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The Promotion of Tolerance in “Things Fall Apart”

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“Things Fall Apart”, published in 1958, shows the life in Nigeria before it became colonized and the nineteenth century which marks the arrival of the Europeans. The story is developed into three parts where the first part is about main character’s, Okonkwo’s, personal life and his achievements, his tradition and culture, while the second and third parts are about the clash of the story and the way the colonizers influenced in the Igbo culture. Something interesting about the novel is that usually the stories about African people were written by Europeans, the way they saw them, usually as savages, but “Things Fall Apart” was written by an African, Chinua Achebe. He showed the real Africans and not those whom Europeans demonstrated.

Tolerance is an important value which is always needed in societies. Many writers promote tolerance through their works. The same is seen in Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” Even though the promotion is not seen that directly, the way the plot is explored makes the reader receive the message. In this paper I will try to show how this novel promotes tolerance. I am going to separate the tolerance shown in the novel into three parts; tolerance within villagers, tolerance within family and tolerance shown to the new comers as well as the way they gave it. After giving all the possible ways the tolerance is shown in the novel, I will try to present the way Okonkwo failed to accept these tolerances and how he ended up from being the one everyone envied to the one no one would even touch his dead body.

Tolerance within Villagers

While living in the same place, it is important to know how to tolerate each other in order to live in harmony and the brotherhood line will be strengthened. As Albert Einstein says: “Laws alone cannot secure freedom of expression; in order that every man present his views without penalty there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.” (Einstein)

We see this notion in the novel where between villagers there exists tolerance as they are very connect with each other and helpful in what they did. An example of this is Unoka, Okonkow’s father, who even though had many debts; he managed to take again every time he needed.

“People laughed at him because he was a loafer, and they swore never to lend him any more money because he never paid back. But Unoka was such a man that he always succeeded in borrowing more, and piling up his debts” (page, 3)

Here, except for Unoka’s “wisdom” in knowing how to make people lend him more and more, it is also seen the way how villagers were generous and in a kind of way, tolerant with a person such as Unoka was.

Tolerance within Family

I think that life is difficult. People have challenges. Family members get sick, people get older, you don’t always get the job or the promotion that you want. You have conflicts in your life. And really, life is about your resilience and your ability to go through your life and all of the ups and downs with a positive attitude. (Hyman)

Family, is the place where we seek peace and we can be the best version of ourselves; that’s why it is important to feel yourself home while in home. This kind of tolerance is mostly seen in Okonkwo’s family, who had three wives and they showed respect for each other.

“Anasi was the first wife and the others could not drink before her, and so they stood waiting (page 12)

Tolerance with the New Comers

This side of tolerance is seen in several cases. First, with the boy who comes from the other village, Ikemefuna, who was taken because someone from his village had killed an Igbo woman. Okonkwo seems to have a deep feeling for the boy. He takes him to his home and treats him as his own son. Even though he didn’t show love in a direct form, he demonstrated it differently; like when the boy does not want to eat and Okonkwa stands in front of him with a stick in his hand so that the boy could eat. This may be seen as a “pressure” or as a harsh act, but in the same time we see a sign of merci, affection and tolerance as well.

“When Okonkwo heard that he would not eat any food he came into the hut with a big stick in his hand and stood over him while he swallowed his yams, trembling” (page, 16)

It is seen how Ikemefuna became like a member of Okonkwo’s family, especially with Nwoye, they became really best friends and they were deeply attached to each other.

Even when Okonkwo had to kill Ikemefuna, because no one else would, this doesn’t show the failure of tolerance, contrary this shows in the same time the respect they had for each other and for their guests. Okonkwo suffers this murderer a lot, as it is seen in the following lines:

“Okonkwo did not taste any food for two days after the death of Ikemefuna. He drank palm-wine morning till night, and were red and fierce like the eyes of a rat when it was caught by the tail and dashed against the floor.

…He did not sleep at night. He tried not to think about Ikemenefuna, but the more he tried the more he thought about him. Once he got uo from bed and walked about his compound. But he was so weak that his legs could hardly carry him. He felt like a drunken giant walking with the limbs of a mosquito. Now and then a cold shiver descended on his head and spread down his body.” (Things Fall Apart, 36)

Another example of tolerance towards the new-comers is seen when the colonizers, the white men, came in the village and the villagers started to adapt to these changes. The missioners as Mr. Brown brought a new religion and new traditions in the village and Igbo culture. “Moreover, the author ironically named the characters in his fiction and uses colours such as ‘Brown’ the generic personalities reflects in his name because he was tolerant and benevolence for the Igbo people. He could able to deal with black people and respect them” (Aziz, 2015). A lot of things had changed with the passing of the years, precisely 7 years during which Okonkwo was exiled from his village. The new comers had made people love them with their attitude, help and all other things.

“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness an allowed him to stay. ”(Things Fall Apart 101)

Maybe his refusal to accept things was foolish, maybe not; however Okonkwo didn’t even tried to see whether he could live with those changes because it wasn’t the changes what matters, but the people of his village, the ones for whom he had fought so much.

“Cultural differences should not separate us from each other, but rather cultural diversity brings a collective strength that can benefit all of humanity.” Also: “Intercultural dialogue is the best guarantee of a more peaceful, just and sustainable world.” (Alan)

The Failure to Accept Tolerance

Most of the villagers accepted the new comers, rules, traditions and religion except for Okonkwo. His refusal of adaptation to the new changes made him fail the understanding of the tolerance. The situation in here reminds me of a famous quote: “We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race.” (Anan, 2001)

This was exactly what Okonkwo had forgotten; he had constructed his own walls about his perception of culture, traditions and everything that he didn’t let anything new enter the village. After his returning, he realizes that the two nations or cultures have been mixed with each other and there were made so many changes; which he refuses to accept. He is sure that the white man lacks understanding in their culture.

“How can he when he does not even speak our tongue? But he says that our customs are bad; and our own brothers who have taken up his religion also say that our customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when our brothers have turned against us? 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.”(Things Fall Apart, 101)

It is obvious how Okonkwo’s center cannot hold anymore and he is falling apart. He is the main element in showing tolerance because he didn’t accept it, he denied everything that came from the white man and ended up doing the greatest sin their Igbo culture demanded. He kills himself instead of trying to adapt to the changes. He fails to show tolerance towards innovations and developments.

His suicide is a main point in the novel because he fights so much for culture, tradition and such, but in the end he is the one who breaks the tradition.

The novel explores important and difficult issues such as the nature of moral truth, the interaction among cultures and which is the most important; tolerance. Achebe promotes tolerance almost during the whole novel, but Okonkwo’s suicide makes out his point in how people end up if they refuse to show and receive tolerance.

I want to conclude this paper by citing a quote from the famous American Baptist minister, Joseph Fort Newton, who says: “Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.”

Works Cited

  1. Achebe, C. (1959). Things Fall Apart. New York: Random House, Inc.
  2. Alan, R. (n.d.).
  3. Anan, K. (2001).
  4. Atwood, M. (1985). The Handmaid’s Tale. Canada.
  5. Aziz, S. (2015). Multiculturalism in Chinua Achebe’s novels Things Fall Apart and. Journal of Literature, Languages and Linguistics , 2-3.
  6. Hyman, J. (n.d.).
  7. Newton, I. (n.d.).

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The Promotion of Tolerance in “Things Fall Apart”. (2022, Feb 26). Retrieved from

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