In Things Fall Apart, Part Three, Achebe uses irony to describe the District Commissioner’s reaction to the clansmen’s request for help in cutting down Okonkwo’s body. Which response was ironic?
“take him down yourselves”
an “undignified detail”
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Each of the phrases is ironic in its own way.
The Commissioner's observation that using superfluous words was "an infuriating habit " of "these people" is ironic, since the habit is only annoying to him because he does not understand Igbo culture and tradition, nor does he wish to. His arrogance and supercilious attitude are what prevent him from making an effort to do so. Further irony lies in the fact that he is the outsider and should respect their traditions and culture, instead of condemning them.
The irony of "take him down yourselves" follows from what is mentioned above. Secondly, it is taboo in Igbo culture to lay hands on one who has committed suicide, as one of the men explains:
"It is against our custom. It is an abomination for a man to take his own life. It is an offence against the Earth, and the man who commits it will not be buried by his clansmen. His body is evil and only strangers may touch it."
Once again, the Commissioner is acting from a position of superiority and arrogance. He displays no appreciation, understanding or respect for Igbo tradition.
The fact that one of the messengers shouts at Obierika to "shut up" when he mentions Okonkwo's greatness is ironic since the messenger, who had mostly probably been a tribesman himself, has no idea of Okonkwo's history, or has willingly decided to reject any memory of his tribe's proud traditions. He has, ironically, adopted the culture and religion of his usurper, to whom he is nothing but a mere servant, whereas Okonkwo proudly, courageously, and fiercely opposed the colonial regime.
One of the things that the District Commissioner has 'learnt' is to never attend to such "undignified details as cut a hanged man from a tree." The Commissioner believes that doing so would result in the natives having a 'poor opinion' of him. The irony in this is that the 'natives' mostly already have a poor opinion of him. The respect that he believes he has is the result of fear and domination—the ruthless imposition of a foreign culture and religion on a people who have to comply—or else. If he and others had taken the time to honor the culture, tradition and religion of the natives, they would have had greater respect, even admiration.
It is ironic that they never thought of seeing it that way!
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