All Falls Apart by Chinua Achebe and A Vendetta by Gay De Maupassant both the stories deal with an act of murder. My aim is to compare and contrast the way the act of murder is presented as the stories are set in totally different cultures and traditions.
In Things Fall Apart, Ikemefuna is sacrificed by an Ibo man and Okonkwo whom Ikemafuna ‘calls his father’, as ‘umuofia has decided to kill him. The Oracle of the Hills and the Caves has pronounced it.’ The whole incident points at the Ibo people’s deep faith in Animistic religion where sacrifice, magic and respect for ancestors plays a large part _ in other words a way to survive. However superstitious or barbaric the act of murder might seem, it is a part of the religion, an appeasement to God and therefore an accepted religious, social custom.
In A Vendetta, Nicholas Ravolati knifed Antoine in. Paulo Saverini’s widow takes a Vendetta to avenge her son’s death as ‘there was no one to take up the vendetta on his behalf.’ In spite of her being old, weak, and vulnerable, she one mindedly prepares her dog Frisky to attack to kill the enemy on a stimuli and response principle. It reveals the strength of her character. It is a social custom in Italy to take up a vendetta to avenge a kinsman’s death but as we all know in a Christian country it is against the Ten Commandments
A SENSE OF RESTRAIN-A SENSE OF LIVELINESS
When I read the stories I realised that there is definitely a sense of heavy sadness, a sense of restrain in Things Fall Apart. Where as A Vendetta deals with an equally violent subject with a sense of liveliness. The question is what gives them totally different moods? Can it be the society they are set in? or is it the culture they have inherited?Can it be the writer’s style,or the language used ? I would say all these incorporate in it.
As is apparent the society in both the stories present two different facets. The Nigirian society in Things Fall Apart is Patriarchal where masculine deeds are always respected and relished greatly. Achebe shows us the role a father plays particularly in moulding the child mentally, physically and emotionally according to the Ibo culture requirements is very important through Nwoye and Ikemafuna’s examples. Okonkwo wanted ‘Nwoye to grow into a tough young man capable of ruling his father’s household’. Achebe also notes ‘No matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and his children (and especially his women) he was not really a man’.
Although it was a society rich in culture (with the stories of the earth , sky and Vulture and eneke-nti-oba), women were treated as mere epitome of humility. They may be curious but they didn’t allow that curiosity to manifest into something more than mere compliance. They are segregated in a super male dominated society. Not a single woman is allowed to take part in Ikemafuna’s sacrifice. It clearly shows that the society in Things Fall Apart is well organised with clear laid out gender roles for men and women.
They all had a very strong faith in community as it being essential for the survival of the tribe. They often work together for the betterment of the clan. Here the society comes first and not a person. Okonkwo is kept in stream with the society. He is strongly supported by his clansman not only because he is the leader but also because he is expected to carry out the sacrifice .
In fact the society in A Vendetta is also a male dominated as the name ‘Paolo Saverini’s widow’ itself suggests. What appeals us as remarkable is the fact that the widow takes up the role of a man. What makes her distinctive is not only her decision to take up the vendetta but her strong will power, determination and her high motivation through which she finds a way to carry out the murder.
The society in a Vendetta is passive. The society is there to bring and bury the murdered son, to take the ‘beggar’ to Longosardo but is totally indifferent to the dog howling day and night and to the woman’s ‘strange performance’! It seems to have no moral values. When the widow’s son is killed the law didn’t give her any means of justification to avenge his death. Therefore, she took the law in her own hands. In a way the act of murder turns out to be an appeasement to self. She isolates herself from the society and the will to avenge becomes her obsession. ‘Now she could not sleep at night, she had no rest, no peace of mind, obstinately determined to find a way.
THE ACT OF MURDER
At this point it would be interesting to see how the writer takes us to the heart of actual killing in both.
