The population of the world exists as a series of ethnic and racial groupings. These groupings form the building blocks for communities, nations, and regions, which in many cases share a common system of knowledge that defines their way of life. Varied as they are, there is no scientific criterion of pitching one culture as being superior to others as ethnocentrism would put it. One globally acclaimed endeavor to show the sustainability of different cultures is Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in which he depicts Africans as having been complete as pertains to the culture. This essay seeks to establish the strengths and weaknesses of the Igbo culture as portrayed in Things Fall Apart to assess the author’s success in achieving his main goal.
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The story is set in an Igbo clan, Umuofia, which consists of nine villages throughout which the protagonist, Okwonkwo, is well known for his wrestling prowess. Okwonkwo is portrayed as a violent man who has a no-nonsense attitude towards matters pertaining to the Igbo culture. Okwonkwo’s violent nature is a portrayal of a typical Igbo on the view of violence. Igbo’s position is rigid on violence in the introductory parts of the novel. Achebe notes, “To show affection was a sign of weakness; the only thing worth demonstrating was a strength” (p. 28), and to appease Umuofia for an accidental murder, a virgin, and a young boy are given as a sacrifice by the murderers.
The same fate befalls Okwonkwo when he kills a boy accidentally at a funeral. The penalty is not compromised despite his standing in the clan. His homestead is violently brought down and animals are killed. On another occasion, Enoch, a convert to Christianity, unmasks an egwugwu in public. This action leads to the violent burning of Enoch’s homestead including the church where he fellowshipped. These examples pitch the Igbo as people whose culture took a rigid stand on culture. However, this position changes on different occasions throughout the book such as when Okwonkwo is punished due to breaking the week of peace by severely beating his wife. When the clan refuses to join Okwonkwo’s onslaught on the district commissioner’s messengers, this position is changed.
On other fronts, the Igbo are portrayed as being an organized people. There exists a well-established democratic system in Umuofia where the ndichie, elders, gather all Umuofia to make important decisions (Achebe180). Through this move, the Igbo attempt to propagate an air of equal and fair treatment of all. Everyone who has something to say is given a chance to do so in the gatherings of the clan. Achebe posits, “Age was respected among his people, but achievement was revered” (8). Okwonkwo strives to amass wealth and earn a place among the mighty and be completely delinked from his father’s weakness. Umuofia encourages hard work among its people.
Contrary to popular belief that Africans were primitive and they would go to war without any reasonable cause, in Umuofia, the oracle would sometimes forbid war. War was only an option when the cause was justifiable (Achebe 16). This aspect brings about an element of a strong religious belief among the Igbo. Okwonkwo’s position pertaining to departure from one’s culture is uncompromising, and he proves this assertion by disowning his eldest son when the son converts to Christianity. Unfortunately, he holds such extreme views yet ends up much like his father when he hangs himself.
Chinua Achebe, even though he intended to depict Africans as people who were capable of taking care of themselves in their traditional settings, he still presents a balanced perspective of this culture. Despite all events in the novel, the final position is that Africans were capable in virtually all spheres of life and they would still have made progress albeit with some influence from external cultures, as is the case all around the world.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart, London: Heinemann Ltd, 1958. Print.