Chinua Achebe’s main concern in “Things Fall Apart” is to portray the effect white men have on traditional Ibo society. Discuss how effectively this has been achieved throughout the novel. In Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe tries to dispel the myth of savage African tribal culture. He does this by creating a complex and sympathetic portrait of a traditional village culture in Africa. Achebe is trying not only to inform the outside world about Ibo cultural traditions, but also to remind his own people of their past and to assert that it had contained much value.
All too many Africans ( such as the Christian converts in the second half of the novel) were ready to accept the European judgment that Africa had no history or culture worth considering. Achebe fiercely resents the stereotype of Africa as an undifferentiated “primitive” land, the “heart of darkness,” as Conrad calls it. Throughout the novel he shows how African cultures vary among themselves and how they change over time. He shows the reader a well established civilized society with it’s own customs and beliefs. One of Achebe’s main goals throughout the novel is to show how the colonizing white men erode and destroy a civilization.
This post colonialist novel is written through the eyes of the people being colonized. An example of a contrasting post colonialist novel would be Joseph Conrad’s “The Heart Of Darkness” which is written through the eyes of the colonizer. This therefore creates a contrasting view point. I felt that the fact that I had read “The Heart Of Darkness” helped me achieve a deeper and much more accurate understanding of both novels, as I could view the situation from both view points.
Achebe immediately establishes his perspective from inside Umuofia (which is Ibo for “people of the forest”) early on in the novel. The wider world consists of the group of nine related villages which comprise of Umuofia and certain other villages like Mbaino. The conflict between Umuofia and Mbaino in chapter two shows a fair and logical justice system. The conflict is resolved without any more deaths or violence. This shows that there is no need for the District Commissioner.
The process of replacement, Mbaino giving a young virgin woman as a consolation to the murdered woman’s husband and taking away the son of the murderer and giving him to Umuofia seems very just. Achebe is subtly suggesting that this logical system of appeasement is more civilized than the white colonists’ theory “an eye for an eye” justice system. If the puishment was in the hands of the white men they would have simply hung the murderer. That would be the end of the matter. The victims would therefore get nothing back apart from the possible feeing of revenge.
The clan has a very defined and fair structure which allows any man who is hard working and deserving to prosper as far as he is willing to go regardless of his family background. Achebe states “that a man was judged according to his worth not the worth of his father”. Achebe later reinforces this point with a strong metaphor. “If a child washed his hands he could eat with kings”
With this point Achebe effectively shows yet again that in some respects Ibo culture appears to be fairer than that of the white colonists. In England in the late 1800’s there was a clear segregation between the social classes. It would have been almost impossible for a man coming from a similar background to Okonkwo ( one of poverty and laziness ) in England at this time to rise to any kind of social stature in his society. Both of the above points show how Achebe effectively shows that the Ibo culture is a civilized and fair one. He even goes as far as to suggest that some of the Ibo customs and ways of dealing with disputes may even be superior.
Achebe uses Okonkwo to show that as with any civilization there are violent individuals but this is not due to the Ibo culture it is purely due to his poor childhood and is part of his nature. I do however feel that it is a mistake by Achebe to show how lightly violent offenders such as Okonwo are dealt with. This shows bias and that the Ibo culture does not totally condemn violence and quite often turns a blind eye to it. This is a fault in the culture but on the other hand it would be foolish of Achebe to portray the Ibo culture as a faultless ideal one.
Achebe uses the first fourteen chapters in much of the same way, he makes points like the above and leaves the reader to make comparisons which effectively challenge the colonist society. He also uses these chapters to explain and define the Ibo culture. This may seem irrelevant to the actual theme of the novel however this could not be further from the truth. This first part of the novel is used by Achebe to show that the Ibo culture may be very different but is still extremely civilized and if left alone would have been more than capable of surviving.
He illustrates this through countless examples mainly through the life of Okonkwo using Okonkwo to air personal views and as an extreme. The personal use of Okonkwo allows Achebe to use a descriptive style of impersonal commentary, which allows the reader to gain a real feel of what life was like in Umuofia. This understanding within the reader helps create sympathy during the second part of the book and helps reinforce how the white men destroyed a civilization. This is the reason behind the detailed insight into Ibo culture.
It is also interesting to note in chapter nineteen how the Ibo can welcome back an erring member once he has paid for his crime. In many cultures Okonkwo would be treated as an outcast, but this culture has ways of accommodating such a person without destroying him, and in fact encouraging him to give of his best. This again shows the Ibo to be fairer than the colonists. The comparison being that a criminal in the late 1800’s in England would find it extremely hard to shake off prejudice and be fully accepted back into society after serving his punishment. In chapter fourteen we get the first direct introduction to the colonialists. The story is a chilling one of how an entire village was destroyed for killing one white man. This shows the reader the brutality of the white colonists. Yet again Achebe poses the question, “Are the Ibo really the primitive ones?”