Nationalism in Literature

Natinalism in LiteratureSince we’re coming upon the patriotic months of the year, I wanted to talk a little about nationalism in literature. Yes, there is such a thing. The summer months in the United States are very patriotic. It may be something you’ve never noticed before but it’s true. In May we have Memorial Day. In July we have the Fourth of July. In September we have the recently minted Patriot Day. These are days to celebrate the heritage and sometimes suffering(Patriot Day) of our country.

I for the most part am not going to walk around with an American flag T-shirt at any point. I like the United States, but I am certainly not patriotic enough to go around wearing my country’s flag on my shirt. I know that’s probably a little sad, but you can show patriotism to your country without wearing an American flag T-shirt.

Nationalism, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is, “loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially : a sense of  national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.” 

Let me explain this in terms that are a little plainer. Nationalism basically means you show pride and loyalty to your country. You might be one of those American flag T-shirt wearers or you might do this in other ways. For example, you could show nationalism by writing a song, creating a video or writing a book. There are plenty of other ways to do this as well.

On another note, the United States does not hold the monopoly on nationalism. There are brilliant people all around the world who have created beautiful works glorifying their home country. One person coming to mind now is the composer Bedřich Smetana. He was from what is now the Czech Republic. He composed various songs and operas. The piece I most closely associate with Smetana and nationalism is Ma Vlast(my homeland). This music is basically divided into six songs glorifying the land where Smetana lived. The most beautiful piece, I think, is Vltava or Die Molda( in German). The Moldau is a river that runs through Prague(which I seriously still have to visit some day). The song is so beautiful and you can really tell that Smetana was proud of his home country when you listen to his compositions. He was also a friend of Jan Neruda, a Czech poet.

Moving onto nationalism in literature; it’s everywhere. Whenever you read a book that you feel epitomizes a country or glorifies its past, that is nationalism. Think about the Grimm’s fairy tales being nationalistic in the way they celebrated Germany. Think about those writers that wrote about why their country should be free of a certain regime. It’s not the regime that makes the country. It’s the people and their traditions. Think about Pecos Bill being a purely American fairy tale.

As I was looking for examples of nationalism in literature, I came across Washington Irving. Washington wrote Rip Van Winkle. If you are not familiar with this tale, you should be. The short story is about a man named Rip Van Winkle, who finds that he goes into the woods one day and falls asleep for fifteen years. He wakes up and he has a long beard and sees that the world has changed around him. This tale has elements you might find in European folklore traditions, but it’s American. You also have to look at the way the United States was developing during the time. Things seemed to change in the blink of an eye.

If you really think of the big picture, the United States has gotten where it has quite quickly. Imagine all the ancient cities that other cultures have built upon for years. Jericho is the oldest city in the world. People have been living there non-stop for over a thousand years. Think about how old Tokyo, Cairo, and Rome are. The people who lived there three-hundred years ago had a foundation to build upon. Now think about the United States. It was true that there were a few cities and settlements in the states that had existed for a while, but nothing like what Europe, Asia and Africa had. Think about coming to the United States in the 1600s seeing literally nothing besides some trees, then going away and coming back in a few years to see a bustling city and sea port. That’s rapid progress. That’s a point stories like Rip Van Winkle were making. It seems almost bizarre to move so rapidly, but it’s also a matter of pride if you think about it.

People express their loyalty to their countries in their writing by encompassing the attitude and practices of their country. One person I would like to mention is Chinua Achebe, who did such an amazing job bring his homeland to life in Things Fall Apart. I also recently read Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. If that book does not contain nationalism, I must be a duck or something. Abraham did an amazing job bringing a little corner of Africa to life. He must be truly proud of his heritage.

I also have to point out that you don’t necessarily have to express patriotism to your country to be participating in nationalism. You can express patriotism to your nationality. I read a book called Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog. Mary seems like an amazing woman from what I’ve read of her book. While Mary is technically American, her nationality is Lakota. Her book is her tale about kind of losing her nationality then finding it all over again. She’s proud to be back in her heritage.

I also think authors like Amy Tan and Lisa See exhibit nationalism in their works. While neither of them were born in China, they’re keeping the traditions of their ancestors alive through their books.

