The Fall of the Igbo Society in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1959), there are many different internal and external aspects that lead to the destruction of the African society. Some internal aspects that cause the decay of the Ibo African society are Okonkwo’s personality, the marginalization of women, and the struggle between traditions and changes. Some external things that lead to the destruction of the Ibo African society include the introduction of Christianity and colonization. Although the Ibo African society was lively and stable society before the Europeans arrived, their internal struggles contributed to their own demise.
Okonkwo’s personality contributes to the downfall of his society. Okonkwo is characterized as dynamic, wealthy, economical, brave, fierce, and adamantly divergent to music and anything else that he identifies as ‘soft,’ for example, conversation and emotion. He is strongly mindful and masculine and thus has a low tolerance for femininity. “I will not have a son who cannot hold up his head in the gathering of the clan. I would sooner strangle him with my own hands.” (Achebe and Irele 44). Okonkwo would rather kill his child than live with a son who holds feminine characteristics. He was concerned that his legacy may be tarnished by his son’s lack of masculinity. “Nwoye knew that it was right to be masculine and to be violent, but somehow he still preferred the stories that his mother used to tell…” (Achebe and Irele 46). Okonkwo was disturbed by his son’s approval of what he considered to be womanly attributes. Okonkwo wanted that his sons follow his strong lead unlike the shame that his own father bestowed upon him and their land. Okonkwo was afraid to become like his father, whom he considered to be weak and shameful. His fear was so intense that he actually became the exact image he was trying to avoid.
Okonkwo is also described as a tragic hero. He holds a position of prestige and power; he gains awareness of the situation that led to his fall, chooses his course of action, and possesses a tragic flaw, which is the fear of weakness and failure (Hawker 29). Being thirty years old, he is a leader of Umuofia Igbo community. Okonkwo is described as tall and huge, have bushy eyebrows and have a wide nose that makes him look very severe by Achebe. His feet barely touch the ground when he goes as if he is walking on springs like he is going to pounce on someone. Okwonko was slightly stammering and heavily breathing. Okwonko is a renowned, successful yam farmer, a wrestler, and a warrior living in a little hut with his children and three wives. He faces diverse forms of battles in his life which is dominated by failures and weaknesses. Okwonko is quick to anger especially when he deals with weak and lazy people such as his father. On the other hand though, he overcompensates for the ‘womanly’ lifestyle of his father which he is ashamed of because he hates idleness and gentleness. According to Khan Though, sometimes he has inward feelings of affection; he does not portray affection toward any person, but rather separates himself from exhibiting anger through irrational behavior, stubbornness, or violence (51). Regardless of the age and weak physical stamina for Okonkwo’s children, he makes all the family members continue working for long hours (Khan 51).
The marginalization of women is another internal aspect that leads to the downfall of the Ibo African society. Women had very limited and specific roles in the Ibo society compared to their men. In Things Fall Apart, females are solely responsible for giving birth, taking care of children, and doing domestic activities such as cooking food for the family and keeping a clean house. Men, on the other hand, were regarded as strong. They were warriors and wrestlers. Men were responsible for fighting and providing for their families. Women were supposed to stay pure until marriage. They were taught to be submissive and behave in a certain way with their husbands. Women were supposed to bear as many children as they can for their husbands. If a woman was characterized as lazy or disobedient, the culture allowed husband to be beat his wife.
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Achebe explains the women role in pre-colonial Africa where blacks are marginalized. Throughout the novel, women are relegated to a position that is inferior; they are treated as chattels and regarded as a mere appendage to a husband. They have degraded their status. Okonkwo, as pointed out by Okpala (32), believes in the division of traditional gender though it is the misconception of patriarchy. Okonkwo wishes that his first born child was born a boy. Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son, disappointed his father because he was named after his grandfather who loved him but Okwonko resented the old man. In the Things Fall Apart world (Okpala 32), men were everything while women were nothing, and man’s greatness was measured by the power of muscles, the number of wives, titles, and wealth. No matter how a man is prosperous in the Things Fall Apart, he was not considered a man if he was unable to rule his women and children having authorities over them.
In any important matter, women did not have any say because men put them on a remote margin regarding the matters of judicially, economics, and politics of the community. The women who are powerful in the village of Ibo are found to play a role of priestesses. Chika was the priestess full of her gods’ power, and people greatly feared her. The current priestess was Chielo of Agbala, the hill and caves oracle (Khan 54).
Africans’ struggle between following traditions and accepting change is a major internal factor that leads to the destruction of their society. Tradition is held dear to the hearts of Africans in the Ibo society. As a result, it is hard for Africans to accept the changes brought about by Europeans. Okonkwo, for example, refuses the new political and religious orders presented by Europeans because he they are not manly, and he does not want to lose his masculinity (Okpewho 23). He fears that if he agrees to join or even tolerate the changes, he will be frowned upon by his people. Okonkwo also has a great fear of losing social status in his country which contributes to his resistance to cultural change. His sense of self-worth is dependent upon the traditional standards by which society judges him. The Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart deals with the change of prospect and reality and how it affects characters. The tension on whether there will be a privilege of change over tradition involves personal status questions. For instance, Okonkwo is seen resisting the new orders of religion and politics because, according to him, they are not manly, and if he joins or tolerates them, he will not be manly (Okpewho 23). Also, Okonkwo fears to lose his societal status, and this is why he is resisting cultural change. Generally, villagers are also seen resisting and embracing change, and they face a dilemma in determining the best way of adapting to change reality. Traditional methods such as building, harvesting, farming, and cooking once crucial to surviving are now in varying degrees. Throughout the novel, traditions involve telling stories and practicing language, and this is how the Igbo language is abandoned, which would lead to the eradication of these traditions.
