Things Fall Apart, by Chiuna Achebe, is a novel that delves into ancient African culture and the customs and religious beliefs of the African people. The story, which takes place in the Nigerian village of Umoufia, is a place full of deep-rooted religious and superstitious beliefs. Conflict very quickly arises amongst the people of Umoufia, as their deep-rooted religious and superstitious beliefs are ravaged and deeply questioned by the coming of the “White Men,” who have brought with them their religion, the religion of the west, “Christianity.”
Neither the White men nor their religion was warmly welcomed by the people of the various villages, represented by the councilmen of Umoufia. In one particular segment towards the end of the novel, the “White Men” are referred to as “locusts,” which have come to poison the minds of the villagers (98). In Achebe’s depiction of life in Nigeria, compared to Europe, he appears to criticize both the Christians and the customs and traditions of the Nigerian people. In this, Achebe questions the very means by which a culture can maintain its validity through a clear and imminent contrast between the ways of life of the western people and the peoples of Africa.
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It is not the mere coming of the “white men” that so profoundly uproots and distorts the Nigerian people’s views, ancient ideologies, and beliefs; however, it is in the persuasion of these white men in the very faith of which they bring with them. The true and utter power of this foreign religion is felt strongly by Okonkwo’s first son, Nwoye, who had felt that the words that “spewed from the mouths of the missionaries were something felt in the marrow” (104). Through this depiction, the narrator attempts to further his expression regarding the impact that Christianity has on the villagers through his clear and decisive imagery.
Not only is Achebe in an attempt to further his expression of captivation, but he also attempts to go for the core of the missionaries’ rhetoric. The word “Spew” gives the reader the intended impression of the destructive nature of the missionaries in regards to their religion. This “force” that Achebe is trying to emphasize, in saying that the words of the missionaries are forcefully thrown at the villagers. It is also in this that the author plays both sides of the argument. On one hand, he advocates true and utter captivation in regards to the rhetoric of the missionaries, yet on the other hand attempts to justify the Nigerian resistance by using the idea of “force” against them.
Although Nwoye is utterly captivated, the true test leaves all that the Nigerian people have ever known and relied upon to be true in the good times and the bad, overridden by this newfound power. The missionaries kindly approach the high-titled elders of Mbanta in search of land to build their church. Instead, the elders decide on giving them a portion of what is called the “Evil Forest,” a place where spirits, evil, and disease are said to thrive, as go the ideas of Nigerian superstition. Uchendo, the elder who makes this decision, attempts to go for the core of this foreign Christian faith to cripple its credibility.
In this, Uchendo, among the other rulers of Mbanta, states that the missionaries “boast about victory over death… now let us give them a real battlefield in which to show their victory” (105). The elders expect only a few days to pass before all would be dead; however, as the days go on and on, none of them fall ill and die as anticipated. To the surprise of the elders, as well as the villagers, it quickly becomes known that “the white man’s fetish had unbelievable power” (106). It is as a result of this that the first three converts had been won. Thus, the author completely undermines the notion and very basis of which the Nigerian people call “religion.” In this harsh reality, Achebe bases this close persuasive view and presence of the “white men.”
One after another, converts begin to come in great numbers, in want of this great faith. Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son, towards the end of the novel, is seen by his father’s cousin Amikwu among the Christians and is dragged home to his father. Okonkwo questions Nwoye of his acts, and in a relatively coarse and frightful tone, roars “answer me, before I kill you!” (107). Okonkwo is then said to have “seized a heavy stick … and hit him two or three savage blows” (107). In this, the author displays the extent to which Nwoye is willing to go in desire for this religion and this faith. This, of course furthers the understanding of this incredibly persuasive aspect of the “white men,” which in many regards leaves the villagers wholly perplexed by their teachings.
Simply put, Achebe is trying to shed light on how cultural norms differ drastically in certain places. He substantiates his points in several areas. One such area is the point at which it becomes known that specific rules and laws are set aside by the Christians in order to bring order, rule, and just doing to Umoufia. These changes are very much foreign to the African way of life as the author describes it. To a large extent, it is this notion of change and adaptation of a just civilization which Achebe forces upon his readers, while at the same time giving the reaction on the African front. In the same regard, it is the rhetoric of the missionaries in their faith, and the trust in their God that Achebe uses as a driving force behind the impact which is seen among the African people of Umoufia.