERT MILLER: What we see here in Achebe's book is what happens when cultures collide; also, what has been the impact of colonization on African society. We can raise questions in terms of what is traditional society, what is traditional man, and what is modern man; and, finally, I think we can also look at the impact of religion on all of our lives in terms of what happens to a society in which ancestral worship is key, and now all of a sudden another group comes in with a new way of worshiping and looking at things. How does it change our values and our way of existing?

DIANE REHM: Valerie Babb?

VALERIE BABB: Yes, I think "falling apart" refers to an implosion as well—because the old traditions don't seem to meet needs as well anymore. We also have a younger generation questioning the older generation; so things are also falling apart from within as well as from without.

DIANE REHM: Roger Wilkins?

ROGER WILKINS: Well, let me just...


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