In what way do technological and cultural advancements play a role in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart? What does Achebe say about these developments? Do they lead to to disintegration and...

In what way do technological and cultural advancements play a role in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart? What does Achebe say about these developments? Do they lead to to disintegration and corruption or freedom and liberation? Identify a passage that supports the role of cultural and technological advancements in Things Fall Apart.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Symbolically, the destructive presence of the Colonial British is suggested by the tales that Obierika relates when he visits Okonkwo during the second year of his exile and informs him that the clan of Abame has been eradicated as related by the few who escaped. Because the Oracle from Abame had predicted the arrival of the white man, saying that he would "break their clan and spread destruction," the Igbos of Abame killed him and tied his iron horse to a sacred tree. But, more white men appeared and on market day they slaughtered as many as they could.

  • Technological advancements that bring disintegration of a culture:

The arrival in the "iron horse," a metaphor for the mechanical and metal vehicles, which allow the white men to travel far and more quickly than by foot or horseback, effects the death of the Abame clan who are shot to death by only a few white men because they have rifles with which they can quickly kill the defenseless natives.

In Chapter 15 Obierika relates the tragedy of the clan of Abame:

I forgot to tell you another thing which the Oracle said. It said that other white men were on their way. They were locusts, it said, and that first man was their harbinger sent to explore the terrain. And so they killed him.

But, the three white men return on a market day and slaughter all but those few who escape. Obierika tells Okonkwo,

"Their clan is now completely empty. Even the sacred fish in their mysterious lake have fled and the lake has turned the colour of blood. A great evil has come upon their land as the Oracle had warned."

  • Cultural advancements that lead to disintegration

Chapter 17 reflects the dissolution of the Igbo religion and the damage that Colonialism has done culturally to the tribe. In this chapter, the arrival of the missionary reflects the establishment of a mission in 1857 by the Anglican Church Missionary Society. Through an interpreter, the missionary challenges the core beliefs of the people in Okonowo's village. He tells the people,

"All the gods you have named are not gods at all. They are gods of deceit who tell you to kill your fellows and destroy innocent children. There is only one true God and He has the earth, the sky, you and me and all of us."

Later, Okonowo's son Nwoye is moved these words and others of the missionary as he has always been bothered by the senseless killing dictated by the tribe leaders of Ikemefuna and the cruel discarding of twin babies in the Evil Forest. After the Christian church is built upon the cursed land that the tribe gave to the missionary and the gods and ancestors did not destroy it as the leaders of the tribe had believed they would, the missionary began to acquire converts, among them Nneka, who had had four pregnancies of twins who were all taken from her because of the tribe's belief that twin births were evil.

When Nwoye returns his enraged father questions him about where he has been, having been informed by his cousin Amikwu who witnessed Nwoye coming from the church. Oknonowo picks up a stick in order to beat his son, but the women cry out. It is then that Nwoye "walked away and never returned." He goes to the church and tells Mr. Kiaga, the minister, that he has decided to go to Umofia where there is a white mission school designed to teach the young Christians to read and write English.

Mr. Kiaga's joy was very great. "Blessed is he who forsakes his father and his mother for my sake," he intoned. "Those that hear my words are my father and my mother." 

Nwoye promises himself that he will later return in order to convert his mother and his siblings, but forsake his father. That night Okonkwo contemplates the departure of his son. "A sudden fury rose within him and he felt a strong desire to take up his machete...and wipe out the vile and micreant gang" at the church. But, he decides that Nwoye is not worth fighting over.

--With the arrival of the Christian missionary, the fabric of the Igbo civilization and culture is threatened as families become divided and traditional beliefs are challenged or destroyed. Ironically, the words of Mr. Kiaga himself go against the very teachings of his Christian faith:

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: [Matthew 12:25]

--Further, in Chapter 20, the British culture forces itself upon that of the natives:

But apart from the church, the white men had also brought a government. They had built a court where the District Commissioner judged cases in ignorance (of Igbo law and custom).

Judged by British law, leaders of the tribe are made to perform menial tasks as their punishments, a degradation to their dignity:

Some of these prisoners were men of title who should be above such mean occupation. They were grieved by the indignity and mourned for their neglected farms. As they cut grass in the morning the younger men sang in time with the strokes of their machete,

"Kotma of the ashy buttocks, He is fit to be a slave. The white man has no sense, He is fit to be a slave."

The court messengers did not like to be called Ashy-Buttocks, and they beat the men. But the song spread in Umuofia.

Okonkwo's head was bowed in sadness as he is told these things by Obierika because the court messengers are foreigners in his land, men whom the tribe finds arrogant and "high-handed." Their invasion and that of the British clearly create tension and a threat to the integrity of the culture of the Igbo tribe as respected leaders are degraded, and conflict occurs with the "Ashy-Buttocks," men from another land, "Umuru on the bank of the Great River." 

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Technological and cultural advancements are viewed as forces of destruction in Things Fall Apart.  On both social and personal levels, there is a profound sadness associated with aspects of advancement.  What was once whole becomes fragmented.  Centered becomes loosed.  Achebe shows a world where a loss of personal and social identity results when advancement is evident.

One way that shows how technological and cultural advancements show disintegration and corruption is in the novel's depiction of Umuofia in Okonkwo's absence.  Upon his return to the village, it is evident that Umuofia has changed, and this change is not necessarily positive: “Seven years was a long time to be away from one’s clan. A man’s place was not always there, waiting for him. As soon as he left, someone else rose and filled it. The clan was like a lizard; if it lost its tail it soon grew another.”  The passage of time is one where the individual is displaced in the midst of cultural advancement.  While Okonkwo recognizes this change, he still fails to acknowledge that the village's changing condition does not validate his own narrative.  Time has passed, and yet, Okonkwo has not changed with it.  He still clings to the vision of how he will return to prominence, embracing the same individualism and prideful nature that led to his banishment in the first place.  He seeks to "rebuild his compound on a more magnificent scale."  Okonkwo fails to acknowledge that there might need to be a new approach taken to the reality of the fluid work in which he lives.  He fails to acknowledge that the metric for success might have changed, reflected in how "he would build a bigger barn than he had had before and he would build huts for two new wives." Then he would show his wealth by initiating his sons into the ozo society. He envisions "himself taking the highest title in the land.”  All of these are predicated upon a now absent paradigm of life in Umuofia.  Cultural advancement has surpassed Okonkwo, and he fails to realize it.  He still believes that there is a "center," when he cannot see that things have truly fallen apart.  In this light, the passage reflects how cultural and technological advancement has a destabilizing effect on the individual.

The disintegration that has taken place in Umuofia is a result of the Colonial presence.  Cultural advancement in the form of colonization and imperialism has resulted in a breakdown of social and personal identity for the Igbo people. Achebe shows that cultural advancement and technological progress in accordance to "the West" has destroyed a culture that once was whole and intact:

How can he when he does not even speak our tongue? But he says that our customs are bad; and our own brothers who have taken up his religion also say that our customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us? The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.

This passage highlights how cultural advancement leads to disintegration and corruption of previously held values.  The solidarity that once was is no longer. Cultural advancement is not shown as enriching, but rather one where "brothers have turned" on one another and where indigenous customs are seen as "bad."  Cultural advancement and its ensuing technological progression in the form of civil courts and European administration are reflective of the forces of corruption and debasement of indigenously held values.  In this light, Things Fall Apart takes a very tragic view towards technological and cultural advancement in the case of Okonkwo and the Igbo.

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Things Fall Apart

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