Throughout the novel Things Fall Apart, the Umuofia villagers have experienced a transformation due to colonialism. This transformation is evident in their increased fear of losing their traditions, their growing inclination for change, and their sense of sorrow as their cultural practices are dismantled. Umuofia was a village characterized by its adherence to norms of masculinity, tradition, and strict gender roles. The narrative takes place during the late 1800s to early 1900s, a period marked by British expansion and their growing influence in Africa in various domains such as economy, culture, religion, and politics.
Things Fall Apart depicts the British colonization of Umuofia and the consequent disruptive impact on the tribe members’ lives. The Igbo community greatly valued their traditions, culture, and beliefs, thus the arrival of the white men with their unfamiliar beliefs instilled fear in them. Upholding traditional norms held immense significance in Umuofia, which was exemplified through Okonkwo’s character as he sought to embody traditional male authority and strength.
The fear Okonkwo had was not only about failing to maintain tradition, but also about how his tribe would perceive him if he deviated from these customs. According to the text, his life was heavily influenced by fear. This fear was not just about evil spirits, unpredictable gods, magic, the menacing forest, or nature’s cruelty. Instead, Okonkwo’s fear went beyond all these fears. It was described as being profound and personal. The mentioned passage in Chapter 2 on page 12 highlights how Okonkwo’s fear resonates with the fear that many male figures in Umuofia experience.
These male figures are afraid to deviate from tradition and live in constant fear of straying from their customary ways of life. This fear was magnified when the white man arrived in Umuofia. The villagers perceived the white men as inferior because they did not share the same traditions and lifestyles. “None of these converts held positions of authority or respect within the community. They were mostly individuals referred to as efulefu, meaning worthless or empty men.”
The language of the clan referred to an efulefu as a man who sold his machete and used the sheath as a weapon in battle. Chielo, the priestess of Agbala, insulted the converts by calling them the excrement of the clan, and viewed the new faith as a mad dog that seeks to devour it. Some tribal members hold a favorable opinion of the life and religion introduced by white men, finding hope in the white man’s way of life. Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son, becomes intrigued by the Christian religion and is significantly impacted.
Nwoye is enticed by the Christian religion because he feels accepted and not judged for being perceived as weak, which was his father’s opinion of him. Okonkwo believes that his son is undermining the customs and values of their tribe, expressing, “you have all witnessed the disgraceful actions of your brother. He is no longer my son or your brother. I will only acknowledge a son who is courageous and respected among our people.” (Chapter 20, Pg. 172). Nwoye’s father disowns him solely because he selects a nonconventional path that deviates from their cultural norms.
Nwoye feels embraced by the white man’s religion, although he still carries the burden of guilt from his mother’s tribe. In contrast, Okonkwo opposes the new political and religious systems because he believes they go against his understanding of masculinity and fears they would diminish his own manliness if he were to join or accept them. Part of Okonkwo’s resistance to cultural change stems from his fear of losing social standing. His self-worth is closely tied to the traditional criteria by which society measures him. This evaluative framework motivates many marginalized individuals in the clan to adopt Christianity.
These outcasts seek solace in the Christian faith, which contrasts with the Igbo cultural values that marginalize them. At the start of the novel, the people of Umuofia held naive notions about the “white man,” which later turned into resentment towards the changes he brought to their village. “It is like the story of white men who, they say, are white like this piece of chalk,” Obierika explained, holding up a piece of chalk. “And these white men, they say, have no toes.” The villagers ridiculed the idea of a white man, displaying their strong attachment to tradition. With the colonization of Umuofia came the arrival of white missionaries whose objective was to propagate Christianity and convert the locals. The conversion of tribal people to Christianity dismantled an established and time-honored way of life in the village. “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peacefully with his religion.”
The tribal members were entertained by his foolishness and allowed him to remain. However, he has managed to influence our brothers, resulting in our clan becoming fragmented. His actions have threatened the foundations of unity and caused our disintegration. ‘” (Chapter 20, pg. 152) At this stage of the narrative, the Ibo community strongly believes that the white man has destroyed their customs and traditions. The sequence of events in Things Fall Apart establishes a somber, frustrated, and discontented atmosphere that highlights the significance of tradition, choice, and family within the Ibo culture.
Because of the deep respect for their culture, the Igbo people are apprehensive about the potential loss of their customs brought about by the arrival of the white man. While not everyone fears the presence of the white man, some individuals, such as Nwoye, yearn for something different. On the other hand, people like Okonkwo become incensed by the arrival of the white men as they believe it will lead to the destruction of Igbo society. The advent of colonialism triggers a range of emotions among the Igbo people including anger, confusion, acceptance, and sadness. The imposition of colonialism eradicates traditions that hold great importance in this society. The Igbo society is forced to undergo changes that were not requested or desired.
Shmoop Editorial Team. “Things Fall Apart Respect and Reputation Quotes Page 2” Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 13 Mar. 2013. Goodreads Inc. “Things Fall Apart Quotes.” By Chinua Achebe. Goodreads Incorporated, 2013. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.
. Lorcher, Trent. “Things Fall Apart: Important Quotes with Analysis.” Bright Hub Education. Bright Hub Incorporated, 19 May 2011. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.