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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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In Things Fall Apart, what were the effects of colonialism on the region?

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The effect of colonization in Things Fall Apart was to destroy the entire culture of the region. In the novel, the greatest focus is on religion. The religious traditions and ceremonies of the Ibo people are described in some detail and though some of their practices may seem cruel, they...

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The effect of colonization in Things Fall Apart was to destroy the entire culture of the region. In the novel, the greatest focus is on religion. The religious traditions and ceremonies of the Ibo people are described in some detail and though some of their practices may seem cruel, they provide the clan members with a profound sense of meaning and connection to the spirit world. The new religion of Christianity initially gains converts by accepting those of low status, who were denied a part in the traditional religion. The ministers of the new religion do not understand the old one. This is true even of the more tolerant and thoughtful Mr. Brown, who accuses the Ibo of worshipping pieces of wood, rather than realizing that these wooden idols symbolize spirits in the same way as a wooden carving of Christ on the cross.

The demoralization and eradication of traditional culture that occurs in the sphere of religion is replicated in every other area from family life to government. Some communitites, such as Abame, are wiped out by violence, whereas in others a malaise takes hold as people like Okonkwo who generally prospered under the old ways, feel utterly deracinated. The novel ends with the profound irony of the District Commissioner considering the title of the book he intends to write: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger. None of the colonizers understand the society they are destroying and, although the District Commissioner considers himself a student of native customs, this lack of understanding is generally a point of pride, for they see themselves as being above native quarrels. As Obierika points out, the few white men in Umuofia could easily be driven out, but their culture has taken root and replaced to old ways to such an extent that it would be pointless to do this. By the end of the book it is too late to prevent the region's culture from falling apart.

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European colonization significantly impacts Igbo society throughout the novel Things Fall Apart. Achebe depicts how the Europeans began colonization under the guise of religion and education. Mr. Brown and his ministry appeal to society's outcasts by initially recruiting pariahs of the Igbo community. Gradually, the Christian religion entices more notable members of Igbo society, and the rift widens between the missionaries and native community. The colonizing Europeans also set up schools, trading posts, and government institutions. Achebe writes,

"From the very beginning religion and education went hand in hand. Mr. Brown's mission grew from strength to strength, and because of its link with the new administration it earned a new social prestige" (64).

The native citizens learn how to read and write, and the trading stores increase economic opportunity throughout the land. However, the Igbo culture suffers as a result of colonization. Traditional practices like the killing of twins are considered illegal under the European government, and Umuofia's tribal court loses its authority. The European administration is also rigid in its understanding of Igbo culture, which creates additional friction between the two groups. Eventually, the overzealous Christian converts provoke the natives into burning down a church, and the village leaders are unceremoniously arrested. The Umuofians are left with a choice, either rebel against the powerful Europeans or submit to their new government. By the end of the novel, the Igbo society capitulates, and their culture dissipates.

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Essentially, the impact of colonization is to break apart the Ibo societal structure. In some ways, this has negative effects: traditions are destroyed, and those who follow Ibo law are suddenly subject to British punishment. Many villagers die or remain in jail because of their adherence to their own rituals and traditions, rather than the recently imposed British structure. Religious conflict is brutal, and both villagers and missionaries die because of their inability to adapt to change.  Okonkwo demonstrates the worst that could happen to someone who is unable to transform when history forces change. His aggressive stance toward the missionaries brings about his own destruction.

There are some positive effects of this interaction however. The Christian missionaries bring a kindness and acceptance that many villagers do not know. The practices of leaving twins to die, or turning out "undesirables" are abhorred by the the missionaries, and many women and disenfranchised members of the tribe find a place within the structure of the church.

 

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Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, is a novel about Nigeria in the 19th century before colonialism. It is a tale about  a great westler and elder. Itis not until the novel's end that the reader learns about colonialism.This novel is really a display of one author's opinion of what happens when colonialism enters a culture--things fall apart. The tale is really Okonkwo's story and shows how he became well known however he was stubborn which was always a problem. As a result, a stray bullet from his gun fatally killed someone. He was exiled, along with his family, for 7 years. When he returned everything had changed.

This is a common occurance in countries where colonialism takes over the culture; people return to their homeland to find out that they no longer recognize the place and they are no longer accepted there.  (See the Inheritance of Loss in Enotes which also related to colonialism in India)




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