Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer, things fall apart; the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosened upon the world.

2003, Form B. Novels and plays often depict characters caught between colliding cultures—national, regional, ethnic, religious, institutional. Such collisions can call a character’s sense of identity into question. Select a novel of play in which a character responds to such a cultural collision. Then write a well-organized essay in which you describe the character’s response and explain its relevance to the work as a whole. March 25, 2011

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Chinua Achebe’s magnum opus, Things Fall Apart, the story of the Igbo culture on the verge of a revolution, depicts the collision of the Igbo people’s traditional way of life and the “winds of change” that are introduced by British colonials who have recently moved to their region. Within this realm of confusion and discomfort within the Igbo people who are unsure of how to react to these newfound cultural practices and beliefs, lies one of the main characters, Okonkwo, whose soul posses so much discontent with this idea of change that he reacts in a harsh, menacing manner in order to resist this conversion of culture , and to further prove that the traditional ways of the Igbo people were what has since established him as being a “real man”, and also because he is afraid of losing his supreme status within society. Okonkwo’s refusal to accept the colonial’s new way of life reflects upon the idea that internally, Okonkwo is afraid of losing the power in which he had once possessed, and deals with the fact that his personal ego acts as a deterrent for the “winds of change” upon the Igbo’s cultural life throughout the novel.

When first introduced to the idea of a cultural change by the British colonials, Okonkwo was furious in that he felt that these colonists were only trying to diminish the existence of one’s masculinity through these new sorts of religious/cultural practice, and that in agreeing to follow through with this, he would only become less of what he felt a “man” really was. In order to ensure that he was not one to conform, Okonkwo began acting out in random acts of violence such as killing people and going on mad rants throughout the Igbo village. To Okonkwo, this was a sign of masculinity, and he felt that the more aggressive one was, the more masculine they appeared to be within other’s eyes. Okonkwo continued to behave this way in order to further establish his head-strong opinions concerning the need to continue practicing the Igbo’s traditional way of life up until the day he died.

Also adding to the conflictions in which Okonkwo experienced between the colliding cultures of the British and Igbo people, was the fact that he felt that if he were to give in and go along with these new customs, that he would not only lose his way of tradition, but he would also lose the power in which he once possessed within the Igbo society. This troubled villager feels as if the influence in which he had gained over the years as a result of the traditions practiced within the Igbo culture could all be lost if he were to abandon his people’s culture, and because his characters is very power-hungry and stubborn in his ways, Okonkwo simply refuses to let this sense of authority go, and remains stuck in his ways, and a ripple in the force of change.

In reading this novel, and viewing how one’s struggle as a society to conform to a new way of cultural practice can also affect one individual’s own conflict within the conform to  these changes due to their own inner issues, we are able to conclude that because of Okonkwo’s personal pride and the actions which were essentially forced upon him by the British and their external laws of society, that he was thus driven to experience further conflict within himself, and ultimately drove himself to his death when he committed suicide as a result of his anxiety and anger towards the changes of  the Igbo society. These cultural collisions caused an inner conflict within this main character and his fear of loss concerning his own sense of power and masculinity to such an extent, that it eventually led to his ill-fated downfall, and is the main idea behind the collisions which cause things to essentially fall apart.

 

Book 2 Media March 23, 2011

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A movie was made as a reenactment of the famous, awarding-winning novel, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, in 1971 by director Hans Jurgen Pohland. This ninety minute long drama depicts the classic struggle between traditionalism and a possible “change of wind” for the Igbo people after they are taken over by European colonists in a very realistic, color manner that truly illustrates the reality behind Achebe’s original writing, and the image in which he sought to portray through the writing of his novel, on this time, in a media format. The movie was filmed in West Germany as well as in intended setting (also Achebe’s homeland) of Nigeria. Stars of the film include Elizabeth of Torro, Orlando Martins, and Johnny Sekka. Although the film did not receive as much fame and recognition as that of the book, Things Fall Apart, itself, the movie is still seen as a strong representation and accurate portrayal of the books original plot, the Igbo people and their appearance/customs, as well as what the actual scenery and setting of the Igbo people and the place in which they dwelled.

Below is about a ten minute-long clip of the film, Things Fall Apart, in which we will be able to view the Nigerian landscape that makes up the setting of the original story, a taste of the overall plot, as well as an accurate portrayal of the Igbo people and their ways of dress, customs, traditions, and speech. This clip in particular shows the scene in which the Igbo people are trying to decide whether or not they should include Okonkwo in the Council of Elders, and if  he would be able to adequately handle this given title if they were to grant him this position of authority.

 

“And at last the locusts did descend. They settled on every tree and on every blade of grass; they settled on the roofs and covered the bare ground. Mighty tree branches broke away under them, and the whole country became the brown-earth color of the vast, hungry swarm.”

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This particular excerpt from Chapter 7 of Things Fall Apart is highly symbolic in its references towards the locusts who have come in a sort of swarm and “settled”, breaking away the branches underneath them. The locusts in which Chinua is talking about, are symbolic towards the colonizers who have come in to the village within the book and settled on the other’s native turf. The “locusts” or colonizers, have then “broken the branches” which symbolize the traditions/cultural roots of the Igbo village’s people, and have thus taken over the entire village in a hungry swarm until the “brown-earth color” could be seen no more, which further represents the village people’s way of life that has been ultimately altered and lost forever due to the “swarm” of colonizers who have taken over the area. The entire concept found behind the meaning and symbology of the locusts taking over and “breaking the branches” such as the colonists who came in and took over the Igbo village, changing its way of life forever, did is one in which Achebe focuses most all of his writings, and seems to highlight the overall message and inspiration behind his inclusion of this reference. Although this passage is fairly short, in my opinion, it seems to be everything that Achebe is trying to say throughout the entire book, only here, it is enclosed in a small paragraph of symbolic reference toward a swarm of locusts.

