In the historical novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe we gain knowledge of the African societies as they once were. Achebe shows us what happened to this particular (fictional) community in the 19th century, as the downfall of their village occurred.
The book begins by introducing us to the main character, Okonkwo. Okonkwo is a strong character who is a leader in his town of Umuofia. This man has gone through many challenges in his life. It was hard for him growing up with his father Unoka who was “lazy and improvident and was quite incapable of thinking of tomorrow” (Things Fall Apart, page 4). His father was known in the village as being a failure, but Okonkwo wanted to change his family’s status. He worked hard to overcome his past and never followed in his father’s footsteps. He rose from great poverty and misfortune to be one of the lords of his clan.
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Okonkwo’s clan is very religious and has very strong beliefs and customs. In this clan, the men have power over their women. They have more than one wife, and their wives are bought with a bride price and defined by their husband. Okonkwo had three wives, all of whom lived in separate huts with their children. Although the children lived with their mothers, they still belonged to the father. Sometimes Okonkwo was violent towards his family, beating them and even threatening to kill them. This was not prohibited, however, he did get in trouble for beating his youngest wife Ojiugo because it was during their “Week of Peace”, and he must make sacrifices to repent from his mistakes.
The people of the clan have many folk tales and proverb’s, such as this one spoken by Okonkwo’s uncle Uchendu: “There is no story that is not true. . . . The world has no end, and what is good among one people is an abomination with others” (Things fall Apart, 130). When this proverb was spoken Uchendu didn’t know just how true it would come to be.
Okonkwo led a good life, he had plenty of yams planted, which were a sign of good wealth and he went on with his life changing his family’s status greatly. However this did not last long, soon things went wrong.
At the funeral for Ogbuefi Ezeudu, Okonkwo’s gun accidentally goes off, killing Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s son “The only course of action open to Okonkwo was to flee from the clan. It was a crime against the earth goddess to kill a clansman, and a man who committed it must flee from the land.”(Things Fall Apart, 124) Because killing a clansman is a crime against the earth goddess, Okonkwo must take his family into exile for seven years. He gathers his belongings and takes his family to his mother’s natal village, Mbanta. In order to cleanse the village of his sin the men from Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s quarter burn Okonkwo’s buildings and kill his animals.
Okonkwo settles into life in his motherland. His family helps him to build a new compound and he goes on with his life. During the second year of Okonkwo’s exile, Obierika comes to buy yams from Okonkwo, she also brings the bad news that the white man has destroyed another village, called Abame.
Seven years later, when Okonkwo arrives back in Umuofia he is astonished at all the changes made to their society. The changes were made due to the introduction of the Christian missionaries into their village. These missionaries told the clans, people, that all the folk lures and customs they had been practising were wrong, and they implemented their own customs and beliefs in place of them.
The Christians accepted all the outcasts of society, they freely accepted anyone, the more converts they had the more they were pleased, even Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye, became a Christian. This was extremely hard for Okonkwo, when he returned from exile he saw his village falling apart, all their standards were thrown out the window and their customs and beliefs no longer in existence. “More Africans came into contact with missionaries than with any other Europeans. Missionaries, both men and women, opened schools to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic to village children. Boys were taught crafts such as carpentry and blacksmithing, while girls learned domestic skills such as cooking, laundry and childcare.” (Bulliet, et.al., 739) While Okonkwo and many others saw the benefits of what the missionary’s taught, it was still no reason to let them take over their whole society.
I think that both the Europeans and the villagers themselves are responsible for the downfall of Umuofia. The villagers for the lack of action they took to rid this evil from his tribe, and the Europeans for taking away the things most important to the Africans and asking them to change their ways, which they had for so long lived by.
The Europeans used many strategies to gain influence in the village. They would accept anyone into their religion; even those who were not accepted in Umuofia. Those who were poor, the men with no titles, and the women who bore twins are just a few examples of these people. The Christian religion believes in only one God, unlike that of the clan. Religion plays a big part in the downfall because religion was everything to this society; it was their primary source of living. When you take religion away from them, they really have nothing left, which is why this great downfall occurred so quickly. “How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us? The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion.
We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.” (Things Fall Apart, 176) This quote shows that Obierika does not lay all the blame on the white man. He thinks that the Umuofians who have converted to Christianity have turned their backs on their own “brothers” and are proving to be just as disrespectful as the whites. They say that religion and tradition are what holds the clan together, but if that religion is not strong enough for the clansmen to keep faith even in times such as these, and that tradition is so vulnerable that it can easily be forgotten, this makes it even harder to determine who is at fault for the destruction of this land.
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