One night ‘the mother had a sudden inspiration.’ She pondered over it all night and in the morning she went to the church. There she prayed…..humbling before God, seeking help and support, praying that her poor worn-out body might have the strength to avenge her son.’ It suggests that the religion in a Vendetta is against the act of murder. The Widow is using the religion to comfort her personal feeling of guilt She is aware that she is going to do something which is socially religiously unjustified. But her obsession to avenge -a sense of natural justice wins.
As I have noted before,in Things Fall Apart the act of murder itself is an essential part of religion. Sacrifice is a normal practice. Ikemafuna is sacrificed as part of a long going tradition. When they took him for sacrifice ‘They all fully dressed as if they were going to a big clan meeting or to pay a visit to a neighbouring village.’ It shows how important the sacrifice is in their inner heart. It creates a picture of grandeur in our minds and symbolically suggests that it is an occasion of celebration, which is to be respected and not to be resented.
Achebe makes us visualise the ‘dry, sandy footway…Which had now become a narrow line in the heart of the forest ….with giant trees and climbers.’He also uses the Chirping of birds and ‘ the faint beating of the ekwe.’ This is followed by the description of childish thoughts of Ikemafuna which gives us a chance to peep into the sheer innocence in contrast to sheer devil minded people a little boy of six was surrounded with.
It depicts the hammed in feeling of Ikemafuna’s inner world and unveils the fact that the victim is killed in a quite unfamiliar, isolated place from where escape is unimaginable. .But then ‘the man drew up and raised his matchet,Okonkwo looked away. He heard the blow. The pot fell and broke in sand. He heard Ikemafuna cry, ‘My father, they have killed me!.’…..Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down.’ This factual account with short sentences and monosyllabic words creates deadening effect on our minds.
Maupassant uses emotive,tactile and action packed words like leapt,seized,grappled,writhed,kicking,wrenched to describe the cold-blooded murder. The widow chained the dog to the barrel and went into the house. The dog howled all day and nigh , in the morning she took her a bowl of water, but nothing else’. She didn’t give anything to eat for three days and then she made a figure like a man with straws , rugs and the clothes that belonged to her husband. She tied the grilled sausage round the dummy’s neck . ‘With one terrific bound the animal leapt at the dummy’s throat, and with her paws …..tore the face to pieces and reduced the whole throat to ribbons. For three months she trained the dog to this kind of fight. She had taught her to go for the figure and tore it to pieces even when there was no food hidden in the neck.
She again goes to the church to confession and received the Sacrament to absolve her sin. What strikes me is the fact that she goes to Longosardo in disguise of a beggar as it was against the religion. After finding Nicholas at the back of his shop, the old woman….slipping the dog’s lead she cried, ‘At him! Go for him,tear him to pieces.’
‘The starving animal leapt at him and seized his throat. The man throwing out his arms ,grappled with the dog and fell to the ground. For a few seconds he writhed ,kicking the ground with his heels .Then he lay still, while Frisky wrenched at his throat, tearing it to pieces.’ The whole account of the attack and the man’s struggle echoes a sense of liveliness.
There is no regret on the widow’s part, which is quite contradictory to Okonkwo’s hidden unwillingness. In fact, ‘That night she slept soundly’. In my opinion the widow was sure that she will win in her plan .Even the writer’s main concern seems to show how justification is gained as we have a datailed account of Nicholas’ struggle to escape. Whereas Okonkwo was aware of his will but he is powerless to rebel against it. He is depicted disheartened depressed (as is shown through his beating Nwoye and he was withdrawn to rear just before the sacrifice) torn apart in his fatherly feeling for Ikemafuna and a strong sense of duty where his sense of duty wins. He seems weak compared to the determined Widow whose personal feeling wins by ignoring and rebelling against the whole society. Her motherly bond for the child proves strong to the weak fatherly feelings.
I liked both the stories as they opened up a new sense in me of looking at and appreciating different cultures .Yet it paused a question in my mind. Is the society there for the person or the person for the society? Who is more important for the survival? I think once the person finds its freedom the gods are powerless .It is shown through A Vendetta.