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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe
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How are white men first introduced into Things Fall Apart?

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When Obierika first mentions a white man to Okonkwo in chapter 15, Okonkwo asks if he means an albino, making it clear that Okonkwo is not familiar with white people. Obierika goes on to describe the white man as entering Abame riding "an iron horse." This exchange frames white people as strange and foreign, in contrast with how narratives often center whiteness and treat it as the default human experience.

Obierika relays that the people of Abame consulted their oracle, who warned them that the white man was the first of many and that white people would destroy their clan and "spread destruction." While the people of Abame killed this first white man, others come later and prove the oracle's warning true.

This sequence of events can be seen as a microcosm of the colonial struggle depicted in Things Fall Apart. Despite recognizing that white people are a threat and some attempts at resisting them, Okonkwo and others who oppose the colonization of their lands are ultimately unable to stop it.

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White men are first mentioned in this story in Chapter Fifteen, when Okonkwo is in his second year of exile. Obierika brings him news of a neighbouring tribe where white men have arrived, and, as a result, the entire tribe has been destroyed. He tells Okonkwo the tale of Abame an how it was wiped out. A white man arrived there to the amazement of the people, and eventually they consulted their Oracle to learn more about him:

The elders consulted their Oracle and it told them that the strange man would break their clan and spread destruction among them.

As a result, the people of Abame killed the white man. Later, however, three white men and other men returned, waited until everybody was in the market, and opened fire, slaughtering everybody accept for those who were sick or elderly, or those few who managed to escape. Obierika comments to Okonkwo that "A great evil has come upon the land as the Oracle had warned," and it is clear that white men are automatically linked with evil, the breaking of the tribe and destruction in this novel.

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