Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe Summary and Analysis, Themes - Ibo Culture Facts
This essay is a discussion of Things Fall apart by Chinua Achebe. It discusses Ibo culture, hierarchy, tradition, pluralism, characters and other themes through the eyes of the main character as defined by the book. I have included quotes from the book to support the theme of the overall essay.
Things Fall Apart was a classic tale of cultural conflict. It was a story about a culture on the verge of change and gives an excellent example of cultural relativism. The story centers on Okonkwo's values and his sense of self-worth within the context of Ibo culture and traditions. Things Fall Apart touches base with both the Enlightenment and Romantic ideologies. For example, Okonkwo was a product of his environment, the General Will of the clan ruled, Ibo life evolved around nature and Okonkwo was passionate in his beliefs.
Character & Hierarchy in Things Fall Apart
Okonkwo was portrayed as an average man of the Ibo clan. His values and sense of worth are based on a simple analogy. Women are weak. Men are strong. Therefore, manliness or Okonkwo's image of what he should be was based on female traits and male traits. If a man showed any emotion he was weak or feminine. Values were measured by masculine and feminine traits. Being feminine was disgraceful if one was male. Okonkwo put great emphasis on the importance of being respected and of being an important figure within the Ibo clan.
Okonkwo valued what others thought of him which stemmed from his relationship with his father. Okonkwo perceived his father as weak or feminine. His father died poor, without title or respect. He was disgraced. The disease that killed his father was most likely cancer, but the clan considered his condition an abomination to the earth goddess. Okonkwo's father was carried into the forest and left to die and decompose. His father's weakness or femininity from Okonkwo's perspective was his father's downfall. Okonkwo strived to be the opposite of his father. While still young, Okonkwo was wealthy and well respected. He had a barn full of yams, three wives and two titles. He was industrious and quote: "was indeed possessed by the fear of his father's contemptible life and shameful death"(1:18) end of quote. This was a classic example of John Locke's Tabula Rasa; people are a product of their environment. Okonwko's values and sense of self-worth stemmed from the clan's treatment of his father.
Okonkwo was portrayed as a man who was highly respected among his clan. He was a perfect representative of Ibo traditional standards. His life evolved around what he perceived other clan members to value in a man. The Ibo language even played apart in his stream of thought. For example, quote: "Okonkwo remembered how he suffered when a playmate had told him that his father was agbala. That was how Okonkwo first came to know that agbala was not only another name for a woman, it could also mean a man who had taken no title. And so Okonkwo was ruled by one passion to hate everything that his father Unoka had loved." end of Quote.(1:13)
Tradition was very important to Okonkwo as it was with most of the clan. Order was maintained by tradition and Ibo tradition was steeped in superstition. Various gods and goddesses who were associated with nature dictated life. In an effort to control natural calamities, customs evolved to keep the gods and goddesses content. Ibo traditional thought was that the uncontrolled natural events could be controlled by this method (1:146). For example, twin babies were promptly disposed of after birth so as not to offend a goddess. Tradition explained the unknown and defined limitations. People knew just what was expected of them as well as the consequences any action, provoked or unprovoked. As an example of this, Okonkwo knew when his gun killed a clan member he was to be exiled for seven years. Whether or not the death was intentional was not the issue. The death of a clan member by another clan member was an insult to a goddess. (1:124)
People are comfortable with what they know and uncomfortable with the new. Change was a threat to the hierarchy of Ibo culture and society. For example, Okonkwo was resistant to the white man's religion and politics because Okonkwo considered them to be unmanly. Consequently, Okonkwo would show weakness if he either accepted or tolerated the white man's ways. Moreover, Okonkwo considered the introduction of the new culture a threat to his position in Ibo society. Therefore, it was not surprising when Okonkwo's became enraged after he discovered his son has joined the new order. (1:151)
Things Fall Apart can be classified as Romantic literature. Okonkwo was the romantic hero in which he sacrificed everything for what he believed in. Okonkwo was passionate in his beliefs and went to great extremes to defend his way of life. Ultimately, Okonkwo took his own life rather than compromise his values. In addition, Ibo gods and goddesses came from nature. Ibo life depended on nature for survival. Things Fall Apart was an excellent example of cultural relativism which is what is perceived as good or bad in one society is not necessarily good or bad in another. Things Fall Apart portrayed life in the Ibo clan from the Ibo perspective. When the gods ordained a death, the family of the victim/victims grieved over their loss. However, they did not openly question the wisdom behind the tradition (1:147). The victims' deaths were perceived as not only good but as necessary for the survival of the clan. Whereby, European's viewed these practices as a crime because these practices were unacceptable in Western society.
Pluralism recognizes the diversity of interests and believes that members of society adapt their differences by negotiation. There was no pluralism in the Ibo clan. There was no diversity. You followed tradition or you were ostracized.
Things Fall Apart was an example of Rousseau's General Will, "whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body" (2:48). The General Will of the Ibo was to follow tradition for the good of the whole clan. The Ibo believed that not following tradition would anger the gods and goddesses. Thusould threaten the existence of the whole clan (1:46). The sacrifice of a few was for the good of the many. Things Fall Apart was a classic tale of cultural conflict. It was a story of an individual man dealing with the inevitable. Okonkwo was the Romantic hero who sacrifices all to defend his beliefs. Things Fall Apart uses Romantic notions of nature, individualism, passion and excess. Nature was the center of Ibo life. The very existence of Ibo life was dependent upon Nature therefore it was not surprising that Ibo deities come from nature. Okonwko was passionate in his beliefs too the point of excess. Each person within the tribe was an individual yet apart of the whole. In addition, Things Fall Apart demonstrated many ideologies of the Enlightenment such as John Locke's Tabula Rasa, and Rousseau's General Will.
Review: The book was very good and held my interest well. I was surprised because it was assigned reading for a Humanities class I took at UNCA. I couldn't put it down. Unfortunately, my granddaughter at the age of 3, tore the last few pages out of the book and destroyed them. I was left hanging. Even though, I didn't need to finish the book to write this summary and analysis, I had to ask someone in class what happened at the end.