What are some of the disadvantages of the Igbo culture's social structure in Things Fall Apart?

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One of the most prominent disadvantages of the Igbo social structure and culture is its harsh penalties and punishments, which seem to champion senseless violence and unfairly sentence unfortunate individuals. One clear example is the belief that twin infants are considered an offense to the land and are left to...

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One of the most prominent disadvantages of the Igbo social structure and culture is its harsh penalties and punishments, which seem to champion senseless violence and unfairly sentence unfortunate individuals. One clear example is the belief that twin infants are considered an offense to the land and are left to die in the Evil Forest. Another example of violent punishments is the fate of Ikemefuna. The Oracle of the Hills and Caves sanctions his death, and he is brutally cut down in a forest outside of Umuofia. In addition to the seemingly random killings, Okonkwo is also severely punished for accidentally murdering a teenager during a chaotic funeral. Okonkwo not only loses his titles and revered position in the village but is also exiled from Umuofia for seven years. Achebe explores how citizens begin to question the Igbo's severe culture by illustrating Nwoye and Obierika's thoughts on such topics. Following Ikemefuna's tragic death, Achebe writes,

Nwoye had heard that twins were put in earthenware pots and thrown away in the forest, but he had never yet come across them. A vague chill had descended on him and his head had seemed to swell, like a solitary walker at night who passes an evil spirit on the way. Then something had given way inside him. It descended on him again, this feeling, when his father walked in that night after killing Ikemefuna (44).

When Nwoye first hears the moving Christian hymns, he recalls the tragic fate of the twins and Ikemefuna and is motivated to join the "peaceful" Christian church. In addition to the harsh punishments inflicted on those who offend the earth goddess, the Igbo culture also discriminates against the osu, who are the tribe's undesirables. The Christian church appeals to the osu and welcomes them with open arms. Many of the osu become the most zealous converts and cause many problems for the villagers.

The Igbo tribe is also at a disadvantage to the colonists because they lack a lucrative economy and the resources necessary to establish a trading post and schools. Achebe illustrates that the European trading posts and schools are effective in gaining the trust and support of the local villagers.

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In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, one of the major disadvantages inherent with the traditional Igbo culture’s social structure can be found in the tribe’s treatment of undesirables and outcasts, or osu. Osu are unable to climb up the rungs of society in the same way that Okonkwo and others can; indeed, the Igbo of Umuofia enforce a kind of caste system:

"He was a person dedicated to a god, a thing set apart-- a taboo for ever, and his children after him. He could neither marry nor be married by the free-born. He was in fact an outcast, living in a special area of the village.... Wherever he went he carried with him the mark of his forbidden caste-- long, tangled and dirty hair. A razor was taboo to him. An osu could not attend an assembly of the free-born, and they, in turn, could not shelter under his roof. He could not take any of the four titles of the clan, and  when he died he was buried by his kind in the Evil Forest" (156).

The clan’s maltreatment of osu creates a powerful recruiting opportunity for the incipient Christian missionaries in the region, and they increase their numbers by incorporating osu into the church.

Another notable disadvantage in the Igbo’s social structure comes in the form of their strict punishment system. Okonkwo is himself a victim of a seemingly arbitrary sentence when he is exiled from Umuofia for seven years for inadvertently killing a young member of the tribe. Obierika questions these traditions after Okonkwo is punished:

“When the will of the goddess had been done, he sat down in his obi and mourned his friend's calamity. Why should a man suffer so grievously for an offense he had committed inadvertently? But although he thought for a long time he found no answer. He was merely led into greater complexities. He remembered his wife's twin children, whom he had thrown away. What crime had they committed? The Earth had decreed that they were an offense on the land and must be destroyed” (125).

Obierika questions how these traditions actively benefit the clan, especially when they seem to actually hurt those that surround him.

These are a few examples of how the rigid traditions of the Igbo culture can be problematic to members of the clan. Osu and Okonkwo alike suffer due to the social structures that are firmly upheld by the tribe in Umuofia.

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