In the novel “Things Fall Apart”, Achebe has challenged readers to actively involve themselves in analyzing the issues that are raised within the entire text. The author brings out the issue of tradition verses change to the forefront of the Igbo and Umuofia society for the reader to evaluate. He also shows his audience the gradual downfall of the novel’s main character, Okonkwo, by his objection to accepting change in his society. Achebe has also brought out the controversial issues that relate to masculinity in the Igbo society. Anything that appears “womanly” is rejected by Okonkwo, which subsequently seals his own downfall. Achebe has revealed to the reader that acting “manly” or being a male chauvinist is not always an indication of one being a man. Through simplifying issues existing within the Igbo society and Okonkwo’s conflicts, Chinua Achebe has painted a clear picture of the ramifications of the closed-minded societies as well as the people who are existing in such societies. The Igbo society and Okonkwo are adherents of tradition and consistently ignore the necessity for change throughout the book.
The author in Things Fall Apart has dealt with the reality and prospect of change, which affect various characters. The tension on whether change ought to be privileged over tradition has in most cases involved questions related to personal status. Okonkwo is one man who strongly objects to the new religious and political orders because he feels that they would make him a “lesser man”. He has a feeling that if he collaborates, joins or consents to the new political or religious ideologies, then he will be considered as not being “a man” enough (Achebe, 1994, 153). Okonkwo’s resistance to cultural change is to some extent related to the fear of losing societal status. His sense of self worth depends upon the conventional standards by which the society could judge him. It is particularly this system of evaluation, which inspired many outcasts in the society to embrace the new religion. Having long been scorned, the outcasts found the value system in Christianity as a refuge from the cultural values of the Igbo society, which placed certain individuals below others. In their new Christian community, the converts enjoyed a more elevated status (45).
In general, the society in “Things Fall Apart” was caught between resisting change and embracing the change. They faced a dilemma in determining the best way of adapting to the reality of this change. In this entire novel, Achebe has shown how dependent such traditions are upon language and storytelling and hence, how quickly the abandonment of the Igbo language for a foreign one could eradiate traditional values.
Language as a Sign of Cultural Difference
Language is also another important theme in Chinua’s “Things Fall apart”. In portraying the imaginative and in most cases, the formal language of the Igbo, the author has emphasized that the continent of Africa is not an incomprehensible or silent as depicted by some books and foreign writers. Instead, by pampering the novel with many words from the Igbo origin, Achebe has shown that the language of Igbo is a complex one to be directly translated to English. In similar way, the Igbo culture may not be understood within the framework of the European colonial values. Achebe has also vividly indicated that Africa has many languages that differ from one another. For instance, the villagers in Umuofia used to make fun of Mr. Brown’s translater since his language differed from their own (150)
On a microscopic level, it is apparent that Achebe decided to write this novel in English so that the West can also understand it as much as his fellow Nigerians.
In this Novel, Okonkwo’s relationship with his late father appears to have shaped his ambitious, and violent demeanor. He had always wanted to rise above his father’s legacy of indolent behavior, and spendthrift which he perceived as being weak and thus equated to be effeminate. This relation is quite apparent in the clan’s language titles, which indicate points out that this is agbala, which is translated to mean “woman”. However, for the most part, Okonkwo’s concept of “manliness” is not that of the clan. He relates manliness with violence and perceives that he should display anger as a sign of his manhood. This is one of the reasons than makes Okonkwo to beat his wives and threatens to kill them. Going by his actions and behavior in the novel, he appears not to think on his actions, and behavior, and in most cases, acts impetuously, and rashly (35). However, other men in the novel did things soberly. For instance, while Obierika refused to go along with the men to kill Ikemefuma, Okonkwo’s surrogate son. On the other hand, Okonkwo not only volunteers to accompany the party that kill Ikemefuna, but violently stabs him with a machete so as not to degragade his manhood (49).
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books, 1994. ISBN 0385474547