The Release of African Culture on the World

June 20, 2019 by Essay Writer

In the novel Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe uses Okonkwo’s story to elaborate a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of the cultural values of African tribes. Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart as a rebuttal to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Thus, Achebe uses the book to contrast European perception of African culture with reality. The novel particularly uses the conflicts of Okonkwo, its tragic hero, to symbolize African culture. Furthermore, Things Fall Apart stresses the importance of nature in African culture, and it gives detailed and elaborate accounts of the native political and economic systems in Umuofia prior to European involvement. Because Achebe’s goal is to increase global comprehension of African culture, he uses a tragic hero in his novel. Tragic heroes usually have higher moral standards than regular heroes. This evokes a deeper sympathy in the reader when the character suffers. Traditionally noble by birth, a tragic hero is fully responsible for his or her own fate, but is ultimately condemned by a tragic flaw of judgment. This irreversible misjudgment causes the hero to fall from his high standing, and lead to his death. Okonkwo is an ideal example of the tragic hero. For example, he faces death with a deep sense of personal responsibility, and a high sense of honor. Furthermore, although Okonkwo is not noted as a noble from birth, the opening lines of the book suggest that he is not an ordinary man. Achebe writes, “Okonkwo was well known throughout nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievement. As a young man of eighteen he had brought great honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat. Amalinze was the great wrestler who for seven years was unbeaten, from Umuofia to Mbaino. He was called that cat because his back never touched the ground.” From the first paragraph, the reader is under the impression that Okonkwo is a strong and powerful man. Indeed, Okonkwo grows up to become a successful farmer, well respected throughout the village. In contrast with the fact that both the other villagers and the readers sympathize with Okonkwo, his tragic flaw begins to become clear. Okonkwo’s tragic flaw is his obsessively masculine attitude. His life is dominated by the fear of being perceived as weak or feminine. For example, when he is walking Ikemefuna back home, and Okonkwo’s clansmen attack the boy, Ikemefuna runs back to him for help. Rather than help his beloved friend, Okonkwo murders Ikemefuna. Okonkwo’s lapse in judgment is due to his tragic flaw. Okonkwo is horror stricken for several days about what happened, but refuses to change his violent ways. To avoid being seen as weak, he continues to make detrimental decisions with irreversible consequences. As the novel continues, Okonkwo’s fear grows so large that he can no longer control it. Right after he strikes down the messenger in the end of the novel, he hears a voice ask, “Why did he do it?” Okonkwo realizes that he acts alone. No one else will go to war with him. Yet, even though he knows that no one is with him, he stays true to his beliefs. If he did not kill that messenger, then he would be submitting to the English. He also realizes that no one expected him to kill the messenger; rather, it was his own fear that motivated him. Okonkwo understands that with this new English culture, his entire lifestyle would be destroyed. He would no longer be able to gain power and influence through economic success, thus making him a frivolous degenerate, like his father. His decision to hang himself, therefore, is the most masculine decision that he can make. It shows that he will go to any length to prove his fearlessness. At the same time, it allows him to be at peace, knowing that he lived his life true to the values that he believed in. Thus, as with all tragic heroes, Okonkwo accepts the necessity of his death and kills himself. The death of Okonkwo is the most important event in the book, and the portrayal of him as a tragic hero amplifies the emotions of the reader. Sympathy for Okonkwo also provokes a loathing hatred for the Commissioner. The commissioner in the last few lines of the novel reflects on Okonkwo’s death, and in contemplation of including him in his book, he says, “One could almost write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any rate. There was much else to include, and one must be firm in cutting out details. He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.” (208-209)The commissioner, therefore, does not understand the African culture at all. His word choice infers his condescending attitude toward, and disrespect of, tribal African culture. The excerpt is a direct attack on The Heart of Darkness, as Achebe uses the Commissioner to show a situation similar to one in which Conrad would have been. The Commissioner complacently thinks that he understands the true African culture. In reality, his perspective is skewed, influenced by British misconception. This misconception underlines why the general European population believed, falsely, that Africa was a worthless indigenous continent. To help destroy these false preconceptions, Achebe focuses on his use of language. First, Achebe originally wrote the book in English, rather than relying on translation; he specifically wanted to share the indigenous African lifestyle with the British and European community. Prior to Achebe’s novel, the only influential books written about Africa were by European authors, who did not understand the African culture. Achebe’s own background, as someone who studied at a missionary college, also helped him breach the gap of misconception. He knew how to accurately depict the positive cultural values of Africa, in a way that the British would appreciate and be able to understand. The second linguistic aspect of Things Fall Apart that allows it to communicate African culture so well is Achebe’s word choice. Achebe describes his characters actions with desciptive adjectives that are symbolic of the animal community. For example, when describing Okonkwo, Achebe writes, “When he walked his heels hardly touched the ground and he seemed to walk on springs, as if he was going to pounce on somebody.” (4) This is a common example of how Achebe uses animal qualities to describe his characters. The significance of this is that nature and animals are very important to the Umuofia culture. For example, in the Ibo religion, a complex faith rooted in African tradition, villagers pray to the rain god during a drought. In sum, therefore, Acheve has successfully depicted African society, and provided the world with an accurate account of the importance of African culture. Achebe did not create African culture. Thousands of years of tradition did that. It is through Achebe’s writings, however, that he has released African culture for the entire world to value and appreciate.

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