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Igbo Society In Things Fall Apart

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Table of contents

  1. Thesis
  2. Main Body
  3. Critical Analysis Demonstrating the interpretation
  4. Clash of Cultures
  5. Languages as Sign of Cultural Difference.
  6. Conclusion
  7. References


Things Fall Apart focuses and analyses Igbo society as shown in the novel, before and after arrival of missionaries to Umuofia, which led to clash of cultures. It also incorporates critical theory to analyze the novel. It is based on post-colonial criticism, as it is relevant to Achebe’s writings in Things Fall Apart. For example, post-colonial criticism chiefly deals with literature critiques from countries subjected to colonial rule. As Achebe hailed from Nigeria, a colony of Britain, some elements of writings in the story are influenced by this such as style.

Main Body

The different features of identity represented by the views of Okonkwo, a main character in the novel, about what it is to be a man and to be an African. When the colonizing forces of white Christians invade the village, he considers this a threat to his people’s and his own way of life and to their identity of being Africans. The English also bring a new language, religion and forms of governments, which is a threat to their pre-existing culture which Okonkwo and others in the village resist the change finally became accustomed to, as they mostly saw these changes as a threat to their identity that makes them what they are as Africans. (Achebe, 2014) states, “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.” The character of Okonkwo in the novel, Things Fall Apart is presented as honorable and determined person whose major flaws catch up with him. Okonkwo was infatuated with the notions of attaining same characters as his father. This is the major flaw of Okonkwo, which gets him exiled and makes it difficult for him to accept the changes taking place in the village. In many ways, Okonkwo is shown as a respectable individual and thus was famous person in the village and surrounding villages. His successes were due to his personal achievements (Jeyifo, 1993). The current paper explores the character of Okonkwo considering his cultural perspectives.

We can learn from statements of Achebe that his main theme was about Igbo society’s complexity prior to arrival of Europeans. Descriptions of justice system and trial procedures, family and social customs, marriage rituals and processes of food preparations, shared leadership in the community, religious practices and opportunities available to all to succeed in the clan by one’s own efforts (Ikuenobe, 2006).

Critical Analysis Demonstrating the interpretation

Things Fall Apart deals collapse, chaos and confusion of Igbo culture, which suffered at white man’s entry in Umuofia, bringing their religion. The views of white men and that of Igbo about life are very different. The things which are deemed to be acceptable in Igbo culture are not so to white missionaries. They wanted to change some such elements in Igbo culture that they found unacceptable and inappropriate. While doing so, they failed to see that these elements of Igbo culture had kept the Igbo together and live peacefully with one another.

For example, it was held in Igbo culture that a “real” man would have two or more wives. “The world is large, I have even heard that in some tribes a man’s children belong to his wife and her family” (Achebe, 2014). This quote illustrates that women in the clan have also accepted this tradition and sometimes, the first wife may even ask his man to get younger wife. The younger ones are required to respect the older wives. The women live peacefully with their husband and help one another in doing household chores and taking care of children. The white missionaries oppose polygamous marriages as such act is forbidden for Christians in New Testament. Much of writings in Things Fall Apart feature the explanation of Igbo myths and proverbs unacceptable to the Europeans. Achebe shrewdly uses the characters by speaking proverbs in conversations. Using proverbs in conversations is important to Igbo, as they think that it shows wisdom and respect.

From the beginning of the novel, Achebe introduces importance of proverbs in Igbo conversation. When Unuoka is met by Okoye to settle the debt, Okoye does not show anger, though Unuoka was late in payment. Instead, the neighbors offer kola nut, thank the ancestors and then discuss debt with reference to proverbs. This creates goof relations though while discussing such issue capable of creating conflicts. Achebe’s novel is different from other colonial novels is that in this novel Igbo society is thoroughly examined including undesirable aspects of Igbo culture. Achebe also predicts the culture’s future and where it leads if white missionaries take control of Umuofia.

By using English language, Achebe successfully details life of Okonkwo, who is shown in the beginning as a famous young person among nine villages in Umuofia. “Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness” (Achebe, 2014). This shows the deeper details of Okonkwo illustrated by Achebe. As the novel develops and after arrival of white missionaries in Umuofia, with their institutions and government, Okonkwo tries to oppose the changed and is buried in the end with no dignity or respect and his fame is forgotten soon as taking one’s own life is considered greatest sin in Igbo culture.

Clash of Cultures

In contrast to theme of cultural complexity of Igbo, his theme focused on clash of the cultures. This occurs both at community and individual levels and there is cultural misunderstanding on both sides similar to views of Reverend Smith on Africans as “heathens” and criticism of Christians as “foolish”. According to Achebe, the West about Africans should realign misperceptions of Africans about Europeans and themselves the same ways as about misperceptions. Presenting the view of an African who is “Europeanized”, Things Fall Apart is an act of atonement and homage to the culture by its prodigal son. Setting an example, he encouraged others, especially those having Western education to understand that they may be misrepresenting their culture (Osei-Nyame, 1999).