 

“Living fire begets cold, impotent ash.”

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A symbol found within Things Fall Apart is that of fire, and the burning flame that is Okonkwo’s anger towards the idea of change, and the colonials who are enforcing these altercations. In the novel, Okonkwo expresses the fact that fire has the tendency to destroy everything in which it consumes, which is much like Okonkwo’s actions as a result of his enragement. Much like a fire that burns and kills off anything in its path, Okonkwo’s anger caused him to act in a similar manner through physical destruction such as how he murdered Ikemefuna (Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s son). Also adding to this symbolic representation found between Okonkwo’s rage and that of fire is the fact that fire feeds upon itself until it eventually becomes nothing more than ash, laying lifelessly on the ground in which it destroyed much like the fate of Okonkwo who becomes so angry, that he grow to become far to overwhelmed with his rage to control it any further, and it ultimately destroys him, leaving him gray and lifeless such as the ashes of a fire.  

 

“No matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and his children (and especially his women) he was not really a man.”

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Another theme of interest found within Chinua Achebe’s, Things Fall Apart, is that of the varying definitions and interpretations behind masculinity and what truly makes someone “a man”.  There are a variety of ways in which one could interpret one as being “manly” or “a man” such as some people, consider someone a man as long as they have the body parts/physique to prove it. Others may consider this to a be a more in depth analysis and say that a true man is the one who is the provider, the overseer, and the protector of a given area or household. However, you could also say that a real man is someone who expresses great courage and strength, and who appears to be tough at all times, and the one in charge of everything. This last definition of masculinity is the most similar to that of Okonkwo’s found within Things Fall Apart, and his idea that in order to be a man, one must express a tough edge and aggression in order to ensure that he is strong and envelops a sense of power and prestige that is not to be reckoned with. This idea of masculinity possessed by Okonkwo reflects his relationship with his late father, whom he viewed as weak, and the poor relationship in which he had with him during his lifetime. Because Okonkwo did not want to come across as the weak person in which he viewed his own father to be, he felt that the only way to assert that he was strong and a “man” was to be aggressive in his thoughts and actions, and that the only emotion in which he could display to further enforce this concept was that of anger and resentment. In my opinion, just because you are angry all the time and act in a violent manner does not mean that you are anymore manly than the next guy. A man, to me, is someone who is a strong protector and always tries to do the right thing that he knows is best for those who surround him. I understand that Okonkwo did not want to be seen as weak like his father; however, resorting to anger such as he did is sort of a rash display of action, and I feel like this decision of behavior made by Okonkwo ultimately affected his character and was in a way, the bane of his existence, considering that his anger caused him to murder, be exiled for seven years, and ultimately depart as a result of his enragement so that he could be seen a s more of a “man”.

 

“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.”

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A major theme of much confliction that is found throughout the novel, Things Fall Apart, is that of the struggle found between the traditional ways of the Igbo people and the possibility of a “change of wind”, so to speak. Obierika, Okwonko’s close friend who stated the quote found above, seems to be a reflection of Achebe himself, and his own thoughts/opinions towards colonialism and the possibility of change. For Achebe, although he is not completely resentful towards the idea of change, he feels that the way in which the colonists went about their altercations, and how the villagers seemed to completely abandon what they have known, and what has been for such a long time, was ultimately wrong of them, and that this degenerating of unfamiliar customs has caused the Igbo people to turn their backs on their brothers; an idea in which he is not okay with. After reading this quote and thinking about this overall idea of the struggle between change and tradition, I seemed to compare it to the colonization of America and how the colonists came here in search of a new life, and to practice freedom of religion and ended up taking over the area, while America’s natives, the Indians were forced to either change or get out, and the unhappiness in which many of them felt upon this abandonment of the “savage-like” life that they had known for so long. The colonists forced a change of custom upon the Indians so that they would come across as more civilized or more like them, much like the occurrences found within Things Fall Apart and the life experiences in which the book’s author, Chinua Achebe, underwent himself when the British took over Nigeria and encouraged the Nigerian people to drop their original religious beliefs to practice Christianity such as they did. This thematic struggle found within the novel, in my opinion, could be applied to all sorts of different topics found within our lives today, not just religious/colonial purposes, and is a struggle in which I think everyone experiences at some point in time one way or another; especially through the generations as new, more developed ideas are being introduced.

 

He [the white man] spoke through an interpreter who was an Ibo man, though his dialect was different and harsh to the ears of Mbanta. Many people laughed at his dialect and the way he used words strangely. Instead of saying “myself” he always said “my buttocks.”

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A common theme found throughout Things Fall Apart, is the difference of languages among cultures and the barrier in which it creates as a cause to their lack of communication and understanding of one another.  In reading the novel, many times you come across words that you will find to be unfamiliar to your understanding because they are from that of the Igbo dialect, or language. Achebe included these words throughout his book without a reference as to what they mean or are referring to because he felt that it was important to show the language barriers and conflicts in which the Igbo people and the European colonists experienced during their encounters, and the fact that the Europeans, who speak English such as we do, will never be able to understand such a complex language such as that of the Igbo people’s, and that because of this, they will also never understand the importance behind the preservation of the Igbo culture in which they are attempting to rip away from them in place of their own beliefs/values. Adding to Achebe’s purposeful inclusion of the Igbo language, not only did he want to create a sense of this disconnect as a cause to the language barriers between different regions and that of the Igbo people, but he also included these Igbo proverbs, folktales, and rhythms because he wanted to showcase the beauty behind the Igbo language and how their form of speech/dialect  and how it was unique to their people and their personal traditions.