Things Fall Apart is a manuscript written by a renowned Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe back in 1958. The book was among the first African published books to gain recognition overseas. It has been used as a set book in many African schools as well as in other countries that communicate in English. The novel’s title was derived from a phrase in the poem “The Second Coming” by William Butler. The book is about a local wrestling hero and leader Okonkwo in Umuofia Village, a fictional land in Nigeria. The book shows Okonkwo’s personal history, family, and customs held by the Ibo people. It also shows how Christian missionaries and British colonialism affect the livelihood of the Ibo community.
The book is set during the pre-colonial times in Nigeria and shows how colonialism affects the traditional culture. The main character, Okonkwo, is a respected warrior and a wealthy man in Umuofia, his clan. He later lives with Ikemefuna, a young boy from a neighboring tribe, after agreeing on his settlement for a peace agreement, subsequent to his tribe murdering a woman from Umuofia. Okonkwo carries a gun that once goes off during a village funeral, killing a boy from Umuofia. As a result, he has to be exiled for 7 years and stays in a village where his mother Mbanta lived. After serving for two years, he learns of the destruction of the whole village by a white man who came on a bicycle. That sets the pace for the rest of the book, with its plot being developed from the incident.
Okonkwo is hard-working, strong and never shows his weaknesses to the public. He does this to change his father Unoka’s image as a lazy, cowardly, and cheap man. Unoka died a poor man leaving debts behind, which is considered shameful to him, and his family. Okonkwo strives to acquire his wealth independently and caters for his three wives, children, and also his neighbors who look up to him. He is considered a leader in the village, a position that he yearned for all his life. Okonkwo is given custody of the boy Ikemefuna by fellow tribesmen because he is responsible and can take proper care of the boy. So the boy lives and spends most of his time with Okonkwo until they become close. Ikemefuna considers Okonkwo to be his father for the latter provides the boy with all his wishes. However, the Oracle of Umuofia decides that the boy has to be killed. An old man, Ezudu advised Okonkwo to stay away from the process of killing Ikemefuna because it would be like taking away his son’s life. Okonkwo wanted to maintain his heroic figure to fellow tribesmen, and despite warnings by Ezudu; he was involved in the boy’s murder. Okonkwo hits the last blow that kills Ikemefuna, despite the latter’s plea for mercy from his father.
Immediately after the murder, Okonkwo’s life takes a turn and things start going wrong for him. Ezudu passes away, and during his burial there is a gun salute where Okonkwo accidentally shoots Ezedu’s son. The gods are offended, and Okonkwo and his relations are evicted from the land for seven years. While in exile, Okonkwo learns of white settlers in Umuofia who have introduced their religion to the Ibo people.
Many people accept the religion as the white man’s control increasesd and a new government is established. However, some villagers are not pleased with the mixed society and plot against the imposition. They contemplate whether to appease with the settlers or use force to exit them.
After Okonkwo’s sentence, he finds a changed Umuofia as a result of white influence, and he attempts to destroy churches with the help of fellow tribesmen. The white man has a powerful army so they take Okonkwo and his men to custody , and further intimidation of leaders from Umuofia takes place. The villagers plan an uprising against the white man’s rule, and Okonkwo, who is still considered a warrior declares war against the whites. Okonkwo kills messengers sent by the white man to stop the meetings that instigate the uprising. However, his fellow villagers are not willing to go to war for their own protection. Initially, the village had brave men who were ready to protect their land and people at any cost. However, the society changed, and only Okonkwo retains his warrior spirit. The white leader learns about Okonkwo’s revolts and visits his house to arrest him, only to find that the latter has committed suicide. Okonkwo would have rather hung himself than faced trial in the white man’s court in his own land. The Ibo people found Okonkwo’s actions unfit because it is against their culture for a person to commit suicide. Yet, Okonkwo objected to facing trial for killing a white man, who, as he believed , was interfering with their lifestyles. He has worked hard and bravely to save his people who in the end do not recognize his efforts.
From the novel, family is viewed as a measure of wealth. The larger one’s family is, the better-off he is considered to be.
In the Nigerian society, polygamy was considered a measure of wealth and men struggled to sustain as many wives as possible. Child birth was not controlled because raising children was done by the whole society rather than a single family. This is unlike American family settings where birth control is a necessary option for any family. Polygamy is also not common in America and is only exercised by extremely wealthy people in specific religious communities . Polygamy in America has to be registered and has to follow legal laws unlike in the traditional Nigerian society when people married as they wished. Following economic hardships, Americans have been regulating the rate of childhood to the ones a family can handle. This was not the case in Nigeria as raising a child was the task for the whole society and people freely gave birth.
In Nigerian culture, men are viewed as being more superior to women in the society. In the book, all heroic characters are male, and women only appear in child birth or when they cook for the family. However, this is not the case in American culture as both sexes perform almost similar tasks. No jobs are set for men in America, and women are duly selected as leaders. From the novel, women are not chosen as leaders nor are they involved in the community’s decision making. However, it is evident that women are the fundamental pillar of humanity and should be drawn in decision making as well as vying for leadership posts.
In the traditional Nigerian society, success was measured by the ability to sustain a large family and still retain respect in the society. Wealth was also used as a measure of success though not as the primary threshold. Okonkwo was viewed more successful than his father because Okonkwo maintained his family and was wealthy. Okonkwo had a weighty influence on his society, which is also a mark of success. In American society, success is mostly measured by wealth and one’s social class. American citizens are grouped into three social classes, namely the lower class, the middle class, and upper class. The upper class and upper middle class families or individuals are considered more successful than their lower class counterparts. The basic mark for measuring success in America can hence be considered monetary. The difference is based on the fact that in traditional Nigerian culture, money did not exist as a form of exchange. America is a developed nation and most achievements by a person are determined by his financial conditions.
The traditional Nigerian society and American culture have some differences in norms and values. According to some customs, leaders were chosen by their ability to fight wars and by their physical strength as is in the case with Okonkwo. They did not have set criteria to choose their leaders, so any strong and courageous man could be named a leader. In American culture, leaders are chosen based on their integrity and ability to rule. From the book, Nigerians valued power far more than life or family as Okonkwo is willing to kill Ikemefuna. In American culture, life is highly valued and human rights activists do ensure this.
The values applied to the justice systems are also different in traditional Nigeria and America. When Okonkwo killed Ezedu’s son, he was sent to exile together with his family. His family was not involved in the act and according to American law they would have been set free, and Okonkwo would have been arrested alone.
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