A review of Chinua Achebe's The Education of a British Protected Child

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The book is a collection of sixteen essays by the iconic (now-late) Chinua Achebe, which he insists are not scholarly. He appears to reject the view of them as scholarly on the basis that he did not have the opportunity to be a full-time scholar after being rejected by Cambridge in 1954. 

Furthermore, Achebe would rather have his works viewed as offering a view of events from the 'middle ground' a balanced interpretation of events that perhaps is more achievable in an essay than in a novel.

 The immediate question raised by the book is what it means to be 'British-Protected'.  Achebe found the phrase ironic and inaccurate, as he encountered it inscribed on his passport on his first time travelling outside Nigeria. The irony of the phrase may derive from the fact that at the time of his trip in 1957, Nigeria had not gained indpendence from Britain yet. Therefore, in this context 'British protected' appears to be an awkward and contradictory joke in the sense that the oppressive framework of colonialism is equated to protection. In his words, colonialism was a 'gross crime' but the phrase inaccurately describes the 'victim' of colonisation as 'requiring protection'.

Achebe's stance on colonialism is unwavering, boldly affirming that in his discussion, only the 'cons' will be addressed. Achebe goes on to suggest that colonialism was 'a denial of human worth and dignity', a fair statement, considering the doctrine of white supremacy used to justify the exploitation taking place. Furthermore, his persuasive writing style helps to expose the way in which the notion of black intellectual inferiority denied blacks their essential human dignity. 

Overall, the collection was a marvellous read, expressing the wit and intellectual quality of Achebe. Most importantly, the book presents Achebe's writing gift in the unfamiliar form of the essay, as most recognise him as a novelist. Achebe delivers on his aim to initiate conversation and engage in existing conversation within the socio-political dynamics of Nigeria and beyond.

 

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