In the story of things fall apart, why do many in umuofia feel differently from okonkwo about the white mans “new dispensation”?
In what ways do “religion and education” go “hand in hand” in strengthen the “white mans medicine”?
Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is one of the few texts dealing with Africa and colonialism with a two-sided view of the colonial situation. The novel Things Fall Apart is set in the latter part of the nineteenth century and portrays the conflict between the traditional culture of the indigenous Igbo people and the white colonial government that took over Nigeria. Achebe’s novel is successful in crushing the formulaic European representation of native Africans. Through various incidents and interactions he carefully portrays the complex, advanced social institutions and artistic traditions that was there in the Igbo culture that existed even before they came in contact with Europeans. He is also fierce in expressing his resentment against the stereotyping of Africa as an indistinct “primitive” land, the “heart of darkness,” as Conrad christened it.
Throughout the novel Achebe tries to bring up the variations in beliefs and customs between the various African tribes and shows how their nature changes over time. Yet that he is as careful so as not to stereotype the Europeans becomes evident in his characterization of the various avatars of the white man such as the ever so benevolent Mr. Brown, the extremely enthusiastic Reverend Smith, and again alternately the brutally calculating District Commissioner.
An idea of the colonial situations tell us that the colonial subjects faced a number of divergence within themselves,not only between themselves and the white man but between their own clans and at times in their own minds. This posed to be a problem not only individual black people but also jeopardized the relationship between them as families and friends. The ambiguity arose when one member of a family chose to interact and befriend the white people in the village where they had settled down. Many of them converted to Christianity, attended the schools that the white built and many a times took to their methods of living. In such a scenario the rest of the family, found it difficult to understand the actions that their relative chose. This created conflicts both in the family as a whole as well as between the family and the white man’s movement in the African society and culture.
In the novel most people in the village feel differently about the white man’s dispensation because Mr.Brown was not imposing which is contrary to the accepted norms of the colonizers. Mr Brown knew his premises and never forced any of his opinions of belief’s on anyone. The best example of it is his discussion with one of the great men of the village Akunna, which begins with:
‘There are no other gods,’ said Mr Brown ‘Chukwu is the only god and all others are false. You carve a piece of wood- like that one’(he points at the rafters from which Akunna’s carved Ikenga hung, and you call it a god. But it is still a piece of wood’ (Chapter 21)
But the conversation ends with Mr. Brown’s understanding of the ways of their religion There they discuss each of their faiths and their respective gods from which an understanding develops between the two Mr. Brown, as we see in the course of the novel is far more tolerant than the everyday white colonist. Although he doesn’t have an in-depth understanding of Igbo beliefs and custome, yet he is capable of respecting them, and he does not want his followers to alienate or provoke the clan into any rash action. In a infrequent incidence of cross-cultural consideration, Mr.Brown seems to imbibe the clan’s value of peaceful, harmonious relations, he is capable of arguing over the differences in their religion with Akunna without hurling insults or provoking violence. It is because of his benevolence and the good that he brings upon the clan that most of the clan starts having faith on the white man’s dispensation. While Okonkwo having returned after a long period mistakes Mr. Brown for one of those typical self-imposing missionaries that he had dealt with in Mbanta. Hence it is only natural that his opinion differs from that of the others.
Mr. Brown does not limit himself to only preaching the Christian doctrine among the clans he practically begs everyone to send their children to the school. He is right in informing them that if they remain ignorant it will be easier for the educated people to come and take over their land. He encouraged them to take up education by distributing singlets and towels among those who attended his school. His efforts too bore fruit as in a few months he educated some of them enough to become court clerks and court messengers. Mr.Brown also built a small hospital for the scientific treatment of diseased however it is most likely that Achebe used the term white man’s medicine in a different sense. He was in all probability referring to ‘medicine’ to the method or strategy by which Mr. Brown enchanted the clan and worked him into his favor. In another way the term medicine could also be used if we consider ignorance to be a disease. Mr. Brown was surely curing the clan of its disease if ignorance and bringing the light of education to them. As such the term ‘white man’s medicine’ could have multiple meanings but it surely helped the umoufia to the utmost.
Achebe, Chinua Things Fall Apart. Johannesburg: Harcourt Publishers Limited, 1958
Bloom, Harold Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2010