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Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart: Analytical Essay

Updated on November 24, 2012
Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart | Source

Cultural Clash Makes Things Fall Apart

“If you are not prepared to use force to defend civilization, then be prepared to accept barbarism” (Sowell). This quote by Thomas Sowell, a well-known American author (among other occupations), describes perfectly one of the driving themes in Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart from the +perspectives of both the Europeans and Umuofian’s like the lead character, Okonkwo. After reading Achebe’s literary work, it was immediately apparent that neither of the two cultures involved knew much about the other. Furthermore, it was made clear neither group was willing to become completely educated in the ways of the “opposing” society, though the Ibo people were more accepting than the British. Finally, the reader observed that the downfall of any hope for co-existence resulted from each culture’s stubbornness and ignorance in regard to one another. The final outcome, as it was left at the end of the novel, was not a result of cooperation, but a result of force. Ultimately, all negative outcomes that occurred as a result of the clashing of these two cultures stemmed directly from the differences present between them.

Neither the European missionaries nor the Umuofia people knew much, if anything about the other’s culture. When they first heard of the white man who showed up in Abame they thought him to be an albino, and they said he rode on an iron horse (Achebe 138). When Obierika informed Okonkwo that the man was not an albino, but was something completely different, it was clear that neither of these two men knew what to make of this. Another example of the lack of knowledge about the Umofia people possessed by the missionaries was displayed in the land they were given to build the church. When the village leaders and elders gave them the land in the Evil Forest, they did not think the missionaries would actually take it, let alone be so overjoyed at the offer. The missionaries had no idea about the villager’s fear of the forest, and the village leaders didn’t know their fears were not shared by the missionaries. If the two groups had put more effort into learning about one another, perhaps things would have progressed more smoothly between them.

Stemming further from the lack of knowledge of one another’s culture, was the issue that there was a reluctance to learn and accept one another. The Christian missionaries were direct from the start, telling the villagers that they worshiped false gods. The missionaries had little to no tolerance allowed for the beliefs of the Umuofia people, because the missionaries believed them to be nothing greater than barbarians. They rejected the concept of the oracle and the egwugwu, the clan’s ancestral spirits. When we learn that missionaries have arrived in Umuofia, we also learn that they communicate with the villagers through an interpreter. What I found interesting is that even the interpreter couldn’t be bothered to thoroughly learn the language. “Instead of saying “myself” he always said my buttocks” (144). This fact only furthered my belief that the missionaries weren’t really interested in learning the ways and customs of the tribe, they wanted only for the tribe to learn the ways of the church. The stubbornness wasn’t all one sided, though. Okonkwo was, of course, one of the more outspoken proponents of running the church and the missionaries out of the village for good. When Okonkwo returned to Umuofia from his exile, he was devastated at what he saw. He had expected, dreamed even, that his return would be one of great significance and triumph. Instead, he found his return to be just the opposite; Okonkwo’s return held little to no impact on the rest of the villagers. Okonkwo had all these plans of redoing everything he had previously accomplished, and doing it even better this time around. When he saw how his people had changed, he pointed his finger at the church, and rightfully so. Okonkwo blamed the arrival of the church for the new-come weakness of his once warrior-like people, and so it makes sense that he sets out to rid his people of the oppression. Okonkwo rejects all things brought about by the church, including Nwoye. Because of his hatred for the Christian church, Okonkwo can’t even bear to look at Nwoye, never mind acknowledge him as his son.

As the novel draws toward completion, we see things begin to fall apart due to all of the aforementioned issues, and the clash of these two cultures in general. When Enoch, one of the converts, unmasks an egwugwu it sparks anger in the tradition-holding villagers. They gather in front of the church and burn it to the ground in a destructive blaze that was perhaps intended to symbolize further destruction to come. The conflict has finally reached a climax, and the villagers, much to Okonkwo’s delight, have made struck back against the church. Unfortunately for the villagers, the Europeans possessed more ability for force, and soon captured Okonkwo and other village leaders. The men were tortured and humiliated, and were given back only for a price paid by the village. Afterwards at a village meeting, the villagers react negatively when Okonkwo kills a messenger from the missionaries, indicating that all hope for the village he once knew was lost. This struck Okonkwo deeply, shattering him. Okonkwo, who Obierika described as “one of the greatest men in Umofia” (208) committed suicide. Okonkwo, the great warrior, great leader, and great man, killed himself when he saw his side had lost in the conflict of culture.

After reading Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, it was immediately apparent that neither of the two cultures was well informed about the other. Even further, it was quite obvious neither group possessed any strong desire to become educated in the ways of the “opposing” society. Finally, the reader observed that the downfall of any hope for co-existence resulted from each culture’s stubbornness and ignorance in regard to one another. The final outcome, as it was left at the end of the novel, was not a result of cooperation, but a result of force. Ultimately, the negative outcomes that occurred as a result of the clashing of these two cultures stemmed directly from the differences present between them, and the barriers present which prevented these differences from being overcome.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books, 1959. Print.

Sowell, Thomas. "Thomas Sowell Quotes." SearchQuotes. N.p., 2012. Web. 25 Sep 2012. <http://www.searchquotes.com/quotation/If_you_are_not_prepared_to_use_force_to_defend_civilization,_then_be_prepared_to_accept_barbarism/221505/>.

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