Written by Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart is a captivating novel that was published in 1958. The author lived from 1930 to 2013. The novel offers a response to various European literal works that presented the African people as primitive and ones who required European enlightenment for them to progress. Achebe depicts African society, focusing on the Igbo society of Nigeria, as having a rich history that the Europeans have failed to recognize.
Achebe makes it clear that Africans are normal beings who have some imperfections, just like the European societies. He explores the effects of colonialism on the Igbo society in the context of African perspectives. This paper analyzes the internal features (colonialism), and external aspects that led to the destruction of the society in the novel Things Fall Apart, where the Igbo people have been used to represent the African community. Despite the fact that the Igbo society had a stable culture that comprised rituals, norms, and values before colonialism, some of the society’s internal and external struggles were immense contributors to the downfall of the society.
Internal and External Aspects that led to the Destruction of the Igbo
Colonialists had political, economic, and social motives when they arrived in Africa. They had a Eurocentric perception in their worldviews (Sharma 86). Hence, they considered their culture more superior when compared to other world cultures, especially those of native people within their colonies. Eurocentric perspectives had a racist orientation that considered Europe, the center of humanity’s civilization (McEwan 67). Things Fall Apart gives back the Igbo people the pride they lost in the wake of colonialism.
Colonization changed the entire Igbo society to the worse by leading to its destruction. In Things Fall Apart, Europeans perceive African cultural artifacts as inferior. For example, Reverend Smith does not appreciate any need to compromise the new religious doctrines that are scheduled for introduction among the Igbo people of Umuofia village. Indeed, he does not value any attempts to preserve the aspects of the traditional Igbo society’s cultural heritage.
District commissioners take pride of being a beneficiary of traditions’ primitive customs. He considers himself a benevolent character who has an interest in the modernization of primitive societies. Smith and the district commissioner are only surprised if somebody suggests that the European values were inappropriate since they have led to the destruction of the Igbo society. The commissioner only briefly listens to Okonkwo’s story. This situation signifies his strong inclination towards the western cultures, as opposed to the Igbo culture and its artifacts. Hence, through religion, colonialism had the impact of eroding Umuofia people’s traditional cultures, which contributed to the destruction of the Igbo society.
In the attempt to counter the witnessed extreme inclination towards the European cultures, Achebe revitalizes religion and African culture. He offers an in-depth discussion of the money system, judicial system, government, and artistic traditions. Despite the technological complexity of the Igbo society’s culture, Umuofia people also possess some complications that contribute to the demise of society.
However, stereotypical European literalists such as Cary and Conrad over exaggerate the complexities. Opposed to the stereotyped position of the white writers, Achebe considers colonialists as highly rigid and imperialistic. He depicts the Igbo people as flexible and open to new ways of thinking. For example, colonialism came to the Igbo society with a clear inflexible determination of changing the society’s culture without permitting the traditional African cultures of the Igbo society to influence the European ways of life. Instead, the Igbo society has to adapt to the new culture. However, caution is necessary when reading and interpreting Things Fall Apart.
Readers of Things Fall Apart should note that its author does not consider Igbo society faultless and idyllic. Achebe criticizes any romantic presentation of his traditional society. In fact, colonialist authors such as Conrad, Graham Green, and Orwell, among others, oppose imperialism (Rhoads 61). However, they present their traditional societies as noble salvages, which are innocent and corruption scot-free, but animalistic and primitive.
The authors’ criticism of imperialism arose from the argument that western societies are highly corrupt and destructive to the rest of the world. Achebe only considers this position mythical and unacceptable (McEwan 33). Indeed, although colonialism finally destroys this African culture, Achebe does not perceive his society as a noble savage. Even before the colonists arrive in Nigeria, the Igbo people are presented in Things Fall Apart as violent. Achebe even criticizes his society by noting that it had its weaknesses and strengths even before the Europeans arrived.
Achebe introduces the new religion that is associated with colonialists, despite being destructive to the Igbo society. Umuofia people were divided into two distinct categories upon arrival of colonialists who also acted as missionaries. The first category comprised people who were inclined to Igbo traditional cultures. The second category comprised those who followed the new religion that was introduced by the white missionaries.
Alimi asserts that the Europeans influenced new Christian converts to disregard their traditional religious affiliations and traditional values (121). Consequently, coverts such as Nwoye chose to assimilate into the white people’s cultures and religion (Achebe 107). In this context, Things Fall Apart presents a collapsing society that is entrapped not only in clouds of confusion and chaos but also torn into parts based on religious units (Alimi 121). The Europeans uphold completely contrasting perceptions and views about life when compared to those held by the traditional Igbo people.
Things that are out-rightly okay in the Igbo traditional settings are completely unacceptable in the missionaries’ value systems. The colonialists quickly cite the necessary areas of change in what they consider unacceptable and inappropriate aspects of Igbo society. They fail to understand and appreciate that the Igbo’s society is joined and kept on check by the aspect they consider unacceptable (Rhoads 69).
By destroying aspects that hold the society together, the colonialists herald the destruction of the Igbo society in Things Fall Apart. For example, real men in Igbo society have more than one wife. Women in society appreciate that they are at home with the rituals. Indeed, the elder wife can even propose a younger woman to a husband. The new and young wife has a noble duty to accord respect to the elder wife. The wives and their partners reside in tranquility, responsibly execute all their domestic tasks, and even bring up children cooperatively. However, based on biblical teachings, the white colonialists highly oppose these practices claiming that polygamy is unacceptable.
The Igbo society does not hold in bad faith the killing of people or children if the practice is aligned with their tradition. For instance, in the Igbo traditional religion, twins are an indication of the devil’s work. Therefore, they should be immediately killed when they are born. The society also sacrifices young boys to ‘gods’ as an indication of peaceful offerings. However, the new religion that is influenced by colonialists suggests that people should not take the life of other people. Only God can do so. However, decisions made by people who still cling to the traditional Igbo’s traditions herald the destruction of society.
