Things Fall Apart: An Analysis
The novel, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a prose fiction detailing the tragic fall of Okonkwo, the protagonist, and the Igbo culture. Set in the pre-colonial Nigeria but written in the colonial period, the narrative follows the life of the Igbo tribe to the very the time when the wave of colonization was sweeping across Africa. Achebe tells the story of Okonkwo, a son of a failure who is determined to not to end up as useless as his late father, but focuses on following tradition and rises in rank within his tribe. However, Okonkwo’s plans and aspirations for a perfect life go astray, just as it can be predicted from the title. The white men begin meddling with the Igbo culture, which was barbaric to them, by drastically imposing western ways to the community. While most people turn to the white man’s ways, others, like Okonkwo, are determined to fight for the traditions that they truly cherish to uphold, even though their society’s social fabric slowly but surely falls apart. This paper will discuss the cultural fusion in the novel and its impact on both the characters and the reader, its time setting and the factors that influenced the author in writing it.
The Time Setting of the Novel
Things Fall Apart is set in the pre-colonial period, namely in the 1890s, in the Igbo community of Eastern Nigeria. The novel reveals the ways and traditions of the Igbo before the coming of colonizers. Significantly, the Igbo were an organized society with settled rules and regulations that aimed at peaceful coexistence of different members of the community. For instance, the nine egwugwu spirits, which represented the nine villages of Umuofia, were in charge of solving conflicts within the community. Moreover, the Igbo, as a community firmly upheld their cultural traditions. This is evident from a number of cultural practices such as throwing away twin babies in the evil forest, holding a yam festival, and hosting a wrestling contest, in addition to giving titles to honorable men of the clans who were forbidden from doing some tasks, notably climbing a tree. The drums, in particular, were of great importance as they stood for physical bond and a uniting factor for the clansmen of Umuofia, acting as a metaphorical heartbeat that beats in unison, uniting all the members of the nine villages.
This is revealed in the protagonist Okonkwo, who has a desire to remain deeply rooted to his traditions. Having been born to a poor man with no title, Okonkwo vows not to lead his father’s useless life, and his ambitions earn him his fame and distinction, in addition to bringing honor to his village Umuofia, when he defeats Amalinze, the cat, in a popular wrestling contest. Furthermore, his urge and determination to be successful in life earns him titles; thus, he becomes a wealthy and powerful man in Umuofia despite his father’s laziness and shameful death. However, since Umuofia is a masculine society, Okonkwo displays his masculinity by being extremely harsh to his wives and children. He turns into an extremely violent man, whose anger explodes at a slight provocation, breaking his traditions at times. In a particular instance, he severely beats up his wife Ojiugo during the week of peace, just because she went to make her hair at a friend’s place and forgot to cook for her children. Similarly, he beats up Ekwefi, his second wife on grounds that she wrapped the food meant for the yam festival by the leaves from his banana plant. Furthermore, he kills Ikemefuna, a boy he was given as a peace deal by the people of Mbaino, despite having been forbidden to do so by Ogbuefi and Ezeudu.
Due to the fact that the Igbo society vigorously preserved their traditions, it was eminent that Okonkwo would suffer severe consequences for breaking society rules. For instance, Obierika informs Okonkwo that the earth goddess was not pleased by his involvement in the killing of Ikemefuna, therefore, he should prepare for her wrath. Surprisingly, it comes to pass as Okonkwo accidentally kills Ezeudu’s son during his father’s funeral, and eventually, he is exiled for seven years. Since traditional law had to be fully implemented, Okonkwo’s homestead was demolished by a group of villagers soon after his departure to Mbanta, his mother’s village. However, as these events were taking place, one man, Obierika, is left wondering about the effects of the old Igbo traditions.
The Time Achebe Wrote the Novel, and Factors that Influenced Him to Write the Novel at That Time
The novel was written at the peak of the colonial rule in Nigeria, in 1959, just a year before the country proclaimed its independence on October 1, 1960. At the same time, the country had witnessed massive changes in almost every aspect of a human life. Significantly, the African culture had been eroded and was replaced by that of the colonialists, which was regarded as civilized and sophisticated. By this time, a good number of Africans were already looking at their cultural traditions with disdain and were ready to ape everything white, regardless of whether they were good or bad. In general, the initial African society was now apart as people were no longer united by their traditions and culture. Formal education had taken over, consequently overshadowing traditional African informal education, especially oral literature.
