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Throwing away the Bathwater and Saving the Baby: Chinua Achebe’s Okonkwo and Qu Yuan of the Dragon-Boat Festival

Damazio Mfune-Mwanjakwa


This paper compares two cultural personages, namely Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s defining book entitled Things Fall Apart, and Qu Yuan (or Chu Yuan), a character at the centre of the Duanwu Festival (the Dragon Boat Festival). An analysis of both characters shows them to be consummate  patriots but who are let down by the larger community of their time. Using a comparative anthropological approach drawn from John Mbiti’s adumbration of an “African” worldview, explicitly referring to African attitudes towards suicide, and Sing Lee and Arthur Kleinman’s views regarding suicide as sometimes legitimate resistance in Chinese culture, the paper looks at their similarities and differences. On the one hand, the paper  argues that an unqualified celebration of Qu Yuan could be problematic for some sections of African audiences. On the other hand, a sweeping   condemnation of Okonkwo on account of his suicide amounts to throwing away the baby together with the bathwater.

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eISSN: 2948-0094
print ISSN: 1016-0728