The introduction of Christianity to the African people in Things Fall Apart is an external factor the contributed to the destruction of their society. When the colonizers got into action within Igbo community, there was little opposition from the natives as they perceived the English as people who come and go. Sooner than later, the foreigners embarked on the mission of introducing ‘the white man religion’ (Achebe and Irele 49). The latter religion was a complete reverse of what the locals were accustomed to. Being a Christian was very intriguing among the natives, and those who engaged in it became the society’s outcasts. Previously, the locals were associated with superstitions; however, with the introduction of Christianity, superstitiousness lessened as well as the belief in the gods. Before colonialism, the family was regarded as the basic component defining the existence of Igbo society, but Christian faith left numerous families broken. It was all unexpected that a man could give away his son; however, the European influence along with their faith obliged Igbo men to give away some members of their families including their beloved wives to go to service. This new religion equally affected the functioning of certain customs within Igbo society (Achebe and Irele 49). For instance, the new Christian converts killed the society’s much honored snake. On the other hand, colonialism imitated a big turnaround on the way Igbo society handled the dead as well as infants.
Khan argues that in the traditional practice, those who committed suicide were thrown away into the ‘evil forest’ just like newborn twins or infants who lost their lives at a tender age (60). With the effect of Christianity, the converted believers provided home for the newborn twins and adopted a different view on infants’ death. A case of religious change in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son who becomes a convert to Christianity. Upon his return from exile, Okonkwo gets very angry and even disowns his son (Achebe and Irele 41). In general, the presence of Europeans in Igbo society caused a lot of change in some spheres of life and culture defined by the Europeans’ beliefs. These effects caused a turnaround in the aspects related to religion, children, family life, and the dead whereby the natives were obliged to forsake their contemporary beliefs and adopt white man’s views.
Colonization in Things Fall Apart is one of the major external aspects that lead to the demise of the Ibo African society. The fate of colonization raises a number of questions regarding the nature of civilization among Africans prior to the interference of Europeans. There ought to be pre-existed cultural flaws among Africans that necessitated the foreigners to gain access to the dominant organizational structures. It is, therefore, critical to examine the motives of colonizers and the reasons of their acceptance within Igbo society (Whittaker and Msiska 76). Finally, the novel is a kind of research on whether the transformation was voluntary. If it was the case, what did the Igbo people expect to gain if they abandoned their culture? Along with the existing flaws that were deeply ingrained in the Ibo society, there were numerous other aspects that made them become gradually absorbed into the European ‘clan’ through colonization. The arrival of foreigners in the villages was treated with suspicions. In fact, after realizing the fate of the villagers such as Abame which got wiped out shortly after interacting with them, the prophesy of death and destruction came true and their Oracle foreshadowed the future. Despite these insights, the persons living in the neighboring Mbanta village did not respond to hostility with regard to the presence of missionaries. It is was surprising that they did not expel the colonizers as expected by Okonkwo in a bid to get rid of their intrusion. Such factors relate to the colonizers’ motives whose effect fostered the society’s reactions towards their presence. Indeed, many persons were curious about the special attributes that defined ‘the white men’ thereby setting aside all reservations in a bid to have a better understating of these foreigners (Whittaker and Msiska 76).
Besides, many villagers perceived the missionaries as insane, though harmless. Therefore, they turned a blind eye to their teachings. Their thinking was based on the idea that if there is no audience for foreigners’ teachings, they would consider moving out of this community. In essence, the effects of colonization are ideal to set apart the Ibo societal structures (Okpala 37). To some extent, this is affiliated with negative implications whereby the traditional setting is destroyed, and the followers of Ibo law are suddenly subjected to British punishment. Moreover, there are resultant deaths among many villagers while others are jailed owing to their robust adherence to rituals as well as traditions. Indeed, the religious conflict could be brutal hence resulting in the death of natives as well as missionaries (Whittaker and Msiska 78).
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Ibo society’s downfall is attributed to both external and internal influence of the white men. This scenario is similar to the tragic fall of the hero that is a result of combining both tragic flaws and the less controllable forces that work against his will. It is obvious that prosperity in the Ibo society could be ensured only if the white men did not arrive to their land. However, the white men’s influence alone was not sufficient to ruin the Ibo society. As argued by Okwonko, if they stood firm to defend their traditions, they could have protected their contemporary lifestyle. Maybe, adopting such a defense technique could have resulted in delaying the inevitable outcome; as such, there was little to be done by the Ibo if the missionaries introduced military reinforcement. The natives are only comparable to the tragic hero in the aspect of beliefs whose effect directly alienated the society members and caused a major drift among the Ibo. Despite the idea that the beliefs and customs are evident in Ibo’s culture, the irrational base cannot withstand the white man’s ignorance as indicated by the survival of the church in the Evil Forest. It is ironic that the beliefs, the presence of social structure, as well as the development of religion is the indication of both richness of Ibo culture and its downfall.