Things Fall Apart
Things fall apart by Chinua Achebe is published in 1958. Achebe is a Nigerian author. It is seen as the archetypal modern African novel in English. The title of the novel comes from William Butler Yeats poem “The Second Coming”. The novel depicts the life of Okonkwo, a leader and local wrestling champion in Umuofia—one of a fictional group of nine villages in Nigeria, inhabited by the Igbo people (archaically, and in the novel, “Ibo”). It focuses on his family and personal history, the customs and society of the Igbo and the influence of British colonialism and Christian missionaries on the Igbo community during the late nineteenth century.
The theme of a novel is the driving force of the book during its creation. Even if the author doesn’t consciously identify an intended theme, the creative process is directed by at least one controlling idea — a concept or principle or belief or purpose significant to the author. The theme — often several themes — guides the author by controlling where the story goes, what the characters do, what mood is portrayed, what style evolves, and what emotional effects the story will create in the reader. Igbo Society Complexity
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From Achebe’s own statements, we know that one of his themes is the complexity of Igbo society before the arrival of the Europeans. To support this theme, he includes detailed descriptions of the justice codes and the trial process, the social and family rituals, the marriage customs, food production and preparation processes, the process of shared leadership for the community, religious beliefs and practices, and the opportunities for virtually every man to climb the clan’s ladder of success through his own efforts.
The book may have been written more simply as a study of Okonkwo’s deterioration in character in an increasingly unsympathetic and incompatible environment, but consider what would have been lost had Achebe not emphasized the theme of the complex and dynamic qualities of the Igbo in Umuofia. Clash of Cultures Against Achebe’s theme of Igbo cultural complexity is his theme of the clash of cultures.
This collision of cultures occurs at the individual and societal levels, and the cultural misunderstanding cuts both ways: Just as the uncompromising Reverend Smith views Africans as “heathens,” the Igbo initially criticize the Christians and the missionaries as “foolish. ” For Achebe, the Africans’ misperceptions of themselves and of Europeans need realignment as much as do the misperceptions of Africans by the West. Writing as an African who had been “Europeanized,” Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart as “an act of atonement with [his] past, the ritual return and homage of a prodigal son. By his own act, he encourages other Africans, especially ones with Western educations, to realize that they may misperceive their native culture. Gender Much of the traditional Igbo life presented in this novel revolves around structured gender roles. Essentially all of Igbo life is gendered, from the crops that men and women grow, to characterization of crimes. In Igbo culture, women are the weaker sex, but are also endowed with qualities that make them worthy of worship, like the ability to bear children.
The dominant role for women is: first, to make a pure bride for an honorable man, second, to be a submissive wife, and third, to bear many children. The ideal man provides for his family materially and has expertise on the battlefield. The protagonist in the novel is extremely concerned with being hyper-masculine and devalues everything feminine, leaving him rather unbalanced. Much of the gender theme in the book centers on the idea of balance between masculine and feminine forces – body and mind/soul, emotionality and rationality, mother and father. If one is in imbalance, it makes the whole system haywire.
Respect and Reputation Reputation is extremely important to the men in the novel. Personal reputation is publicly denoted by the ankle bracelets men wear, which signify the number of “titles” they have earned. Reputation is based on merit – men gain reputation through bravery in battle, skill at wrestling, and hard work as seen through the size of their yam harvest. Reputation earns men positions of power and influence in the community as well as numerous wives. Okonkwo, the novel’s protagonist, is extremely concerned with reputation because he grew up with a father who was shameful and lazy.
Okonkwo overcompensates by working tirelessly on his farm and taking every opportunity available to prove his bravery and strength. Fear Many of the characters suffer from fear of some sort. Okonkwo fears becoming like his lazy, shameful father, Ekwefi fears losing her daughter, and Nwoye fears his father’s wrath. While most characters fear events that are outside of their control, Okonkwo is consumed by a terrible internal worry about himself and his identity. Rather than mastering his fear, he allows it to dominate him and drive his actions.
