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Unpacking the Universal: African Human Rights Philosophy in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart

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African values; culture; human rights; Law and Literature; Things Fall Apart


Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart appears to attract significant criticism for its seemingly negative offerings to human rights than for contributions to that cause that could be considered positive. My goal in this chapter is to reconstruct this image of that popular novel using the law and literature framework. I will do so at two levels. As an initial concern, I will demonstrate that Things Fall Apart offered positively to the human rights discourse contrary to persisting criticisms. Secondly, my analyses will add to the debate regarding the existence or otherwise of human rights values in Africa’s pre-colonial cultures. Despite having what could be regarded as neo-patriarchal characteristics (in spite of its “transformative power”), I will argue that the Things Fall Apart narrative is indeed a valid and credible refutation of the view that human rights is not an African value. And while it is possible to present a human rights content analysis of the book through several themes, I will place special emphasis on its treatment of the right to life, the rights of women and the right to fair hearing and a fair administration of justice.

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