Life Condensed to a Sentence

One of the ‘Required Reads’ this summer for my World Literature Class was “Things Fall Apart,” by Chinua Achebe. Like every high-schooler, who is required to read it over the summer, I hated the book. To me, the book was dry, boring, hard to follow, and all around uninteresting. When I got to school, our teacher — Mrs. Reed — collected our reading notes and chapter summaries and then asked how we liked the book. That was our cue, we instantly sprang into a barking madness about how much we disliked the book.

We spent a good three minutes talking about our hatred of the book before a comment, coming from the back of the class, changed all of our opinions. The student read the following lines from the book’s ending:

“In the book which he planned to write he would stress that point. As he walked back to the court he thought about that book. Every day brought him some new material. The story of this man who had killed a messenger and hanged himself would make interesting reading. One could almost write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph at any rate. There was so much else to include, and one must be firm in cutting out details. He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought. The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

The ‘man’ that killed a messenger and hanged himself is Okonkwo, the main character. Okonkwo is a highly respected man in his village and looked on as the strongest in the tribal area. Okonkwo has lived a great life until he starts making big mistakes that lead to his banishment and his suicide. The comment, made by the student, was “I think it's interesting that such a highly regarded man can fall so far, that his life can be condensed in less than a paragraph.” This made everyone think about how they want to be remembered after they die. Do we want our lives to be condensed into a sentence, or do we want our lives to be so important that our life couldn’t fit into a whole collection of books?

This conversation with the class brought up a couple of questions:

Would your life be condensed into a sentence? And would the thought of your life being condensed into a sentence, push you to do more in your life?

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