In Chinua Achebe’s renowned novel Things Fall Apart, the West received its first level of consciousness into their colonial nature through the vantage point of an African perspective. Achebe’s classic refuses to feud the colonized against the colonizer, additionally he refuses to lighten the disconcerting circumstances and situations his native Africa encounters with the 19th century colonial powers. Achebe’s reading of the encounter of Ibo tribal life with Western entry into Africa is in many ways a tragic irony and almost fable-like.
Furthermore, his understanding prevents any easy notions of exoneration for one side or the other. Achebe’s display of the complexities of this encounter between Ibo tribal life and Western Christianity show how bad communication between the tribes and the missionaries guaranteed the slow distribution of familial and social ties in the tribes. Lastly, in order to understand Chinua Achebe and this book it is imperative to note what is at stake for the various major players in their contact with new people, norms, and customs.
Achebe’s reading of the encounter between the indigenous culture and the colonizing religion is extremely nuanced and careful. Being a baptized Christian, Achebe seems to appreciate the subtle things between gain and loss in the process of conversion and the power of colonization. Turning off the colonial impulse as soon as possible Achebe understands and stresses that for the Igbo people that, “from the very beginning religion and education went hand in hand. ” In doing this, he clarifies to the reader that the indigenous and native are not the same as primitive and uncultured.
For Achebe, understanding this difference is important. The natural tendency for missionaries during that time was to compare native cultures as being uncivilized and in great need of a comprehensive reform and improvement. Merely, the insufficient accommodations were made by civilized missionaries to present cultural norms when they would settle in lands that did not belong to them. Among the small list of things that would remain unchanged were: language, clothing, food, etc.
Standards of living, rituals, ceremonies, social strata, and many others were all frequently called to be dismissed. The biblical expectation around class, wealth, and liturgy was the primary concern to Christians, so for missionaries deconstructing and reconstructing the indigenous societies repeatedly took place, however with variable degrees of success. Native hierarchy cultures were put into question, confirmed by the missionaries seeking the village’s king, “but the villagers told them that there was no king. ‘We have men of high title and the chief priests and the elders.
Socio-cultural values were also in danger with the Gospel’s interruption, like found in Matthew 10:34, “man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. ” Achebe illustrates to the reader that all indigenous cultures cannot be assumed as being the same and (or) having the same problems. While some cultures worship ancestors, the Igbo culture valued achievement (what was new) more than age (what was old). Rather than seek money and rare items like some other cultures do, the Igbo “do not pray to have more money but to have more kinsmen.
Thus, the particulars of each culture affected the effectiveness of particular missions. Although, there are some parallels that Achebe stresses in order to illustrate a better explanation to the complicated rough terrain, rather than a harsh prejudice and injustice which might be implied on either side of the colonizer and colonized split. Justice for example is a common value – even if it is used in different ways. The West argues their case publicly, sides are made and accuse and defend accordingly, a council gives the verdict, and a sentencing is given publicly.
Conversely, for the Igbo, it is the egwugwu, the ancient souls of the tribe, who serve as jury, and the Evil Forest as judge. After all, the entry into Igbo tribal life with the Western influence has both demise and similarities amongst them. Achebe successfully navigates between the extremes of condemning the colonizers and concretizing the colonized. Over time issues start to show as incorporation begins and is driven backward by numerous forces. This shift in the novel occurs while the protagonist, Okonkwo, is exiled in another village. In that village missionaries are received with caution and are treated with contempt.
Cursed land is given to them to settle, in which the Igbo clan in Mbanta feel is definitely going to drive them away. When it does not drive them away, and the Christians nurse the twins who were left to die, then conversion occurs. The miscommunication that allows the missionaries their land is the very language that gives way to the eventual break down of traditional Igbo society as the Christians move toward surviving and thriving despite what the Igbo see as overwhelming odds. A miscommunication brings forth the very leverage that presents the complex untangling of Igbo society.
He portrays this through the slow distribution of familial and social ties. The familial breakdown paradoxically evokes the Mathean passage in the figure of “Ogbuefi Ugonna, who had taken two titles, and who like a madman had cut the anklet of his titles and cast it away to join the Christians. ” Titles were earned within the setting of the clan and are the clear indicator of great pride for the man as an individual, and especially the social mention it brings his family. This is depicted as an elder warns Okonkwo, “You young people… do not know how strong is the bond of kinship.