In light of this, Achebe felt the need to address the notion that anything that came with the Europeans in Africa was perfect, and that anything African was barbaric, savaged, and uncivilized. With determination, Achebe is telling Africans to appreciate their traditions because they are a uniting factor of the society. It is necessary to note that, prior to colonialism, Africans lived in well organized societies, with rules and regulations that enhanced peaceful coexistence. This is evident from the way of life among the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria. Important to realize is that, contrary to the notion that literature was brought by Europeans, it existed in Africa long before colonization. It can be proved by the use of many African proverbs, the art of storytelling within the novel, and above all, by highlighting events where the Igbo people performed songs and dances during important cultural events.
The Cultural Fusion that Takes Place and Its Impact on the Characters and the Reader
With the penetration of white men in the land of the Igbo, change was inevitable since the Europeans were intolerant to Igbo practices, and, on the other hand, the Igbo resented the white man’s ways. This is clearly revealed in the novel, whereby after two years in Mbanta, Obierika visits Okonkwo and recounts to him what had happened in the Abame village. Apparently, a white man was sported on a bicycle but was later killed by the villagers after they were told by the oracle that the man was bringing destruction in retaliation, and a group of people killed Abame villagers, leaving the settling deserted. Secretly from many villages, the white people were surveying the land with the aim of establishing colonial rule. Apparently, missionaries arrived in Mbanta and established the church in what was considered as the evil land. This is the beginning of change among the Igbo people. Besides persuading people to abandon their traditions and join Christianity, schools were also established so that ignorant villagers could receive education. More so, government posts were erected in villages, symbolizing the beginning of the colonial rule in Nigeria.
Despite opposition from some people such as Okonkwo, others were deeply fascinated by this change and were ready to embrace the new faith at the expense of their own culture. Since Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son, resented his father from the day he realized that he had killed Ikemefuna; he joined Christianity and was later enrolled in a teaching school in Umuofia. Nwoye found solace in the new culture that forbids killing, especially of twin babies; thus, he was determined to cling to it despite his father’s warning. Likewise, other people, especially the outcasts, joined Christianity, which was seen as tolerant to people’s status in the community. In the same way, Enoch was converted and totally resented his people’s way of life. Since missionaries were against every aspect of Igbo’s traditions, which they termed as barbaric and evil, they urged people to renounce them and join the new faith. Reverend Smith, unlike Mr. Brown, was determined to wipe out those traditions, which to him were ignorance.
Some people, however, were not ready to renounce their cherished traditions, thus they were determined to fight. In particular, Okonkwo was not ready to change at any circumstances. He considered converts to be cowards who are supposed to be wiped out of Umuofia at all costs. Consequently, a conflict developed between converts and those who were opposed to change, whereby Enoch’s home and the church were destroyed after an incident when Enoch unmasked the revered egwugwu spirit. After all, the elders have considered the missionaries as a disgrace to their culture and therefore felt the urge to get rid of them. On contrary, a section of the people disregarded the Igbo culture by welcoming the change; as a result, they were reluctant to fight them. Apparently, this attitude annoys Okonkwo to such extent that instead of him watching his society fall apart due to the colonial influence, he commits suicide.
In the long run, Achebe succeeds in making the reader appreciate African culture. Though some practices were oppressive, especially throwing of twin babies in the evil forest, other aspects of culture were relevant and mainly aimed at fostering unity. For instance, performing songs and dances during cultural festivals united the clans and more so encouraged people to work hard in order to live a fulfilled life. Correspondingly, Achebe diminishes the notion that African culture is barbaric, whereas the European one is superior by romanticizing the ways of the Igbo people, and condemns the European way of introducing change in African communities. For example, Achebe points out that Mr. Brown was tolerant and even eager to learn the Igbo culture as opposed to his successor Mr. Smith, who was eager to dismiss the Igbo culture, which he summed up as ignorance. As a result, the major conflict between the villagers and the foreign administration occurred during his time.
Deeply rooted in its customs and traditions, the falling apart of the Igbo society with the coming of the white people was inevitable. Due to intersection of African traditions and modernity, the Umuofia village is shaken violently by internal divisions on the arrival of white missionaries. In essence, colonialism of culture takes a center stage in disunion, leaving the society divided and facing a dilemma about which way to follow. Conforming to new ways is not as easy as the colonizers thought when they established colonial rule in Africa. To minimize resistance, they ought to have taken time to study and understand the African culture as rather than to criticize it since the onset. Altogether, Achebe highlights change effects, whereby some individuals like Nwoye find comfort in the new religion, whereas others like Okonkwo face their tragic end due to resistance to change.