I think choosing to write about your heritage even in fiction is a form of nationalism. If I were to write a book about people with weird last names who came either from England or Germany, that would be nationalism for me. I could also write about the United States and southern traditions and that would be another way I could express my patriotism in literature.

So, here you go, I’ve given you at least two separate ways authors can exhibit nationalism in their works. The next time you’re reading a book, ponder over whether or not that author’s work is nationalistic in any way. You might be surprised to find out the theme is more common than you noticed.

The Braggart

The BraggartSince, writing about Chinua Achebe’s death, I’ve been thinking about the braggart. If you don’t know what a braggart is, let me define it for you. A braggart is someone who does a lot of bragging. I was looking for a little more in-depth definition, but that’s what I got. Thanks,! While I was on, I also read that this word is French, well, based in French then morphed into what it is today. It originally meant something like showing off your clothes.

Over time, I have come to learn that people who are braggarts are often very stubborn. They stand by their claims and appearance to the very end. You won’t see one of these guys backing down from a claim or the best this or the best that. They are never going to relinquish that title while they are alive, which is kind of unfortunate because a lot of these guys end up dead in literature, unless some pitiful soul takes pity on them.

I thought of Gaston when making this post about the braggart. If you haven’t ever watched the movie The Beauty and the Beast, you should. It has some great music. Children’s movies these days don’t have great music. Anyway, if you haven’t seen the movie, Gaston is this macho man who has a thing for Belle and just assumes that she can be his. He’s good at all this awesome stuff. There is even a whole song about it.

You will notice Gaston is kind of the man, but he’s definitely also a jerk. He’s quite abusive to his friends.

Gaston does meet an unfortunate end in the movie. He just  can’t let go of the idea that someone else could have something that should be his, according to him anyway.

Our tradition of story telling is full of these characters. They just can’t let go of their pride and bragging ways. I mentioned this earlier in concern to Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. In that book we have the character of Okonkwo, who is trying to run away from the image of his lousy father. He tries to do everything best and be the best there is. Everyone thinks he is the best. He’s well-known and has wealth to his name. He can brag that he beat The Cat in wrestling and people let him brag, but his bragging ways lead him to an untimely end.

Then we have characters like the Miller. Let me explain a little about who the Miller is. The Miller got rather boastful one night at the local bar, or whatever, and bragged that his daughter could spin straw into gold. She could do no such thing. He just wanted to brag for the sake of bragging. By and by the king heard about this and summoned the girl to his castle. The end would not be good for her if she did not produce gold from straw. Instead of standing up for his daughter and saying, “Hey I was just making stuff up,” he let his daughter be taken away by the king, where she fell into cohorts with the notorious Rumpelstiltskin. That’s pretty bad. Things turned out ok for her though, I’m not sure what happened to the Miller.

Then this concept has a parallel in real life. We all know someone who is a braggart. Everything they do is just amazing. They run a marathon then talk about it for six months. Their baby is just the best baby in the whole world. Their salsa is the spiciest. They had the biggest kidney stone, blah, blah, blah, and more blah. We all know someone like this and most of the time, we just wish they would shut up. Unless they did something genuinely awesome like going to the moon, we don’t really want to hear them talk about their so-called achievements over, and over, and over again.

When I think about the braggart I also think of children. We’ve either all been there or seen an argument between children in which they try to “one-up” one another with increasingly insane claims, half of them don’t even make sense. It’s that whole argument about whose dad is better and ultimately both dads end up being astronaut-super heroes with billions of dollars, of course it’s not true, but the children get so carried away in their game of “one-up” that they don’t think about what comes out of their mouths.

Most of us have grown out of the behavior of one-upmanship, but sometimes we still get that itch in the form of “keeping up with the Joneses” which is very much the same, but you spend a lot more money.

The next time you read a book or watch a movie, consider that there might be a character who is the braggart. It can be a man or a woman. It can be a child or an adult. No matter who the braggart is, remember that there is almost always one around.


#171 Things Fall Apart By Chinua Achebe


I have read this book several times before this. Most of us are assigned to read this book in a literature or history class in college. I actually had to read this one twice for my college education.

