A COLONIAL READING OF Things Fall Apart

This writeup focuses on the boundaries set by the European colonists on the culture and  tradition of ‘pure’ Africans- resulting in confusion among people to choose what is ‘their own’. I will be dealing with Chinua Achebe’s first novel, Things Fall Apart – how things fall apart before  and after the arrival of missionaries, and how their ‘civilising’ mission works on the natives. They  imposed restrictions, which put forth the implications of a closed system and lack of liberty to  choose the linguistic features one wishes to inculcate in their literary work. Achebe also highlights  the oral tradition by using narrative proverbs in the structuring of the action of the novel. Achebe refuses to completely step into the refined space as imposed by the Westerners. He  chose to stick to ‘his’ culture which gave him comfort and stability. The Europeans inflicted a sense  of inferiority by setting margins, which implied that the native’s actions were wrong, and it would  only get better if they followed what had been told to do. It is nothing but the psychological impact  of colonial education. Though we believe that Achebe gave more importance to his culture, we  also cannot deny that he did get influenced by the Westerners. Elements of double consciousness  in Things Fall Apart often lead to the Identity crisis of his characters which is stemmed from the  hybrid nature of the Author himself. 

The Igbo patriarchal community always placed men on a pedestal seat. They considered women as ‘second sex’ and used them as objects for male satisfaction. ‘She’ wasn’t ‘aware’ of ‘the being oppressed process’ because of the influence of patriarchy. Inequality, lack of inheritance for  female children, women beating and feminine abuse were appreciated to a certain extent and  treated as ‘normal’. Igbo women lived their lives to deliver kids and to do domestic chores. Females  are in an inferior position throughout the novel and the idea of masculinity erased them from the  political, economical and judicial strata of the society. Women weren’t allowed to identify their  true character and the dominance above her gender and race indirectly forced her to obey the ‘male  rules’ without any objection. This suppression of the female by the male, in the Igbo tribe is similar to the oppression faced by the colonised under the coloniser. Igbo men inflicted ‘subaltern’  treatment on his family. 

The protagonist Okonkwo wishes his eldest son Nwoye to behave like a ‘real’ man – he  wanted to completely erase Nwoye’s ‘motherly’ side. Okonkwo was a man of strength and was  afraid to be called weak or a woman. He was ashamed of his father Unoka, who was a ‘coward’  and a ‘spendthrift’, by the standards of the clan. Okonkwo tried to hate everything his father had  loved but still the memories of Unoka haunted him in a very uncomfortable way. In other words,  Unoka is a representation of the past; a past that belonged to the traditional Igbo community. He  must have inherited most of the cultural traits and beliefs of their culture. Differing from the ‘real  man’ concept doesn’t mean that Unoka is an outcast of Igbo tribe. So hating Unoka signifies  that Okonkwo is not fully immersed in traditions. One of his sides always rejected Igbo traditions  while the other side always accepted them. The violence, intolerance and the passion for becoming  a respectable leader- which are the characteristic features of missionaries – clearly shows that  Okankwo is different from his peace- loving tribe. When the oldest man of the clan, Ogbuefi  Ezeudu asked Okonkwo not to kill his son-like Ikemefuna, he never listened. He did kill him with  full remorse and regret. In a sense, Okonkwo was respecting the order of Oracle, but also  disrespecting the words of a ‘living tradition’. 

Okonkwo accidentally kills Ezeudu’s son with a gun at his funeral. The old man’s death  creates a vacuum in their heritage. His son’s death is a complete wipe out of his essence with a  ‘modernised European concept’, gun. It gives a picture of a confused individual trying to erase his  ‘own’ people using the ‘european brain’. This confusion clearly states Okonkwo’s mixed nature,  which leads to his death. 

Nwoye is the binary opposite of Okonkwo. He seems more like Unoka and has an  attachment towards his mother. He tries not to be like ‘himself’ for making his father happy. He  was unable to express his true self since childhood. This traumatic experience leads to his  conversion. He is neither Igbo nor Christian; he has double identities but not even sure about who  he really is. His jumping consciousness creates nothing but confusion. 

Enoch is a character who is similar to Okonkwo in many ways. Their personalities are  comparable, they both have issues with their fathers, and they consider themselves to be above  their peers, but their belief systems are quite different from each other. He passionately accepted  Christianity without any hesitation and cut his Igbo roots by killing one of the ancestral spirits by  unmasking an egwugwu. When Mr. Brown becomes ill and is replaced by a zealot named  Reverend Smith, he uses Enoch’s ‘grown up’ fanaticism to turn against a race which once belonged  to him. The fact that Enoch is not killed for his action highlights an acceptance of colonial rule  from the local rulers and traditional elite. Mimicry appears here, when Enoch imitates the  colonised culture and makes the environment unstable. Literally speaking, he is a combination of  Okonkwo and Nwoye. 

Ikemefuna’s death signifies the eradication of a minor culture from a major culture. He  reached Umuofia as a part of sacrifice. Willingly he adjusted with the clan’s customs; but the  memories of his family is a reminder that he hasn’t fully adapted in the new world. He tried to  believe that the new clan is his family, but his beliefs end with his death. Also Okonkwo is  questioning the identity of his eldest daughter Ezinma. He wishes that she had been born a son.

Throughout the novel, we come to know how important farming is to the Igbo tribe. We  see an instance where Okonkwo plants yam seeds in his farm, given to him by Okoye. Okoye does  not belong to his family, implying that he is the ‘other’. However it does not work out due to the  drought and heavy rains. This incident can be seen as symbolic of the seeds of western ideologies  that have been planted in the natives’ mind. Thus, causing an instability in his mind, resulting in a  state of confusion. The relationship between farmer and farming is that of the coloniser planting  seeds of ideologies into the mind of the colonised.  The impact on natives due to this colonisation gives rise to the double consciousness in the  characters. They are torn between the constant dilemma to know where they belong, which culture  to follow. This dilemma is rooted from the childhood days of the author. The author, being under colonial rule himself, was influenced by the westerners. The very notion of authorisation is a  western concept, in contrast to the oral tradition, where the importance is given to the reader. The  reader is free to interpret and retell it in his/her own way. While the same cannot be implicated in  the case of an authorized text. Therefore, we can conclude that he does not fully follow the  traditions. This feature is also seen in the protagonist of his novel. Okonkwo does not fully follow  his own tribal instinct, nor does he welcome the whites. In the end, Okonkwo commits suicide,  even though he knows that it is against his own tribe. The reason for his action is his intolerance  towards the arrival of the whites. Hence, his suicide can be seen as a protest.