You do not know what it is to speak in one voice. And what is the result? An abominable religion has settled among you. A man can now leave his father and his brothers. ” Familial norms start to breakdown as religious conversion starts to creep in and tear apart old ties. Okonkwo sees it on his return from exile, that “now [the white man] has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. [The colonizers have] put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart. ” This breakdown of social ties is shown through the killing of the egwugwu by Enoch.
At this time in the novel, “the Mother of the Spirits walked the length and breadth of the clan, weeping for her murdered son… It seemed as if the very soul of the tribe wept for a great evil that was coming – its own death. ” Indeed, the conclusion of the book comes quickly thereafter. The clans begin falling apart and are no longer speaking in one voice or acting as one. When the court messengers come to break up the village’s assembly during a call to war by a gifted speaker, Okonkwo strikes down the head messenger. Regardless of the warrior’s passionate response, they “would not go to war.
Okonkwo] knew because they had let the other court messengers escape. ” Ironically, the village that was so fast to change by being pacified to colonial rule maintains the firm taboo of refusing to bury Okonkwo when he kills himself for being the only Igbo who did not adapt to the increasingly oppressive command of Reverend Smith and the District Commissioner. The story of Okonkwo’s life and death tells us what exactly was at stake for him, and in some ways Chinua Achebe as well. Okonkwo had built an entire life based upon what he had earned in response to the perceived shortcomings of his father.
Never earning a single title in his life and dying with overdue debts, Okonkwo’s father was womanlike and untrustworthy. Therefore, Okonkwo stakes his entire life on the cultural traditions he was raised in because the family he was born into he viewed as unreliable, for both his father and his son, Nwoye. Certainly, he “shudders” at the thought of the ancient gods being completely renounced after Nwoye converts to Christianity. However, on the other end of the social spectrum but clearly showing signs of similar theo-political assumptions are Reverend Smith and the district commissioner.
Embodiments of their colonial religion and government, Smith and the nameless commissioner shove their own traditions and culture in a foreign land absent of any honest communication between them. The district commissioner even stoops so low to deception in hopes to catch Okonkwo and the other village elders. What is at stake for the elders is the exact same fear of possibility that Okonkwo is threatened by – that if the “Other” is exonerated then all hope has been lost. Nevertheless, not all of the characters are so deterministic about their beliefs, many conform rather smoothly to the rapidly changing environment.
Nwoye, possibly the character Achebe associates himself best with, finds in the new religion answers to long awaited questions he has had. Surely “the hymn about brothers who sat in darkness and in fear seemed to answer a vague and persistent question that haunted his young soul… He felt relief within as the hymn poured into his parched soul. ” Others find similar stirrings within, but come together much more slowly and carefully. Okonkwo’s friend Obierika “remembered his wife’s twin children, whom he had thrown away. What crime had they committed? The earth had decreed that they were an offense to the land must be destroyed.
This attitude and response is shown in Achebe as having found purchase in his soul long before the arrival of the missionaries and their first converts. However, Obierika does not convert as smoothly as Nwoye, as he may have more at stake in the form of his family, his titles, and (or) his other social respect. Achebe skillfully puts together these various and diverse characters to illustrate a complicated and tough way in which the Western colonial and missional encounter occurs in Africa, and preserves the complex and difficult issues that such a telling of history needs and demands.
In conclusion, Chinua Achebe does extremely well in narrating the complexities of contact with the Western world and culture of religious and political fashions. Due to his own complex story and identity of being baptized into Christianity within being a native of a colonized land, he stands in a unique place to skillfully navigate through the messiness of Christian missions to the unknown world that few people get to share. His story denies the sharp dualism that dominates identity within society, denying to choose a side but acknowledging the deeply messy and complicated setting into which he was born.
His work gives Western readers the chance to sympathize with a viewpoint they helped form and create, plus he gives his own native people a powerful and cohesive voice that does not shy away from the significance their story demands. Achebe leaves us with a vague and persistent question, one that is more profound in its question than its answer. When pondering with this insightful perception of what happens at this intersection of culture and convictions, when things fall apart, such unanswerable questions can be refreshing and somewhat satisfying.