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In Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe does fully embrace the Igbo (or Ibo) culture, otherwise he would not have presented its strengths and weaknesses so accurately and dispassionately. Indeed, Achebe shows great restraint in his depiction of his ancestors, using a third person objective voice that both depicts the inevitable "falling apart" of culture's customs and traditions.
Achebe fully discloses the Igbo tribe's weaknesses: their cruelties to women, effeminate men, and twins; their superstitions and belief in animism and oracles ; their weakness in fighting the white colonials; and their underestimating of the Christian missionaries. All of the Igbo strengths and weaknesses are found in the tragic hero Okonkwo, who is uber-masculine, hard-working, unafraid in battle, quick in wrath, and skeptical of superstition. Yet, even the mighty Okonkwo cannot avoid tragedy. In the end, Obierika, the voice of reason in the novel, chides his people in their treatment of their fallen hero:
This man was one of the greatest men in Umuofia. You drove him to kill himself; an now he will be buried like a dog...
Achebe writes a brilliant novel about the arrival of the white man in Africa and the conflicts that arise as a result of the unresolved differences between the two cultures. He constructs the novel around the story of an Igbo community in Nigeria, of which he is himself a descendant, yet he has also been raised as a Christian. The conflict that perhaps he felt was pertinent in his life – that of preserving Igbo traditions and culture while adhering to the Christian faith – are laid out in the novel without any particular resolution or complete preference of one culture over another.
In his collection of essays Morning Yet on Creation Day, he states that his intention is to remind the African reader that they had a culture long before European colonization, and African people must regain their identity and dignity by fully realizing their rich history and culture. In Things Fall Apart, this is his main task, and as a European reader I became fascinated with the culture and traditions that Achebe describes in the novel.
The sense of community is striking, and provides a stark contrast to the individualistic attitude that European culture perpetrates. The novel revolves around one man who stands for the whole community – Okonkwo – a strong African who believes strongly in his community. By tracing his story from glory to eventual doom (as we know from the title that things will fall apart with the arrival of the white man), we are also tracing the history of Igbo culture.
The establishment of a Christian missionary in Umuofia, which is the name of the community in the novel, is not wholly downplayed. On the contrary, Achebe does not idealize Igbo culture to the extent of leaving out the negative issues. Rather, he presents the reader with the downside of certain traditions, such as the killing of all twins upon birth. As a result, Christianity proves to be an attractive and positive establishment that embraces individuals who were somehow downtrodden in Umuofia.
I would argue that Achebe’s main argument in Things Fall Apart is to find a balance between cultures. Okonkwo is an extremist, and his downfall could be seen as a result of his intolerance towards the new faith. Achebe heavily insists upon dialogue, as shown in some parts of the novel, and this novel cleverly tries to seek a balance which the characters in the novel failed to reach.
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