In Chinua Achebe’s classic ThingsFall Apart, culture, religion, farming, and the importance of familyare expressed through the lens of the main character Okonkwo, and moreimportantly the Igbo lifestyle as a whole.
The book is set in Nigeria, Africain the early 1900s. It takes place in a set of villages called Umuofia, wherethe Ibo people reside. Achebe makes sure to include as many details about thevillage as he can, such as the fact that they grow yams as a form ofrepresenting status and that palm wine is the “local drink”. When Okonkwo, theprotagonist, begins his journey in life with little to no help from his old andselfish father, he is faced with his own internal dilemmas as to why his fatheris the way he is and how he will do it on his own. Despite the unfortunate handhe has been dealt regarding his father and his family situation, he stillmanages to work hard on his own, and with time obtain his own social standingand elevated status amongst the people in his town. He eventually has a largefarm that is his and only his, several wives, and more than plenty of yams.Life seems to be perfect for Okonkwo, until he begins to have issues with a fluctuatingAfrica and the British imperialists behind it. Things Fall Apart is a deeply layered novel that addresses intense subjectssuch colonialism and its effects, traditions and proverbs, and theenlightenment of Igbo culture exclusively, which are all slightly hidden behinda mask of entertainment found in the fictional tale.
Achebemakes a point to describe in great depth and detail the Igbo culture. Being a culture unknown to many, it encompasses a polytheisticreligion, a large emphasis on father-son legacy, set agriculture customs, and evena strong belief in the idea of evil spirits. Every major event that happens inthe book has some kind of significance based on the Igbo culture. For example,the fact that they adapted a polytheistic religion, with different gods orgoddesses to oversee each aspect of life. All of these gods and goddessesreport to one “head” God who overseas them all, Chukwu. Different aspects ofIgbo religion are brought up throughout the novel, and several times religionand religious observances play a major role in the plot.
In addition to these, the eye-opening conceptof colonialism is examined through the direct perspective of Okonkwo. He continuesto fight what we discover over time is nothing but losing battle to stopmissionaries from taking full control of his people. It all started withreligion. In order for any cultural change to begin to take place, the colonistshave to begin by introducing their own religion to the people who they are colonizing.They attempt to dispel fears by arriving on a platform built from goodwill, buttheir eventual goal is to essentially to entirely change the beliefs of thetribe. What’s even more surprising, though, is that in the end in this particularinstance they are successful. Once they get a foot in the door in Umuofia,hardly any time passes before their tactics are successful and nearly everyoneis converted to Christianity.
As readers who have become (as intended by theauthor) attached to the tribe and its customs now, we are saddened to see theIgbo stripped of their customs, rituals and beliefs. The missionaries originalgoal was to bring only religion to the people, but once they succeeded with thattask they didn’t stop there. They soon sought to bring what they viewed as”civilization” to the tribe as well. But as readers, we now better understandthat the tribe was perfectly functional and “civilized’ in their own respectswithout the help of the colonizers. Achebe’s purpose in writing thenovel was to present an intricate, dynamic society to a Western audience who mayhave observed African society as unsophisticated, meek, and regressive.
Bytelling a story and by inviting the reader into a culture that most know solittle about, we are able to better understand how what might have seemed likea barbaric society, was in reality a society successful in its own respects.