Analysis of Non-Western Cultural Perspectives

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SWBAT analyze the role of culture in Things Fall Apart by examining elements of Igbo culture through citing specific evidence from the text.

Big Idea

Tradition, artistic expression, language, and religion are just a few elements of Igbo culture that students explore in reading and discussing Things Fall Apart.

Let's Get Started: Don't Kill the Messenger

10 minutes

For homework, the students finished reading Things Fall Apart and answered this two-part question:

What is the significance of Okonkwo killing the messenger at the meeting following their release from prison?  How does the reaction of the village change Okonkwo’s faith in the Igbo society?(RL 9-10.1)

Once everyone has settled in, I put the homework question on the board.  

I focus on the messenger because his death while cliche to a certain extent marks the final disconnect between Okonkwo and his community.  He puts his individual desire before the good of the community. I am looking for them to say that Okonkwo was trying to recapture his warrior spirit and motivate his community to fight.  I also want them to see the short sightedness of his actions. In a community that believes that the actions of one impact the whole, Okonkwo's behavior is selfish and therefore damaging to the community. The villagers refusal to follow him distinguishes his faith in his society. He feels he no longer knows his people. Once again, Okonkwo puts his own needs before his community. As a tragic hero, this is his fatal flaw that will lead to his death(RL 9-10.3) . 

This discussion should naturally lead to a larger discourse on Okonkwo's suicide and burial in the evil forest (SL 9-10 1). 

Building Knowledge: The District Commissioner's Views on Igbo Culture

10 minutes

Transitioning from the Igbo view of the events to the British colonial view of the events, I put the last lines of Things Fall Apart on the board. "He had already chosen a title for his book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger."

Now I ask the students what does the title of the book mean. We start by discussing the definition of the word "pacification." There are a variety of meanings for "pacification" (L 9-10 4a). From context, kids can define it as "to make them calm or compliant".  We also discuss "primitive". Through discussion of the term and it's use in the text, we can define it as being "underdeveloped or not modern"(RL 9-10.4).  

Basically, at its simplest level, Things Fall Apart is a clash of cultures (RL.9-10.2). However, TFA shows the complexities of power and oppression in the early colonial period. The British don't value the Igbo culture and the Igbo don't connect with the British culture.  I want the students to come to the conclusion that the Commissioner doesn't see the Igbo and the other ethnic groups in West Africa as independent cultures that have value. 

Applying Knowledge: What Elements Create a Culture?

10 minutes

At this point, the students will disagree with the district commissioner's assessment of Igbo culture. However, they need to do more than just disagree.  They need to be able to prove the validity of the Igbo culture based on evidence in Things Fall Apart(RL 9-10.1).  At the beginning of the school year, students defined the elements that make up culture.  I want them to apply their definition of culture to the Igbo culture.  Can they analyze culture from perspective that is different from their own (RL 9-10.6).  

I ask the students to consider the elements of culture we have discussed in previous lessons on cultural identity. We put the list of elements of culture on the board:



beliefs and values




artistic expression



law and order



I tell each group to pick two elements of culture they want to investigate.  As they call out their choices I write their names next to the element. 

Now I give them the assignment:

In your groups: Find at least one example of your two elements of culture in the Igbo culture.  How does the presents of these examples demonstrate cultural significance? What is unique about Igbo culture (RL 9-10.6)? (How is it different from European Culture?) How does this evidence prove or disprove the title of the Commissioner's book. 

They will present their findings to the class (SL 9-10 4).


Applying Knowledge: Preparation for and Presentations of Igbo Cultural Elements

55 minutes

I give the students 40 minutes to prepare their presentations. I suggest they also create a visual although it is not required. 

I remind them that I am looking for them to use evidence from the text (RL 9-10.1) in their presentations on artistic expression and naturefood and religioninnovation and languagerelationships and beliefstechnology and entertainment, and tradition and law and order.



Wrap Up: Homework

5 minutes

For homework I tell the students to review Chinua Achebe's seven purposes for writing. We will work with them in the next class. I also ask how many students have gmail accounts.  We are going to use google docs for our next writing assignment.