An Analysis of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart
Length: 1633 words (4.7 double-spaced pages)
“A penny will hide the biggest star in the Universe…..”
It’s very smart to step out of my own shoes in order to see myself clearly in a situation. It’s necessary to do this in order to see and understand the whole picture. It’s smarter yet, to not only step out of my own shoes, but into those shoes belonging to someone else. Belonging to someone different than me in as many ways possible. Chinua Achebe’s, Things Fall Apart, shows us the importance of this through his story. He shows us that you have to physically put yourself into other people’s shoes, find out everything about them, in order to make any realistic judgment at all. He shows us the difficulties of doing this, but also the rewards that come of it in the end. Taking every possible opportunity to widen our perspective makes the walk back in our own shoes that much more worthwhile.
Achebe’s story brings up a lot of issues pertaining to everyday life, even today. It brings the idea of tolerance, and asking questions about our ways and ourselves. It makes the readers question when it’s okay to get involved, and the consequences of that. All these being tiny matters compared to the idea of understanding of the importance of seeing the world through multiple perspectives, no matter how difficult. Its like flying a plane across country and sharing to others what you saw, as opposed to driving across the country and then doing the same. We live today in a society that wants to do things quickly, and easy. Achebe wants to show us that that’s not the best way to view and pursue our lives.
Okonkwo, the main character in Things Fall Apart is a member of the Ibo culture. The Ibo is held together by one string, which is basically their very own traditions. Okonkwo is an extreme believer that his way, is the ONLY way. Even though Okonkwo breaks some rules in his own society, he thinks very highly of his own culture. The Ibo ways are the only ways that Okonkwo allows himself to see. He is a man demanding of his own family, dominating those around him, and rules “his household with a heavy hand.” Okonkwo is plagued by the fear of failure and weakness. Throughout the story he puts his effort into struggles to repress any part of him that may resemble his father.
Okonkwo’s story shows us the psychological and social consequences of a new perspective being introduced.
When everything was falling apart for the Ibo’s and as the whites were bringing over government and religion, is when everything began to come together in my mind. When the Christian’s came over and basically said that the Ibo traditions were wrong, Okonkwo would not stand for it. This is very understandable, yet Okonkwo takes it to the extreme which is too much. The first thing any of us do when we are introduced to something new in the place of something we are used to, is shut our eyes even tighter to the whole idea. Achebe did a good job of making the readers feel a part of the Ibo culture before the whites arrived. This helped us actually understand where the shock and anger came from. He literally uses the readers and experimenters to prove the point that all it takes is the most difficult step of being open minded and taking time to get to know about something different. After widening our perspective, we, like the Africans themselves, view Europeans as strange and possibly threatening invaders. We experience colonialism, therefore, from the perspective of a colonized people. "And then appeared on the horizon a slowly-moving mass like a boundless sheet of black cloud drifting towards Umuofia. Soon it covered half the sky, and the solid mass was now broken by tiny eyes of light like shining star dust. It was a tremendous sight, full of power and beauty."(pg. 56) At night the villagers go out and gather the locusts, whose wings are weighed down with dew. Regarded as a great delicacy, these rarely appearing insects are dried in the sun and then "eaten with solid palm-oil." (pg. 56) Taken out of context, this feasting on locusts may seem alien to American people who don’t have the slightest clue as to what the Ibo culture is all about. As readers seeing Okonkwo’s daily life, we accept this and understand the beauty that we would have never known otherwise.
Nyowe, okonkwo’s son, is the wisest one in the story. He willingly opens his mind to new things, and basically sets his own morals based on what he feels is right for him. As much as he may have wanted to be loyal to his father he could never completely please him, “Nyowe knew that it was right to be masculine and to be violent, but somehow he still preferred the stories that his mother used to tell." Nyowe’s unwillingness to share completely identical views as his father apparently ruined the relationship between them, or quickly deceased anything that was left of it. It’s as if Okonkwo despises Nyowe. He says this in referral to his friend Obierka’s son; “ He will do great things. If I had a son like him I should be happy. I am worried about Nyowe…… I have done my best to make Nyowe grow into a man, but there is too much of his mother in him.”(pg. 65-66) this shows Okonkwo’s narrow mindedness, a narrow- mindedness which is eventually the cause of his own death. Why isn’t it okay for Nyowe to be like both of his parents? Nyowe understands that it was wrong to kill Ikemefuna, even though it may have been masculine. Ikemefuna was a brother to him. Nyowe learns that maybe its worth showing signs of weakness, if it means being true to yourself. Even if Ikemefuna thinks that the murder just goes along with the Ibo way, Nyowe sees that it has to rational reasoning so he pulls away. I like Nyowe because he questions who he is, and the culture he was born into. He doesn’t completely mask himself from the world around him. This society has no tolerance for people who are different, or don't conform such as Nwoye, so when the whites come, he conforms to Christianity. Achebe’s story then asks us; were they right to come over and invade the Ibos ways? Who’s responsibility is it to say enough is enough? Is it even right to have multiple wives, and beat up women? Leave twins to die in an evil forest? Where’s the morality in that? What’s right, one god or many gods? These questions may never have one answer, but the act of just asking them, is what makes all the difference. He opens his mind to their ways and finds that it is better for him, and he ends up better off in the end than anyone else, especially his father.
Other then Nyowe, Mr. Brown teaches us a lot. Mr. Brown is capable of respecting traditional Ibo beliefs. He even cautions his people against antagonizing the clan. He believes in peaceful harmonious relations. This is the approach that we all should have to everything. Mr. Brown got a lot further then he would have if he simply tried to attack the Ibo’s. He wasn’t perfect, just as he tried to engage in cross-cultural communication, he also had a very stereotypical view of the Ibo’s way at first. I got the impression later that even Mr. Brown was self-rewarded when he helped people with his school. “They were not all young, these people who came to learn. Some of them were thirty years old or more…..Those who stayed longer became teachers; and from Umuofia laborers went forth into the Lord’s vineyard.” (pg 182) He provided people with the opportunity to do something that they had never known before, to learn, and that was a big deal. I don’t look at the conformers as good people or bad people. Achebe didn’t label them he just showed the changes that people are capable of when they are exposed to new ways. I look at all these changes as positive changes even though it may be against there culture. Finding out what’s best for you through experience is more important.
As merely a reader of Things Fall Apart I learned that the African Tribes were not as mindless and barbaric as I would of thought if I maybe read the Commissioners book, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger, who only saw Okonkwo kill the missionary and then himself. He knew absolutely nothing about their lives, therefor has no right to even write about it. Achebe didn’t have any characters that were necessarily good or bad. He didn’t answer any questions as to what characters were right or wrong. Maybe that’s because those are only questions we can answer for ourselves. Achebe simply proved little realities that we so often ignore because we see no immediate rewards. He shows us that life is about driving across country as opposed to flying and interacting with other places, and then being able to talk about it. It’s sharing ideas or simply taking time to talk to the person you never talked to because they seemed different or did something that you never understood. Ask them why they do it. Take the difficult road. Risk the security of the set everyday routine that we all have, and get out there in someone else’s shoes. Then like, Nyowe, things will turn out for the best.
“A penny will hide the biggest star in the Universe, if you hold it close enough to your eye.” Samuel Graften