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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe
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Describe two changes that occur in Things Fall Apart as a result of the arrival of Europeans.

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Anyone seeking to understand two of the many changes that occur in Chinua Achebe’s classic book Things Fall Apart must focus on the following items: one must examine the impact of the introduction of scientific thought, which challenged many pre-existing concepts such as religion and faith held by the people of Umuofia, and also how the shift in economics removed a much-needed evaluation criterion of manhood for the indigenous population.

As with many people, the traditions of the people of Umuofia rested heavily on an unexamined faith system. The people of Umuofia inherited traditions and belief systems from their ancestors and adhered to them through a process of faith. Consider for a moment that there was a widely held belief that if one entered into "the Evil Forest," they would surely die. Hence, when European missionaries built their church inside of what the African tribesmen considered a cursed place, everyone expected for them to die. However, when death did not arrive, the indigenous population was faced with unprecedented questions about religion, faith, and belief systems. Making matters worse for the entire village was the fact that many of the issues being raised caused villagers to view belief systems that had served as foundational pillars of their people since their origins.

In addition to the introduction of Christianity, the transformation of their economy into a more formalized system of commerce based on money proved particularly detrimental to Umuofia. No longer would tribesmen be allowed to use yams to secure goods. The abandonment of this method of trade caused multiple reverberating harms to the people of Umuofia. The accumulation of yams, a most challenging crop to grow, as it needs constant tending to, was not only used for trade but also served as an efficient manner of evaluating the worth and utility of a man. Once Europeans replaced the barter system with one relying on money, there was little opportunity for the people of Umuofia. This moment is particularly revealing—it forced the indigenous people to submit and work for Europeans, as they held all of the money that became increasingly important to locals' daily survival.

After reading Achebe’s work, it is evident that the introduction of scientific thought, which served as an adversary to traditional faith systems, and the scrapping of yams as a method of trading in favor of European-controlled currency were crucial issues that ensured that Things Fall Apart.

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Several significant changes take place in Umuofia after the arrival of Europeans. The Europeans introduce Christianity to the villagers after they establish their first church. Under Mr. Brown's leadership, the Christian church rapidly grows, and more villagers begin to convert to Christianity, which creates tension within the natives and begins to impact the solidarity of the Igbo villagers. Along with the Christian church, the Europeans introduce schools, stores, and bureaucracy to the region. Villagers gain an education and enjoy the economic benefits of having a supply store in which they are able to buy and sell their items. Gradually, the Igbo villagers begin to assimilate as they become influenced more and more by European culture.

The introduction of European bureaucracy is the second most significant change that impacts the village of Umuofia. The European bureaucracy and administration undermines Umuofia's authority figures by initially arresting the village leaders. After embarrassing and torturing the village leaders, Umuofia's elders meet to decide what action to take against the powerful European colonists. Since the Europeans have an established stronghold in the region, they are able to use the threat of force to coerce the natives into complying with their political agenda, and they quickly take control of the village.

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In Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, the two major changes to Umuofia brought about by Western influence include the introduction of Christianity and white settlers bringing Eurocentric models of government. These two changes forever alter the region.

When Christianity first enters the regions, the men of Umuofia disregard its potential influence:

"The missionaries had come to Umuofia. They had built their church there, won a handful of converts and were already sending evangelists to the surrounding towns and villages. That was a source of great sorrow to the leaders of the clan; but many of them believed that the strange faith and the white man's god would not last" (143).

However, the Western religion slowly but surely gains traction and begins to influence the region. Moreover, the Christian faith served as an entry point for Western settlers, who soon change the way that debates in the region are settled by introducing European court systems. They change the judiciary system of the region by incorporating European models and disregarding the customs of the area. Additionally, the District Commissioner becomes an influential force, supplanting the elders of Umuofia. Achebe portrays the court as a patronizing institution, an institution that treats the natives as children, or else sub-human. The District Commissioner contends:

"We have brought a peaceful administration to you and your people so that you may be happy. If any man ill-treats you we shall come to your rescue. But we will not allow you to ill-treat others....That must not happen in the dominion of our queen, the most powerful ruler in the world" (194).

For me, European religion and government are the two major changes that are brought over by Western settlers. 

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The arrival of English Christian missionaries in Umuofia had major impacts on traditional lifeways- both good and bad. For example, the missionaries built a trading store in the village, where staples such as palm oil and kola nut could be sold for a high price. In Chapter Twenty One, it is narrated that the trading store brought a lot of money into Umuofia. This would have been a benefit for some of the villagers, who could profit off of goods they already had or could easily acquire. In addition, the trading store was likely importing goods from Europe which would have otherwise been difficult to acquire in rural Nigeria. Things like tea, cane sugar, and bicycles would all have been desired by the missionaries as items they were accustomed to using at home. Whether this was of a benefit to the people of Umuofia, we do not know.

In the very same phrase from Chapter Twenty One, which I have mentioned above, the narrator states that the missionaries have brought with them a "lunatic religion." Christianity was in many ways at odds with traditional Umuofia religion, and this many many people unhappy. Even the people who did not mind or were amused by the Christians and their teachings might be angry to find that a family member had joined the Church. An important plot arc of the book is that the Christians are tolerated in Umuofia for some time, but tensions grow to the point that their house of worship is destroyed. The Christian missionaries intended to convert, "save," and "pacify" the people of Umuofia, and though they succeeded in converting a few, they disrupted many lives. The arrival of the missionaries could even be called divisive because their presence quickly marked those who were willing to be changed and appeal to European dominance and those who would resist.

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