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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe
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How does Chinua Achebe portray colonialism using Things Fall Apart?

Chinua Achebe illustrates the way that European colonialism divided, disrupted, and dismantled the traditional Igbo societies of Nigeria. Under the guise of religion and economic prosperity, the European colonizers gradually created dissension among the Igbo villages by introducing Christianity and persuading native Africans to join their schools. Their passive approach to gaining a foothold in the Igbo societies leads to the establishment of European bureaucracies, which undermine the authority of the traditional Igbo leaders. As the missionaries persuade more and more villagers to join their church and the natives take advantage of the economic opportunities provided by the European trading posts, the Igbo people begin to divide, which creates tension throughout their tribes and villages.

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Chinua Achebe illustrates the way that European colonialism divided, disrupted, and dismantled the traditional Igbo societies of Nigeria. Under the guise of religion and economic prosperity, the European colonizers gradually created dissension among the Igbo villages by introducing Christianity and persuading native Africans to join their schools. Their passive approach...

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Chinua Achebe illustrates the way that European colonialism divided, disrupted, and dismantled the traditional Igbo societies of Nigeria. Under the guise of religion and economic prosperity, the European colonizers gradually created dissension among the Igbo villages by introducing Christianity and persuading native Africans to join their schools. Their passive approach to gaining a foothold in the Igbo societies leads to the establishment of European bureaucracies, which undermine the authority of the traditional Igbo leaders. As the missionaries persuade more and more villagers to join their church and the natives take advantage of the economic opportunities provided by the European trading posts, the Igbo people begin to divide, which creates tension throughout their tribes and villages. The supporters of traditional Igbo culture eventually challenge the established European institutions but are too late.

Unfortunately, the Igbo people lack the resources and technological advances that allow European colonialism to flourish and cannot defeat their oppressors. Okonkwo's suicide metaphorically represents how the once great, respected Igbo culture has been corrupted and weakened by European colonists. The intricate, complex Igbo culture that Achebe illustrates throughout the novel is pillaged by the deceitful, selfish Europeans, who view the native Africans as ignorant savages. The District Commissioner's candid response after witnessing Okonkwo's corpse swinging from a rope also reveals the callous, insensitive, prejudiced nature of the European colonists.

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It is colonialism that destroys the traditional setting of the Igbo and causes all sorts of undermining.  Colonialism is depicted as an artificial source that enters and subverts the traditions and bonds that had existed for some time.  Through Okonkwo's eyes, colonialism has wrecked the village, transformed the characteristics of people there, and changed his own family's dynamics between he and his son.  Achebe's depiction is one where outsiders entered and were able to undercut all hopes of collectivity with the lure of material riches and impositions of outside power.  In the end, the destruction of Igbo values might have been inevitable, but Achebe paints colonialism as the prime culprit that hastened the process.

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The picture that Achebe paints is not a very positive one, using the story to depict a colonial power that enters and then brings about the death of the Igbo culture.  Through the Christian religion as well as technological advances, the agents of colonial power enter the village and work tirelessly to convince the Igbo that their ways are the ways of the past and of ignorance and that the ways of the white man are better.  They create rifts in the village and seek to exacerbate those by continuing to point out ways that the village is backwards.

Eventually the interference of the white men and the conflict of their ways with the traditions of the Igbo bring about the death of the Igbo culture signified in part by Okonkwo's suicide.

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