Things Fall Apart and Its Themes
Themes are the fundamental and universal idea in literature works and Things Fall Apart is no exception to this rule. This novel is presented to the readers from the point of view of a man who goes by the name of Okonkwo and the way he deals with the effects of colonization. Nigeria became colonized by Britain in 1901 where the novel sets in, while we are witnesses of the changes his village goes through as the colonization of his country begins and forced tolerance is set towards their intruders and forms of lifestyle.
Okonkwos life falls apart as he resigns himself to watch his family, values, and culture be threatened and not be able to fight against it. Things Fall Apart manages to depict a world from before and after said events by showing the reader how the people of Umuofia, one of nine villages located in a city in Nigeria, deal with the events and make an effort to defeat it while trying to keep alive the ideologies of both cultures.
The tension and struggle between change and tradition is noticeable as we advance through the novel and discover how cultural beliefs and popular influence affect various characters. Chinua Achebe achieved to deliver the concept of culture suffering because of change and modern ways as he presents Unoka, father of the protagonist, straying away from the villages traditions and making an attempt to change them for personal benefit.
One of the traits Umuofia values is hard work and perseverance, none of which Unoka has. Unoka, for what was his fathers name, had died ten years ago. In his lazy and improvident was quite incapable of thinking about tomorrow (4 Achebe). This makes Okonkwo resist change and avoid any possible relationship to it, striving to keep the tradition within his family with the intention to follow it verbatim. The cultural belief of manliness that Things Fall Apart depicts is one of the main reasons for people to resist change at all costs and avoid the eradication of their traditions.
The protagonist himself believes that the new customs are not manly enough for them to follow. And, to some extent, he rejects change over his traditions because of fear of losing societal status, as proven in the text, Okonkwo wanted his son to be a great farmer and a great man. He would stamp out the disquieting signs of laziness which he thought he already saw in him (33 Achebe). As the mans great fear of change and modern ways strive, he condemns himself to not show any possible emotion towards anyone as a strategy to make his son a better person according to the norms and expectations they society they live in demands, forgetting any possible or slight change to said rules.
Changes in Umuofia are rare, but not unheard of and not socially accepted during the early stages of the novel, but that soon changes as the first signs of Western population start to make themselves more noticeable when the arrivals of missionaries and the introduction of their beliefs, customs, and traditions along with a government cause a certain uneasiness and confusion in the people of the village:
But he was a man of commanding presence and the clansmen listened to him. He said he was one of them, as they could see from his language. The other four black men were also his brothers, although one of them did not speak Ibo. The white man was also their brother because they were all sons of God.
And he told them about his new God, the Creator of all the world and all the men and women. He told them that they worshiped false gods, gods of wood and stone. A deep murmur went through the crowd when he said this. (145 Achebe)
At the end of this paragraph we can appreciate how the people of Umuofia quickly start to question the mans words. He claims that everything the village had imposed was false and suggested a change. A change towards what he believed was right.
- Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
- Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
- The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
- The ceremony of innocence is drowned,
- The best lack all conviction, while the worst
- Are full of passionate intensity. (3-8 Butler)
Through the poem after which Achebe named his novel, The Second Coming written by William Butler, we are presented with a new but familiar point of view towards change. The best lack conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity is another reflection on how the people from the clan unconsciously let the people from another culture have power over them even after they resist change and prefer their traditions over the new ones.
Not only are we able to experience how people of Umuofia deal with change between themselves and their people, but also, a point of view from the white men. The people from Nigeria refuse to accept the customs and beliefs from another culture. From this we can assume that people from a Western civilization experienced the same kind of refusal towards Igbo culture as Nigerian residents felt towards them, giving us a perfect depiction of the struggle between change and tradition and how it is felt and dealt with by both. While one is constantly caught between embracing or resisting change and the other rejects and despise change, leading them to twist others beliefs and thoughts for them not to do so as a matter of personal benefit.
Throughout history and the different cultures that were developed during those times, the definition of masculinity tends to vary in some major aspects. More than we are actually aware of. Masculinity is usually described as the possession of the qualities traditionally associated with a man. While this definition is accurate, cultures throughout the world have decided to mold that meaning into what they think is correct and associates with their morals and customs and the Igbo culture is no exception to that statement.
One of the major limitations Igbo culture presents is the flawed concept of a forced masculinity idealism. This appears to define Okonkwos life who, unconsciously, confuses masculinity and respect with being feared and to not express emotions towards others. In the eyes of Achebe we encounter several examples of Okonkwos indifference as the text explains his violent and ambitious behavior of wanting to over achieve his fathers legacy, which he interprets as weak and effeminate. We can only assume that the clans views of masculinity are, somewhat, similar to those of other cultures. Men are expected to protect their families and communities as well as to bring food to the table and enforce respect and several other values to his children to make them respected citizens.The clan seems to follow some of the basics of this concept, but not all of it.
While a Western culture will try to enforce respect through discipline, mutual respect and comprehension, Igbo culture may try to do the same thing through fear and anger. But even if these cultures dont share the same concept of what masculinity stands for, the reader can clearly formulate that Okonkwos view of masculinity and being manly does not coincide with the clans.
Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his little children. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. (13 Achebe)
As we start to read chapter two we are witnesses of the way Okonkwos interpretation differs from the clans. While the protagonist associates masculinity with anger and rage, therefore thinking that those are the only emotions hes able to express or otherwise he will be seen as weak. This is the reason why he beats his wives constantly by the most insignificant situations;
- Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart/ by Chinua Achebe. Anchor Books, 1994.
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