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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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What are some examples of power and oppression occurring in Things Fall Apart?

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Things Fall Apart deals with power and oppression in an interesting and perhaps rather unexpected way, given that one of its major themes is the effect of British imperialism in Africa. Although Achebe is at pains to show the dignity and sophistication of Igbo culture, he also depicts its brutality and oppressiveness, not least in Okonkwo, the central character.

At the beginning of the novel, Okonkwo has already become a powerful man, a great warrior and wrestler, and a wealthy farmer. He uses his power to rule his family with an iron fist, beating his wives and even on one occasion, shooting at one of them. He kills Ikemefuna, who has the position of an adopted son in his household, with a machete because he is afraid of being thought weak. This fear shows that Okonkwo is not only an oppressor but also the victim of a harsh and oppressive culture.

By way of contrast, the colonizing power which eventually comes to oppress the Igbo people initially seems benign and even rather feeble. The Christian church accepts the weakest and least valued members of the community. At first, there is no show of force or attempt at conquest. Mr. Brown, the clergyman, attempts to gain converts by reasoned debate. The approach of oppression from the West, therefore, is slow and insidious. By the time it is clear that the white interlopers are in control and in a position to wipe out communities like Abame, it is already too late to oppose their power.

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Power and oppression is a significant theme in Things Fall Apart. In Umuofia, a man should perform the extraordinary to gain respect. The protagonist, Okonkwo, is a paragon of power. At the beginning of the novel, Okonkwo throws Amalinze the Cat in a wrestling match. After that, his fame grew like a bush-fire in harmattan. Also, Okonkwo’s physical appearance portrays authority. “He was tall and huge, and his bushy eyebrows and wide nose gave him a very severe look. He breathed heavily, and it was said that, when he slept, his wives and children in their houses could hear him breathe.” Okonkwo is motivated by the fear of failure. This fear has made him one of the most successful farmers in Umuofia. Besides, Okonkwo has won different titles, unlike his lazy father, Unoka.

In the traditional Igbo culture, a man should assume full control of his household. As such, Okonkwo rules his family with a heavy hand. His wives (especially the youngest) live in perpetual fear of his wrath. In the society portrayed by Things Fall Apart, it is justified for a man to beat his wife, provided it is not during the Week of Peace.

Another example of power and oppression is seen in the relationship between Okonkwo and Nwoye . Nwoye is Okonkwo’s eldest son; he is deemed inactive and his behavior feminine. He is constantly beaten by Okonkwo, who seeks to correct him: “He wanted Nwoye to grow into a...

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tough young man capable of ruling his father's household when he was dead and gone to join the ancestors.”

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One example of power and oppression is the fate of Ikemefuna and the treatment of the village pariahs. Ikemefuna is powerless and becomes a victim once Umuofia's oracle declares that he must die. Umuofia's authority figures are depicted as callous and brutal because they insist that Ikemefuna die. The village pariahs and untitled men are also powerless and oppressed in the village of Umuofia. They do not own land or animals and are not even given proper funerals. The Christian church takes advantage of this by initially recruiting the village pariahs until more prominent villagers convert, which creates discord among Igbo society.

Another example of power and oppression is illustrated by the District Commissioner's treatment of the tribal elders. After he invites Umuofia's leaders to discuss why they burned down the Christian church, the Europeans end up arresting the prominent men. The Europeans demonstrate their power by humiliating the tribal elders and physically assaulting them during their imprisonment. Umuofia's leaders are oppressed by the Europeans and the balance of power permanently shifts in favor of the colonizers.

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This novel is full of examples of power and oppression, both from the colonial incomers to the power of tribal chiefs trying to maintain their position. However, one theme of the book which will help you examine the concepts of power and oppression more clearly is that of change vs tradition.

This novel is really the story of a village and a culture on the edge of change and the two forces of change and tradition are often pitted against each other. It is noteworthy how characters react differently to this dilemma. Okonkow, for example, is against the forces of change, but we can see that he fears he will lose his status that the traditional society gives him. He fears that these new ways are not manyly and that by following them he will be made unmanly too. Yet conversely, the outcasts of his society rush to embrace Christianity precisely because of the societal status that it gives them - a good example of the power and oppression within the society before colonialism. It is interesting therefore to examin the character of Okonkow in this context, as although he wields power he can also be said to be oppressed by it as he is trapped into his position, which arguably leads to his tragic ending.

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