Things Fall Apart celebrates the African culture among the Igbo of Nigeria. The author Chinua Achebe wrote the novel on the background of colonialism in Nigeria. He gives the story of the African way of life before and after the coming of the Europeans. Achebe’s work is rich in African folklore such as language, customs. He celebrates the Igbo culture to dispel the shadowy figure that the Africans had been given by writers such as Joyce Cary in Mister Johnson in 1939 and Heart of Darkness by Conrad (Davis et al. 1600). He does this by showing us the dignity and humanity of the Africans. Characters in the introductory part of the novel are shaped by tribal life and this exposition builds up the complication in the story.
Unoka was Okonkwo’s father. Unoka was a poor man due to his laziness and was only happy when drinking and playing his favorite flute. His crop failed because he did not work, as he should have in this agricultural society. The Igbo community was patriarchal and masculinity was very important. A man was respected and gained status by gathering titles. The titles could be bought using cowries and thus a hardworking man could afford to buy a title. Titles were signs of wealth and rich men and Unoka did not acquire even a single title. The community respected warriors but Unoka was a coward and never become one. His character traits went against the Igbo traditions and thus all demeaned him including his son Okonkwo. “When Unoka died he had taken no title at all and he was heavily in debt. Any wonder then that his son Okonkwo was ashamed of him?” (Achebe 1606).
The other character is Nwoye. He was Okonkwo’s son who considered him a weakling because he did not exhibit masculinity. His father beat him several times and yet he did not like the things his father did. He had a gentle spirit and enjoyed his mother’s stories. He formed a strong bond with his surrogate brother Ikemefuna who had been brought to the village after a woman from Umuofia was killed in his village Mbaino to appease the gods as religion dictated. When Ikemefuna was killed by his father Nwoye moved further away from him, as he could not understand why his father took part in his killing. This shows that some aspects of the traditions were questionable and not necessary. This separation from his father shows that some people were willing to question the customs unlike Okonkwo who never thought about anything as long as he was not considered weak. Nwoye was a new breed of generation that was not going to glorify masculinity.
The novel tells the story of the Igbo community from Nigeria. We are introduced to the Igbo traditions and beliefs through the main character Okonkwo around who all the events in the story revolve. He hails from a fictional village called Umuofia one among nine others. The setting of the story is in the late nineteenth century when European colonizers invaded the community and introduced Christianity through the missionaries. The Europeans came to the village to seek raw materials for their industries in the name of Christianity. They also aimed to civilize the Africans whom they considered primitive and savage. However, Achebe tells the African story to show that such myths were untrue because Africans had a culture and institutions in place. For example, in chapters 1-5 we are introduced to institutions such as religion and the traditional justice system. For example, when an Umuofian woman was killed in Mbaino village a young man and woman had to be given out to the village of Umuofia for compensation after a negotiation among the elders of the two villages and Okonkwo was the leader of the Umuofia delegation.
He also shows the rich language of the Igbo through the usage of the local rhetoric. For example, Unoka uses the rhetoric of the Igbo because “among the Igbo, the art of conversation is regarded very highly and proverbs are the palm-oil with which the words are eaten” (Achebe1605). This is a complex society and not a simple one as whites thought. A complication will occur between the cultures of the white and black man as the former tries to impose foreign culture on the Igbo. The blacks who are represented by Okonkwo will remain rigid and this will create a conflict, as the Igbo will fight to protect their traditions.
Achebe, Chinua. The Bedford Anthology of World Literature: The Modern World, 1650- The Present, Compact Edition. Eds. Paul Davis, et al. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009. Print.
Davis, Paul, Gary Harrison, David M. Johnson, and John F. Crawford. The Bedford Anthology of World Literature The Modern World, 1650- The Present. Compact Edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009. Print.