Fear leads him to lash out in some pretty nasty ways: beating his wives, abusing and alienating his oldest son, partaking in the murder of his adoptive son, etc. Overall, fear in this novel leads characters to behave in negative ways that can bring the wrath of the gods, guilt, and the community disapproval upon them. Religion The Igbo gods are mostly manifestations of nature and its elements, which makes sense because they are an agricultural society that depends on the regularity of seasons and natural phenomena to survive.
They worship the goddess of the earth and are always careful to avoid committing sins against her for fear of vengeance that might wipe out an entire generation. The Igbo ancestors also take on a divine nature to some extent. Family plays such a central role in Igbo life that the spirits of their ancestors are consulted for almost every decision and even serve as judges in legal trials (in the form of masked elders). The Igbo emphasis on numerous gods associated with nature and also on ancestors and somewhat divine contrasts sharply with the single God of Christianity which seems far less directly relevant to the Igbo lifestyle.
Sin In Things Fall Apart, sin is defined as a crime against the gods. Such transgressions occur when a member of society violates the most intimate bonds of family, especially with regards to one’s children or somehow insults an ancestral spirit. These sins call for quick and severe punishment, often including animal sacrifices, a heavy fine, various symbolic gestures of atonement, exile from one’s fatherland, or even death. Only when such payment is given can justice be served. If punishment is not doled out, not only is the sinner subject to divine wrath, but the entire community suffers.
Traditions and Customs Igbo lifestyle is highly stylized, from its ritual speech to the actions performed for certain ceremonies. Most of these formalized interactions occur in an attempt to show respect to some external being – another man, an ancestral spirit, or a god. Respect and knowledge of one’s role in society is very important in determining such customs. Another institution that rituals address and honor is the family unit. Stylized language, in particular, seeks to hold the family together by means of promises. Fate and Free Will
Social rank and relative wealth play great roles in determining a person’s destiny in Umuofia society. But sometimes a man with sheer force of will can change his stars through hard work and a smattering of luck. One of the main conflicts in Things Fall Apart is the clash between Okonkwo’s determination to succeed and fate – which seems to have less appetizing things in mind. However, Okonkwo’s will does play a major factor in determining his future; he chooses to kill Ikemefuna with his own hands, he chooses to kill a government official, and in the end, he chooses to take his own life.
Whether or not negative events in his life are tied to these three crimes or if they are just the result of chance or fate is debatable. Destiny Related to the theme of cultural clash is the issue of how much the flexibility or the rigidity of the characters (and by implication, of the British and Igbo) contribute to their destiny. Because of Okonkwo’s inflexible nature, he seems destined for self-destruction, even before the arrival of the European colonizers. The arrival of a new culture only hastens Okonkwo’s tragic fate. Two other characters contrast with Okonkwo in this regard: Mr.
Brown, the first missionary, and Obierika, Okonkwo’s good friend. Whereas Okonkwo is an unyielding man of action, the other two are more open and adaptable men of thought. Mr. Brown wins converts by first respecting the traditions and beliefs of the Igbo and subsequently allowing some accommodation in the conversion process. Like Brown, Obierika is also a reasonable and thinking person. He does not advocate the use of force to counter the colonizers and the opposition. Rather, he has an open mind about changing values and foreign culture: “Who knows what may happen tomorrow? he comments about the arrival of foreigners. Obierika’s receptive and adaptable nature may be more representative of the spirit of Umuofia than Okonkwo’s unquestioning rigidity. Language and Communication Speech is highly stylized in Igbo culture, with specific rules on how to addresses a neighbor, a superior, an ancestral spirits, and the gods. Respect is usually at the heart of formal speech. While dialogue is usually direct in its meaning, speakers often adorn conversations with proverbs or references to folktales, which play a profound role in shaping Igbo beliefs.
Language, too, has a way of either including or alienating a listener. The gods have their own language which lowly humans cannot understand. The Christians speak English and require an interpreter to communicate with the Umuofia. However, interpreters are often from different parts of the country and have noticeable differences in speech. So concepts and connotations are inevitably lost in translation. BIBLIOGRAPHY http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Things_Fall_Apart http://www. paperstarter. com/thingsfallapart. htm