Themes in Things Fall Apart
Okonkwo’s relationship with his late father shapes much of his violent and ambitious demeanor. He wants to rise above his father’s legacy of spendthrift, indolent behavior, which he views as weak and therefore effeminate. He associates masculinity with aggression and feels that anger is the only emotion that he should display. For this reason, he frequently beats his wives, even threatening to kill them from time to time. We are told that he does not think about things, and we see him act rashly and impetuously.
Yet others who are in no way effeminate do not behave in this way. Obierika, unlike Okonkwo, “was a man who thought about things. ” Whereas Obierika refuses to accompany the men on the trip to kill Ikemefuna, Okonkwo not only volunteers to join the party that will execute his surrogate son but also violently stabs him with his machete simply because he is afraid of appearing weak. Okonkwo’s seven-year exile from his village only reinforces his notion that men are stronger than women.
While in exile, he lives among the kinsmen of his motherland and has an opportunity to get in touch with his feminine side and to acknowledge his maternal ancestors, but he keeps reminding himself that his maternal kinsmen are not as warlike and fierce as he remembers the villagers of Umuofia to be. Language as a Sign of Cultural Difference Among the Ibo, the art of conservation is highly regarded, and proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten. Speech is highly stylized in Igbo culture, with specific rules on how to addresses a neighbor, a superior, an ancestral spirits, and the gods.
Respect is usually at the heart of formal speech. Through his inclusion of proverbs, folktales, and songs translated from the Igbo language, Achebe managed to capture and convey the rhythms, structures, cadences, and beauty of the Igbo language Animal Imagery In their descriptions, categorizations, and explanations of human behavior and wisdom, the Igbo often use animal anecdotes to naturalize their rituals and beliefs. The presence of animals in their folklore reflects the environment in which they live. The Igbo perceive these animal stories, such as the account of how the tortoise’s shell came to be bumpy, as logical xplanations of natural phenomena. Another important animal image is the figure of the sacred python. Enoch’s alleged killing and eating of the python symbolizes the transition to a new form of spirituality and a new religious order. Clash of Cultures This collision of cultures occurs at the individual and societal levels, and the cultural misunderstanding cuts both ways: Just as the uncompromising Reverend Smith views Africans as “heathens,” the Igbo initially criticize the Christians and the missionaries as “foolish. ” Social disintegration
Towards the end of the novel, we witness the events by which Igbo society begins to fall apart. Religion is threatened, Umuofia loses its self-determination, and the very centers of tribal life are threatened. Greatness and ambition Okonkwo is determined to be a lord of his clan. He rises from humble beginnings to a position of leadership, and he is a wealthy man. He is driven and determined, but his greatness comes from the same traits that are the source of his weaknesses. He is often too harsh with his family, and he is haunted by a fear of failure.
Fear Many of the characters suffer from fear of some sort. Ekwefi fears losing her daughter, and Nwoye fears his father’s wrath. For all of his desire to be strong, Okonkwo is haunted by fear. He is profoundly afraid of failure, and he is afraid of being considered weak. This fear drives him to rashness, and in the end contributes to his death. Tribal belief and Traditions Particularly since one of the threats to Igbo life is the coming of the new religion, tribal belief is a theme of some importance.
Igbo lifestyle is highly stylized, from its ritual speech to the actions performed for certain ceremonies. Achebe also shows that Igbo religious authorities, such as the Oracle, seem to possess uncanny insights. He approaches the matter of Igbo religion with a sense of wonder. Justice Justice is another powerful preoccupation of the novel. For the Igbo, justice and fairness are matters of great importance. They have complex social institutions that administer justice in fair and rational ways. But the coming of the British upsets that balance.
Although the British claim that local laws are barbaric, and use this claim as an excuse to impose their own laws, we soon see that British law is hypocritical and inhumane. Reputation Reputation is extremely important to the men in the novel. Personal reputation is publicly denoted by the ankle bracelets men wear, which signify the number of “titles” they have earned. Reputation is based on merit – men gain reputation through bravery in battle, skill at wrestling, and hard work as seen through the size of their yam harvest.
Reputation earns men positions of power and influence in the community as well as numerous wives. Religion The Igbo gods are mostly manifestations of nature and its elements, which makes sense because they are an agricultural society that depends on the regularity of seasons and natural phenomena to survive. They worship the goddess of the earth and are always careful to avoid committing sins against her for fear of vengeance that might wipe out an entire generation. The spirits of their ancestors are consulted for almost every decision and even serve as judges in legal trials (in the form of masked elders).
The Igbo emphasis on numerous gods associated with nature and also on ancestors. The Struggle Between Change and Tradition As a story about a culture on the verge of change, Things Fall Apart deals with how the prospect and reality of change affect various characters. Okonkwo, for example, resists the new political and religious orders because he feels that they are not manly and that he himself will not be manly if he consents to join or even tolerate them. To some extent, Okonkwo’s resistance of cultural change is also due to his fear of losing societal status.
His sense of self-worth is dependent upon the traditional standards by which society judges him. This system of evaluating the self inspires many of the clan’s outcasts to embrace Christianity. Long scorned, these outcasts find in the Christian value system a refuge from the Igbo cultural values that place them below everyone else. In their new community, these converts enjoy a more elevated status. The villagers in general are caught between resisting and embracing change and they face the dilemma of trying to determine how best to adapt to the reality of change.
Many of the villagers are excited about the new opportunities and techniques that the missionaries bring. This European influence, however, threatens to extinguish the need for the mastery of traditional methods of farming, harvesting, building, and cooking. These traditional methods, once crucial for survival, are now, to varying degrees, dispensable. Throughout the novel, Achebe shows how dependent such traditions are upon storytelling and language and thus how quickly the abandonment of the Igbo language for English could lead to the eradication of these traditions.
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