Essay, Research Paper: African Culture - Things Fall Apart


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"Things Fall Apart" - short summary of the book,
analysis of African Culture before by appearance of white man.

Things fall apart, is the story of an Ibo village- Umuofia , which takes place
in the late 1800s. Things Fall Apart analyzes the destruction of African culture
by the appearance of the white man (Christian Missionaries) in terms of the
destruction of the bonds between individuals and their society. Christian
Missionaries try to convert the people of the Ibo society to Christianity, and
in their efforts of doing so, they bring about a downfall in the social and
cultural structure of the people in this society. Like the title suggests
‘Things fall apart’ in the society largely due to the interference of the
Christian Missionaries. The main character in this story are Okonkwo – a
“strong” man whose life are dominated by fear and anger. Okonkwo was known
throughout the village for his strength and valor. He was the greatest wrestler
alive! Okonkwo had achieved quite in his life, he was a wealthy farmer, a
husband with three wives, a title-holder among his people. However, Okonkwo’s
childhood was not a happy one. Okonkwo’s father Unoka, was quite an
unsuccessful man. He did not hold any titles, which was considered a shame in
his clan. Unoka was lazy and improvident when he was young, he owned almost all
of his neighbors some amount of money. Probably the only thing that Unoka was
good at was at his flute, with which he wasted most of his time. Unoka was a man
who didn’t care much about tomorrow. When Unoka died he was heavily in debt
and had taken no title at all. Okonkwo had to fend for himself right from
childhood. Fortunately a man in his clan was judged on his own worth and not
that of his father. Age was respected among his people but achievement revered.
And Okonkwo was a man of great achievements. However, such a childhood left
quite some scars on Okonkwo’s life. Okonkwo was scared of failure, to be
called weak. So to put up a show of his strength and manliness, he was a very
stern and aggressive when it came to treating women, because that is what was
considered to be manlike in the Ibo Society. B. Give specific example of values
of the culture described in the book and explain how they are important to the
development of the story. Respect: ‘Age was respected among his people but
achievement was revered’ – People of the Ibo culture had respect for age. An
old person was looked up upon, given due respect. At the same time, a person
with abilities and achievements was also honored, like in the case of Okonkwo,
whose fame rested on his solid personal achievements. He was a wealthy farmer ,
a champion in wrestling and a *successful man. Similarly even the art of
conversation was rewarded very highly, a person with good conversational skills
was respected for his ability! Success: The measure of a man’s success was
mainly based upon the number of wives he had, the size of his barn and the
number of titles he had taken. In all there were 4 titles, the highest and most
difficult to achieve being the fourth. A man with many titles was looked upon
with great respect in the village. Belief in the Supernatural: The people in
this culture had firm belief in supernatural powers. They believed that after
death their ancestors became spirits called egwugwu. They believed in the power
of the Oracle (a holy spirit who preached and advised the people), and its
decisions. One who disobeyed the Oracle was punished. Okonkwo had to goon an
exile for seven years because of such laws against Male Domination: The Ibo
society showed prominent male dominance. In the Ibo society anything strong was
likened to man and anything weak to woman. The husband was the chief of the
family. Bigamy was allowed. The tribe also allowed wife beating . The novel
describes two instances when Okonkwo beats his second wife, once when she did
not come home to make his meal. He beat her severely and was punished but only
because he beat her during the Week of Peace. He beat her again when she
referred to him as one of those "guns that never shot." Role of Women:
In his novel Mr.Achebe shows that the Ibo nonetheless assigned important roles
to women. For instance, women painted the houses of the egwugwu. Furthermore,
the first wife of a man in the Ibo society is paid some respect. This deference
is illustrated by the palm wine ceremony at Nwakibie's obi . Anasi, Nwakibie's
first wife, had not yet arrived and "the others [other wives] could not
drink before her". The importance of woman's role appears when Okonkwo is
exiled to his motherland. His uncle, Uchendu, noticing Okonkwo's distress,
eloquently explains how Okonkwo should view his exile: "A man belongs to
his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow
and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland." A man has both joy and
sorrow in his life and when the bad times come his "mother" is always
there to comfort him. Thus comes the saying "Mother is Supreme".
Religion: The Ibo tribe had very strong faith in their Gods. Unlike in
Christianity their Gods were represented by the forces of nature, the earth,
etc. They believed that if the law of the religion is not observed, it leads to
dire consequences. The ritual where a mother who gives birth to twins, has to
leave them to die in the forest, describes the strong influence of these laws
over the people. Okonkwo had to goon an exile for seven years because of such
laws of the earth God. It is this faith draws them to rebel against the
missionaries. IIA -As cultures come into conflict , some individuals are
invariably “caught” between the two. Explain the nature of the conflict and
the effect on the main characters. It is true that as cultures come into
conflict, some individuals are invariable caught between the two. In this novel,
it is Okonkwo who is “caught” between the conflict of the two cultures- his
own culture and the culture that the Christian missionaries are trying hard to
incorporate into the Ibo people. In the story, at a funeral inadvertently the
misfiring of Okonkwo’s gun, results in the death of a person from his clan.
The punishment for such a crime is exile from the village for seven years. So
Okonkwo was forced to collect his family- his three wives and their children and
all his belongings and to flee from his village. Okonkwo decided to move to his
motherland, a small village called Mbanta. Life for Okonkwo in his motherland
turned out to be quite difficult. This phase of seven years was a very difficult
phase. He and his family had to work very hard to plant a new farm. ‘Work no
longer had for him the pleasure it used to have, and when there was no work to
do he sat ina silent half-asleep’ (pg.131) Okonkwo had lost his zest for life.
Although he knew that these seven years had adversely affected all his ambitions
to become one of the lords of the clan (to achieve the 4th and most sought after
title ), he looked forward to returning back to his village, to restart his life
in his fatherland. But that was not to be. The interference of the Christian
missionaries brought about a lot of change- most of it being negative! It was
because of the missionaries that Okonkwo’s fatherland was now falling apart
between two groups, the new converts and the clan of the village. It became
Okonkwo’s desire to get rid of the Christian Missionaries. He finally returned
to his fatherland.. but to find a totally changed land, where the clan was no
more full of strong men and brave hearts. The people had become more passive,
they were afraid of the Christian missionaries, but Okonkwo as always wanted
them out of their way, by killing them. This led to a conflict between the
people of his clan, the missionaries and himself, where he was stuck in the
middle. He finally decided that irrespective of the support of his clansmen, he
would avenge the Christian missionaries- who by now had totally changed the face
of the villages, by defying the religions and beliefs of the clan. He ended up
killing one of the messengers, and then committing suicide- which was considered
an unholy thing to do in his clan. This was not a suitable end to a warrior the
caliber of Okonkwo! I found it to be a really touching story. Although the
customs and beliefs of the Ibo tribe seem very strange to me too, I feel that no
culture should be interfered with nor should it be tried to change it to one’s
satisfaction. A culture is most beautiful the way it is- any undesired change to
it, would only be a deterioration in its beauty.

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