For example, Okonkwo stands out as a famous young man who opposes any change from the colonialists since it is meant to destroy the society at the end. Despite his fame, he makes a decision that erodes his position and significance in society. He commits suicide. Hence, he is buried in an undignified manner where his fame is forgotten after having failed to abide by the Igbo culture, which considers the act of taking one’s life one of the greatest sins in the land (Omwomoyela 18).
Language is an incredibly important cultural aspect of the Igbo people. The Igbo people deploy it to preserve their heritage while at the same time, creating a sense of self-belonging. However, it leads to the falling of the society. Initially, the society was skeptical about changing. People turned down the idea of educating children to learn in English. Achebe notes that Mr. Brown made efforts to insist on the villagers to send their children to school to learn to speak in English because they were under the rule of white missionaries and district commissioners who could only express themselves in the English language (128). However, the community still undermined the issue of embracing education.
The Igbo people relied on verbal communication to enhance cultural delineation. The language was also critical to social rank definitions. For instance, Achebe asserts that Okonkwo stands out as a wealthy man, especially when compared to Unoka, his father (6). He married several wives, produced many yams, and defeated one of the strongest wrestlers who resided in the village. Unoka, who has little yams, and one wife has only acquired very few titles in his life (Achebe 6). Consequently, he is called Agbala, meaning men and women who acquire no title (Achebe 3). Therefore, he does not deserve any respect. Branding people’s names depending on their achievements facilitates the social stratification of people in the Igbo society.
A society that does not undergo a change in response to the changing circumstances faces the risk of collapse. Change arises from the cognition of dynamics in the surrounding communities and even across the globe. However, Igbo is a largely ignorant community. It is secluded and void of knowledge on any issues that happen outside Umuofia. Indeed, throughout the narrative, the characters do not mention Nigeria or any other part of the globe. Hence, people in the village are not curious about what happens outside its Umuofia confines.
The Igbo people only know that Umuofia is the only place in the entire universe. They have no interest or urge to investigate what happens outside Umuofia. Therefore, all things outside this territory are non-existent in their minds. Hence, they are disregarded. Indeed, the Igbo people warn their children against venturing into the competitive world outside Umuofia, which the colonialists encourage them to join through learning the English language. People favor their local language, as opposed to the language of the foreigners (English language). This devotion hinders developments in Umuofia, thus ultimately leading to its collapse.
The Igbo people underestimate the harm that missionaries would cause to society. Indeed, the decision made by Mbanta to give missionaries land was an ignorant act that contributed to the demise of the Igbo society in Things Fall Apart (Achebe 105). The missionaries got the sense that the Igbo community is pathetic. Therefore, they noticed they could destroy society’s civilization, norms, and taboos easily and effectively to force their culture into them.
The Legal Structure
Colonialism led to the collapsing of the Igbo society’s legal structure. Umuofia people had an established judicial system even before missionaries stormed their land. The system worked under the influence of knowledge and values that were inherited from the community’s grandparents. The oldest men who were considered the wisest by virtue of experience headed the courts. Oldest men’s power was vested in ‘gods’ that enabled them to arrive at unbiased decisions. When missionaries arrived, the Igbo judicial system was replaced by their colonial judicial system. This case contributed to the collapsing of the Igbo culture since the missionaries did not have the knowledge or any understanding of the Igbo traditions or its history. Indeed, this move was a big blunder committed by missionaries when they opted to take control of Igbo’s land.
The sudden change of the judicial system led to confusion concerning what is right or wrong. The Igbo people could no longer have knowledge of what is the right thing to do according to the rules of the new courts. For example, village leaders were incredibly surprised when they were imprisoned upon burning a newly established church (Sharma 87). The hostile takeover of the Igbo judicial system, coupled with their land, depicts ignorance of the highest order to the Umuofia people’s culture and traditional values. In this sense, the colonialists could not learn or realize that forcing their culture into that of the Igbo people was inappropriate.
The Europeans led to the collapsing of the Igbo society through colonization, where they performed uncivilized roles. For example, under the Igbo courts, parties in conflicts were permitted to express themselves by offering equal opportunities for a fair hearing. On the contrary, in case Igbo villagers committed acts that were considered criminal under the British judicial system, they are imprisoned without being given an opportunity to speak themselves out.
For example, when Okonkwo hit his youthful companion in the season when they were celebrating (Achebe 124), despite such an act being acceptable under the Igbo customs without even hearing Okonkwo’s side of the story, the wife got the permission to present the issue before the British court. The courts’ rulings also seem unfair. For example, the judiciary finds no fault in Okonkwo overbeating his wife. However, it rules that he is guilty of being violent over the “week of peace” (Achebe, 124).
Although reluctantly embraced by Umuofia people in the novel Things Fall Apart, the fruits of colonization, such as education, were important in the transformation of immobile Igbo society. However, the paper has argued that interactions that occurred between the Igbo people and the colonizers, some of whom were missionaries, produced positive and negative implications for the native societies. Evidently, from Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, colonizers exerted their lifestyles on the Igbo people’s culture. Due to the internal and external factors such as ignorance, language, colonization, and the alteration of the judicial system, the Igbo society was ultimately destroyed.
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McEwan, Cheryl. Post Colonialism and Development, London: Taylor and Francis, 2009. Print.
Omwomoyela, Oyekan. A history of twentieth-century African literatures, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993. Print.
Rhoads, Diana. “Culture in Chinua Achebe’s things fall apart.” African Studies Review 36.2(1993): 61-72. Print.
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