Most of us are unfamiliar with life in Africa. In the back of our minds we know that Africa is there. We know that people live there. We know that Egypt is in Africa. We know that is where the Ebola virus lives, but generally most of us don’t know much about the wide variety of cultures and practices Africa holds. Africa is a more diverse place than most of us would ever imagine.

Chinua was or is a professor at Bard college in New York. I’m not actually sure if he is still alive, but he wrote this wonderful book.

This book is mainly about one man facing the changes in his village. When you fell asleep in history class your teacher was probably talking about the age of exploration which lasted for a while, but some areas still remained untouched for quite a while. There are still areas of Africa and South America where the locals have never seen a white person. Believe it or not there are still people who live without electricity and the internet in our world. *Gasp* Needless to say, a lot of these cultures experienced a huge upheaval when other people from other places came and poked their noses into their lives. That is what this book is about.

The village is called Umuofia and the man is called Okonkwo. Okonkwo thinks of himself as coming from nothing. He considered his father lazy and a drunk. He inherited nothing from his father and started out very young in life trying to provide for himself. At the beginning of the book he considers himself very prosperous. He has three wives and many children. He has a barn full of yams and his life is good. He has taken many titles. In this book titles are something that men obtain for various reasons in the village. Life is good for Okonkwo.

At one point his village takes a young woman and a young man from a neighboring village because someone from that village killed a woman from Okonkwo’s village. The young woman is given to the man whose wife was lost and the young man is sent to stay with Okonkwo. Okonkwo becomes very fond of this boy. He doesn’t show it though. Okonkwo has to be tough and appear that he is in control at all times. He has five human heads in his collection.

The boy is with Okonkwo for three years when the village finally makes a decision to what must be done about the boy. Other men council Okonkwo to have no part in it, but Okonkwo doesn’t want to show any mercy. This is where things start to go awry for Okonkwo.

HIs family gives him trouble. His favorite daughter Enzima has been sick off and on throughout her life. The family thinks she is a local superstition. This local superstition is a spirit that comes back over and over again to torment its mother. Basically, a woman has many children, but very few live past infancy. The family thinks Enzima is here to stay, but they are always on guard for whenever her next sickness might come.

At one point the local priestess for Agbala even comes and gathers Enzima up and carries her piggyback through the land for a whole night. The family is of course worried, but they don’t interfere.

Later we find that missionaries from England have come to Okonkwo’s land. He isn’t happy at all about this. He doesn’t like the fact that his people are tolerating these strangers with their strange beliefs to come into the village. He doesn’t like that they made a school. He doesn’t like that they made a church. He doesn’t like that they are seemingly throwing his beliefs back in his face. This attitude leads Okonkwo to more trouble.

What I liked: There is a ton of tradition in this book. It’s very interesting to read about the practices of other people. What do they do and why do they do it? How to other people worship? What meals to other people eat? It really is a pleasure to learn about another culture that is so foreign from what I am used to.

Achebe has a very poetic writing style. The book is actually fairly short, but Achebe is able to tell the complete story within its pages. He doesn’t need superfluous words. Everything is strung together eloquently. The story moves on with each sentence. There is a reason so many college freshman have to read this book in their English classes.

What I didn’t like: I don’t like this idea of how Okonkwo has to be tough no matter what. Women we all know that guys try to act like this to an extent. They can open that bottle or not say ouch when they skin their knees, but we know the truth. I know there are so many cultures where the man is supposed to be completely macho. This macho attitude is probably why so many guys have a problem with staying home with the kids, which is much more common now that our economy has gone into the trashcan. Employers are less likely to fire women.

There is quite a bit of violence in this tale. Violence is very central to this story in many ways. Okonkwo gets himself in trouble several times for violence throughout the tale. In fact, if he could learn to control his temper he probably wouldn’t have ended up the way he did. He beats his wives on more than one occasion in this book. I don’t care what country you are from, it’s never ok to beat your wife. I have heard that back in the day, a long, long, time ago, in Russia, a common wedding present to the new groom was actually a whip that he could beat his wife with. Nice Russia. It’s not as if everybody isn’t already scared of you. Things have changed though, I hope. Men can be prosecuted for beating their wives, at least in the United States they can.

This is a great book. The good thing is, you can probably find this for pretty cheap since so many college students have to read it. They don’t keep their books.