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Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
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Sep 01, 2011

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Read in September, 2011

I had said earlier in one of my former reviews, about how if a certain character is not overwhelmed by the plot-theme of a script and stands out on its own potency becoming more memorable than the story itself, the book is worth applauding and so is the author for its creation. When one reads Things Fall Apart, amongst its vast documentary of Igbo culture of the southeastern part of Nigeria; a man named Okonkwo shines not for his tragic fate but for the man he turned out to be due to his withering circumstances. He was conceited, stubborn, ill-tempered, and ruthless, yet he took pride in the customary and social hierarchies of the powerful clan of Umuofia. He feared failure; a psychological diffidence nurtured through his father’s shortcomings. Okonkwo strived with hardcore determination to be the leader of the clan. He robustly stood tall like a tree , faced every crisis that came his way with obstinate wit, but sadly overlooked his own limitations and never learned to bend or turn like the grass to the changing winds and finally succumbed to the gust of harshness. My heart goes out to men like Okonkwo, whose personality represents numerous other men from various patriarchal societies; like my own for instance. Staunch patriarchs rarely accept changes for they have been rooted in their ancestral cultural mores and dread its disintegration with time. Okonkwo’s father died when he was young burdened with debt and mortification. Hence, he feared his own collapse and saw accomplishment and power as a sign of acceptance and dignity amongst the members of the clan. Okonkwo was the uncrowned prince of masculinity. As a patriarch he believed the molding of a true man was carved through use of brutal force and authoritarian services. Any vulnerability was a sign of effeminate demeanor and a shame to his manhood. It has always been a classic case of "my way or the highway" when dealing with the head of a certain family structure. The father or the grandfather whoever occupied the supreme position tends to be engulfed in his own obsessive hubris failing to show necessary restraint; ripping away the family piece by piece. It was no surprise when Okonkwo’s son Nwoye despised his father’s preaching and turned to Christianity for a serene existence. I have no sympathies for Okonkwo’s tragic ending for I strongly felt he deserved every bit of the death that came his way. I know I got a bit carried away with this character, but I saw shades of his personality that hit closer to home. A man who cannot change with time is a friendless traveler.

When my anger receded, after a while, questions arise as to whether it is easy for a human being who is deeply embedded in a certain way of life to accept drastic change at the risk of losing a critical part of his existence- his cultural identification? When I compare myself with past generations I wonder if my children will ever remember or follow the sediments of my ancestral culture that has barely found a way in my lifestyle. Colonization brings westernization; the advent of the “white” man on exotic foreign shores brings a modernists wave that practically wipes out the primary ethnicities of the land. Democratic amendments bring liberation banishing orthodoxy and atrocious superstitions. It is a definite wondrous prospect, I must say; nevertheless, it gradually washes away the crucial hierarchical cultural institutions terming it as a blot of vernacularism. I embraced westernization as a child through my schooling years, but my father still finds some of the libertine values humbug. It is then, I reflect on Okonkwo and his failure to accept the presence of British missionaries in his village and his belief in the calamitous penalties by the spread of Christianity.

Achebe brings a complex mix of digression and misfortune that revolves around one man, his fate and the collapse within his tribal ethnicity. The anthropological image of the Igbo people and their civilization in the late 19th century, exhibits a democratic opulence of the Igbo people ingrained in tribal origins of African literature. Themes of religious convictions in the mysterious aura of the village Oracle, the hypocrisy and miscarriage in the justice structure during colonization and the commanding anxiety of free will are well meshed in depicting the Igbo world. Tribes and cultures either disintegrating or amalgamating into Western civilization bring an end to a strong ethnic era that once thrived and later waits patiently for its revival through generations. Languages and customs disappear with colonization making the world a uniformed global dais with treasures of ancient cultures hidden amongst its dark interiors. One man’s treasure is another man’s trash; tribal practices although termed as an archaic form of savagery, were valued institutions of traditions and justice to a few. Although, Chinua Achebe’s book tries to echo the related attitude, somehow it seems depressing and vacant at the closing stages of the book.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Mike Puma Every time I see this title mentioned, I remember one line in particular. I'll never forget it. When the group leads Ikemefuna off into the jungle: (view spoiler) I'm haunted by it.

Praj I loathed that scene while trying to comprehend with the preposterous notion of "proving one's masculinity".

Thom Dunn Praj wrote: "I loathed that scene while trying to comprehend with the preposterous notion of "proving one's masculinity"."

I want to shout to Okonkwo. I want to intervene and explain to him how things are, how they are going to be. I want to hold onto him while showing him the projected title of the Colonial Overlord's book:"The Pacification of the Tribes of the Lower Niger".

Pouga It is tough speak positively of Okonkwo, but something positive must be said for his reaction to the missionaries in defense of his culture. His masculinity act deserves reproach without question, but didn't the Westerners influence seem to soil a relatively beautiful thing the Igbos had going, despite the obvious pitfalls? Could you imagine the Igbos imposing on Western Europe in the same fashion? I doubt Europeans would have received them with a fraction of the same generosity and respect. I only say this because I feel the story would have ended just a sadly if Okonkwo dropped his masculine nonsense and accepted colonialism; It would morph the story into a grieving tale of a rich culture destroyed, and we would just be badmouthing the Europeans and mourning him instead. At least in his bullish ways, he stood up for what is right, and in this case right is simply the right to stand up for your own culture against imperial forces. I don’t mean this to be a defense of Okonkwo, because I agree with what has been said, but I think the beauty of Okonkwo is in the way he represents the dual natures of right and wrong. He fights for both teams simultaneously. It is easy to see the wrong in Okonkwo, but we cannot let that blind us from the wrong of the missionaries, which seems to me a super-ceding issue, but no doubt he could have handled himself better.

Jenn Good review. What is the culture you say you come from?

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