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.


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