Things Fall Apart
Considered as the beginning of African literature, Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart,” centers on the events that followed at the beginning of colonization in the African continent. It narrates Okonkwo’s’, a respected Igbo hailing from Umuofia, a region close to the Lower Niger. Upon the arrival of the Englishmen, Okonkwo finds that he is the protagonist in a tragedy depicting the white man with his Bible and Christian doctrines and on the other hand, the Africans with their African traditional lifestyle which entailed farming, community rituals, and religion among others.
As the Englishmen settled and found their way amongst the Igbo, there arose bitter conflict that touched on the core center of both cultures. It was a battle that focused on their cultural values that kept both the Western aliens and the Africans apart. In the first case, Chinua Achebe captures the conflicts through religion, war, and tribal conflicts, collective and personal conflicts, education, and politics. The conflicts thus followed a pattern in which the Africans and the Europeans attempted to dominate and impose their cultural values on each other. The English depicted the Africans as “no thinking beings,” and introduced an education system that groomed one towards “self-hatred, subsurface, and suspicion” (Chinua, 1958) On the other hand, the Africans viewed the Europeans as exploiters who were out to wreck and destabilize their peaceful way of life. It was a pattern in which the two protagonists tried to dominate and control each other.
Chinua Achebe’s narrative is a documentary of the great continent destroyed by the Europeans; it is also part tragedy depicting the wide gap that existed between the rich and the poor regarding their social standings. Okonkwo’s father, once a promising young man gifted as a flute player turned as a failure in his adult years. He dies in debt. Due to the massive debt, he owned to the other members of Igbo community; Unoka was laughed at, scorned, and remained a weak member of the community as depicted on how other members of the community interacted with him. However, they carried out a ritual of hospitality, indicating some sense of respect to the owner of the homestead who happened to be Unoka. As quoted by the author, “Age was respected among his people, but the achievement was revered” (Chinua, 1958). Additionally, despite his poor social standing, Unoka was respected and he accorded his visitors a traditional welcoming ceremony by breaking the kola nut as a cultural practice amongst the people of Igbo. As Okoye says, “Thank you. He who brings kola brings life. But I think you ought to break it.” On the other hand, his son Okonkwo is a rich man destined for greatness. With his massive ability at war and in generating wealth, Okonkwo was charged with greater responsibility in the Igbo community such as watching over Ikemefuna who was “destined for sacrifice.” According to the author, the Igbo community reserved the leadership positions to influential, healthy, wealthy, and respected members of the community such as Okonkwo. As the author quotes, “Okonkwo was clearly cut out for great things. He was still young but he had won fame as the greatest wrestler in the nine villages. He was a wealthy farmer and had two barns full of yams…” Chinua Achebe, 1958)
The Igbo cultural lifestyle was stable and deeply rooted in its teachings, ways of life, and customs. However, conventional wisdom dictates that culture is never static but dynamic. Considering external influences, it is a wrong notion as in most cases the cultural way of life of people can easily be changed and interrupted by outsider’s, as is the case of the Western influence on the Igbo community. As depicted by Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart, the traditional cultural ways of life of the Igbo gradually fell apart with the invasion of the Europeans. Slowly, the people of Igbo such as Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye, embraced Western education and did away with their cultural practices of development (Chinua, 1958). Certain practices such as the killing of the twins could have thinned away with time due to exposure and interactions with other cultures. Additionally, harsh and punitive punishments such as the death of the twins and the sending of Okonkwo into exile were a cruel judicial act. Even when the Europeans could not have intervened, such practices could have withered away more so because of external influences and social interactions. Chinua Achebe used the title too to display the failed attempt of Okonkwo and Umuofia at large to hold onto their cultural values and practices even with the newly introduced European’s ways of life such as in education, worship, and trade. As quoted by the author, “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together, and we have fallen apart” (Chinua, 1958).
Chinua, A. (1958). Things fall apart. Ch. Achebe, 1-117.