Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe1 establishes how different various cultures are and the audacity that each has in assuming that all rational and civilized people think the same way that they do. This is done depicting the life lessons of a man that never heard what he was being told. His inability to see the obvious relevance in these occurrences is a metaphor for the lack of understanding and cohesion on the part of the Africans and Westerners interactions with one another. Instead of coming together and communicating their ways of life to one another, they budded heads and insisted they were the ‘right’ side of every situation; similarly with Okonkwo and his insistence of always acting the opposite of his father and ignoring what he could learn from his father’s life choices.
The book takes on many pressing topics within societies including: destruction of family, segregation of differing cultures, economics and its impact on a society and the unrealistic aspirations of being perfect. Unfortunately, with the last one, that means seeing nothing else. The initial family destructiveness occurs when Okonkwo disowns who his father was in order to overcome that image and become something greater. His family alone has many unresolved conflicts that are dealt with in barbaric ways. When Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna, who was like a son to him, because he thought that not killing him would make him look bad, that was unnecessary. Okonkwo should have listened to Obierika when he told him not to be present and the assassination of the boy. Obierika told him this because Okonkwo had taken this boy into his home and raised him like a son for three years, Ikemefuna even referred to Okonkwo as father and for this he should have known that his participation in this boy’s death would result in negative repercussions both in the community but especially in his home. His family remained representory of the tribes that were discussed in this text.
The communities that were established kept themselves unified by discussing why other cultures were nonsense and how their ways of thinking were so backwards that it was not necessary to even acknowledge them. This unfortunate dominating ignorance led to the destruction of their communities coupled with the prosperous economy. Because the outsiders needed things that the tribes were accustomed to selling, they ignored the westerner’s manipulative ways of conversion until many of their people (good and bad) were persuaded out of their traditional ways of living.
Instead, communicating with these other cultures and finding the commonalities among each other, they demeaned the other unrelentlessly. The Africans discussed how crazy the white men were for believing that there was only one god when there was so much proof that there must be several gods and the white man stood firm that the African’s traditional ways of thinking were primitive and nonsensical.
There were characters of various developments. As a reader, I was surprised at the amount of characters that were well developed. Aside from the sixty-nine characters that were nonrelated to Okonkwo, his three wives and their approximately thirteen children and the eleven gods many of them were described in detail as their own personal introduction into this text. Some, like the District Commissioner, I would have liked more development. Although, I can see the reasoning for his obscurity I felt that his character had some profound thoughts but he was such an ambiguous person that I couldn’t really grasp where he was coming from. Due to this fact, I become another metaphor for the novel; I’m reading and making inferences about a man that I don’t even understand. The only difference in this case, isn’t that I don’t care to learn more about him; I just don’t have that opportunity.
Those characters that stand out in my mind as affecting me in a negative way were Okonkwo and Nwuye strangely enough. I find it strange because they are father and his eldest son. Now Okonkwo immediately rubbed me the wrong way because he didn’t want to learn from his father’s life lessons but simply ignore them. It was when he killed Ikemefuna that I lost any hope that I had for him concerning the outcome of the story. Nwuye established himself as a follower. He managed himself in very careful baby steps and this was contrasted a few times by discussing his maturity and then discussing another boy. For instance, it was at the wrestling matches that Okonkwo knew that Nwuye should be participating but he just wasn’t ready yet. Then we are taken to the match that takes place between two of his peers including a boy that moves very quickly and would make any father proud. Nwuye didn’t really rub me the wrong way until the latter portion of the text because of the growing tendency of his to appease everyone but, he never knew what he really wanted to do.
The characters that I really enjoyed in a positive way were Ezinma and Okoya. Ezinma because she matured into a strong figure during the story, which, in and of itself is wonderful, but being a woman in this African culture makes it even more inspiring. Her father was proud of her strength so much so that he constantly wished that she had been a boy and in his own way gave her tasks that should his love for her. Okoya was another character that I enjoyed immensely, the father of Okonkwo, because he lived his life to its fullest everyday. If Okonkwo had paid any attention, instead of hating his father for his debts and his lack of interest in fitting into society’s role of what a man is, he would have taken away that it is important to be present to what you are doing every day of life and not so concerned with the final product.
Along with the fictional aspects of the text, there’s a lot of information regarding the traditional Africa and its many lifestyles. A few of the topics that were taken on include the African sense of unity with family reemphasized in culture, the devotion to belief system, the hierarchal structure of the society, the role of wives, death and birth rites. Before reading this novel, I didn’t understand the hierarchal structure enough and now I appreciate it. It is a system that ensures that those in the position really understand what it is they are taking on unlike western civilization, which just elects anyone with an interest in the position.
The unification between the various groups in this culture was also refreshing. There are so many checks and balances wound into this beautiful of that the Africans can only strive through unifying together to overcome any problems. Since they are already accustomed to their roles when they do work collectively it makes them that much more powerful.
Their devotion to their belief system was so strong that no one felt otherwise. There was never discussion about how deep one’s allegiance was to their tribe. They were expected to live and die for this belief system. This system had both good and bad terms, as do any established systems. For instance, twins were bad omens so they were thrown in the forest. If a woman had several miscarriages and then finally carried a baby to term, that baby was killed because they believed that it was the spirit of the others’ that had died. When a person dies in an unpatriotic way, they are left to rot in the Evil Forest because they are not worthy of be being in Mother Earth. If a man commits suicide, he is not allowed to be touched by a member of his tribe.
Western civilization had many effects on the African’s way of living both good and bad. The horrible were that they didn’t try to understand the Africans way of living and they came in with completely different ways of living, convinced a lot that the individual is better than the community, the Africans begin to let their economic prosperity override their belief system and they no longer had no real control over their ‘motherland.’ These factors ripped apart the fabric of African culture from the inside out.
As a tribe, ethnic group, country, continent, people cannot expect to solve the problems of the world by assuming that everyone thinks (or wants to think) like them. This was the most prelevant moral that was emanating from this text. So many times this very point is the root of where all battles begin. Look at the United States in Iraq. The U.S. is there because they think that Iraqi people would benefit more from having a democracy with complete and total disregard to what the people are accustomed to living and what they prefer. It would be just as idiotic an idea if you grew up believing that a bowl of cereal is the best way to start off your day. Then one day, you go to the store and they won’t let you buy cereal anymore, not because they’re out of cereal but because the clerk has decided that you can only eat rice for breakfast. Do you show your frustration due to the unreasonable circumstances and your hatred of rice?
The education versus the traditional Africans had a heated battle. A lot of what traditional Africans know of the world is based on their religious practices and the educated Africans don’t stand firm on the religious practices or anything because they’re always looking at the big picture in terms of its short term benefits. Most educated Africans saw the benefits of differing points of view without always seeing the long-term ramifications. The traditional Africans had the unification of the family and the community as the main focus as the educated Africans saw the potential to always become something greater.
The main problem I had with this book was that it’s a fiction novel. I prefer non-fiction material because I like to know what’s supposed to be the analyzed factual information and what is hypothetical and mystical without the fluff. I just prefer to read nonfiction material because with fiction novels it’s hard to decipher between the facts and the embellishments. I fully enjoyed that it was an easy read written in an unbiased manner.
Throughout this novel, both parties had their reasonable and unreasonable foundations set up. Due to the unreasonable portions, I think they had to incorporate the degradation of other belief systems in order to attract and retain their followers. Without taking each moment as a lesson in life while still striving for perfection, this becomes a short-sided view that’s just as ridiculous as trying to box with god, they all set themselves up to fall apart.
1. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe was published by the Bantom Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc. in 1959.