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Essay on Notion of Balance in Things Fall Apart by Achebe

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Notion of Balance in Things Fall Apart by Achebe


The notion of balance in Achebe's novel is an important theme throughout the book. Beginning with the excerpt from Yeats's poem, "The Second Coming," the concept of balance is stressed as important, for without balance, order is lost. In the novel, there are many systems of balance which the Ibo culture seems to depend upon. It is when these systems are upset that "things fall apart." Okonkwo, the Ibo religion, and ultimately, the Ibos' autonomy were brought to their demise by an extreme imbalance between their male and female aspects. These male and female aspects can be generally be described as the external, physical strength of the male; and the internal, passive, and nurturing strength of the female. Achebe uses a disbalance toward the male side to destroy the people and their culture.

Okonkwo's Demise

Okonkwo, the main character of the book, was born the son of Unoka, who was a loafer. Unoka was too lazy to go out and plant crops on new, fertile land, and preferred to stay at home playing his flute, drinking palm wine, and making merry with the neighbors. Because of this, his father never had enough money, and his family went hungry. He borrowed much money in order to maintain this lifestyle. Okonkwo perceived this as an imbalance toward the female side in his father's character: staying at home and not using one's strength to provide for the family is what the women do. In reaction, Okonkwo completely rejected his father, and therefore the feminine side of himself. He became a star wrestler and warrior in his tribe and began providing for his family at a very young age, while at the same time starting new farms and beginning to amass wealth. He is very successful, and soon becomes one of the leaders of his tribe and has many wives and children. His big ambition is to become one of the powerful elders of the tribe, for what could be more manly than that?

Unfortunately, everything is not perfect. His son, Nwoye, seems not to be showing the characteristics of a real man. He prefers to stay with his mother, listening to women's stories, than to listen to his father's tales of battle and victory. Later, when missionaries come to the tribe, Nwoye is attracted to their Christian religion because of its unqualified acceptance of everyone, much like a mother's unqualified love. Of this, Okonkwo r...


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... something different. However, I think it must be something analogous, something on a similar didactic scale, and something to do with order versus entropy. In the quotation of Yeats's poem, this comes into play with the falconer losing control of the falcon as it spirals up into the skies. It is difficult to say what the outcome might have been if these forces had been more in harmony: whether Okonkwo might not have offended the earth goddess and risen to the top of the clan, or whether his ambition might not in the first place have pushed him in this perilous direction; whether the Ibo religion could satisfy its constituents enough so that foreign influence was not a threat; or whether as a united whole the Ibo could have stood up against the external influence and military power of the Europeans. The author does seem to suggest, however, that things would definitely have been different, and that the Ibo could have been more receptive to the ideas introduced by the foreigners. He also suggests the converse. Achebe laments the death of this culture in spite of its weaknesses, and hopes for more compassion and less destruction in the dealings of the Europeans with other cultures.


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