One of the factors that hastened the decline of Igbo society was their tradition of marginalizing some members of their clan, and creating the existence of an outcast group, and making their women subordinated in the households and in community involvement and considering them as their property and acceptance of their physical abuse as normal. When some representatives of foreign culture, starting with Christian missionaries, enter the territory of Igbo clan, and accepted such marginalized groups, including twins, by giving them full human value, the shared traditional leadership of Igbo found itself not able to control the whole population. The absence of a clear and sustaining central authority in the Igbo community may be a quality that Achebe referred to for his title from the poem by Yeats, “The Second Coming”. The recurring phrase in the poem is Things Fall Apart, the center cannot hold” (Quayson, 1994).

These cultural themes have an underlying theme of destiny or fate. The theme plays out both at the societal and individual levels and the readers are often reminded about the theme while referring to Chi, the personal god of the individual and his ultimate destiny and capability. At his best, Okonkwo believes that his chi to achieve his ambitions supports him by stating “When a man says yes, the Chi also says yes”. Okonkwo at his worst thinks that his chi has not supported him and that his Chi was not destined to achieve great things. For, a man cannot rise over the destiny of his Chi. He thought that his chi said No, in spite of his affirmation. At the level of society, the lack of Igbos to have a unifying image and central authority and their weaknesses shown in the treatment of few of their own members, which are previously discussed, show the unavoidable fate of being victim of the colonization by the powers greedy to exploit the resources (Rhoads, 1993).

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An attentive reader may be able to identify yet other theme apart from the three themes in the novel that are of universal nature, human motives and emotions. Besides these three themes discussed, a through reader will also be able to recognize other themes such as emotions across different cultures and eras and the need to balance between the needs of the individuals and community.

Languages as Sign of Cultural Difference.

In Things Fall Apart, language is a recurring important theme on different levels. While showing the imaginative and formal language of Igbo, the writer emphasized that Africa is not incomprehensible continent as portrayed in “Heart of Darkness”. In fact, he laces the language with Igbo language, which is very complex to present direct English translation. Likewise, it is not possible to understand Igbo culture in European framework of colonial thinking. Achebe also shows that there are several languages in Africa; for example, Umuofia’s villagers make fun of translator of Mr. Brown, as their language is somewhat different from their own (Jeyifo, 1993).

The stresses regarding whether the change should predominate over the tradition usually involves the question of individual status. For example, Okonkwo resists new religious and political order as he feels that they are not considered manly and he will not be considered manly if he joins them or even if he tolerates them. To an extent, the resistance to cultural change by Okonkwo is due to his own fear that he may lose societal status. His sense of self-value depends on the conventional standards over which the society judges him (Whittaker & Msiska, 2007). The system to evaluate the self has inspired many of outcasts of the clan to accept Christianity. They were long scorned, and thus they found in the Christian system, a refuge from Igbo culture which placed them below others. In the new community, these converted enjoyed a more honored status.

The villagers face the dilemma of choosing resistance or embracing the change and have to find how best to adapt to the change. Many are excited about new techniques and opportunities offered by the missionaries. This influence can end the need to master traditional ways of farming, building and cooking. They were crucial for survival once and now are dispensable to some degree. Achebe shows how traditions depend on language and storytelling, which are now eradicated by abandonment of Igbo language in favor of English language. Another related theme in cultural clash is regarding the rigidity or flexibility of characters (both of Igbo and British) define their destiny (Rhoads, 1993). Due to inflexible character of Okonkwo, it appears that he was destined for his own self-destruction, much before arrival of colonizers from Europe. Their arrival simply hastened his tragic fate.

In Things Fall Apart, language is an important theme. By showing the formal and imaginative language of Igbo, the author points out that Africa is not incomprehensible as made out by books like Heart of Darkness. By filling the book with Igbo words, he shows that the language is highly complex to be translated. In addition, that Igbo culture may not be understood on platform of colonial values. He shows Africa has many languages: Umuofia villagers make fun of translators of Mr. Brown, as their language is different (Osei-Nyame, 1999).

For Achebe to write Things Fall Apart in English is very significant as he wanted it to be read by Westerners as much as Nigerians. He wanted to analyze the portrayal of Africa, which was painted by many writers during colonial period that he felt required to be interpreted in the English language. By including folktales, proverbs and songs of Igbo language, he managed to convey the structure, rhythm and beauty of Igbo language.

Discussion. Fall of the Igbo culture and that of Okonkwo is not to be attributed to the strong belief system rooted in their culture. The book explores the imperfections in the Igbo culture and the strengths. Achebe depicts the imperfections that contribute to their culture’s destruction. However, the main reason is due to their reluctance and inability to learn English as they felt that they would never use the language in everyday lives. As the missionaries, because of advancement in education and modern life, were stronger than Igbo, they exerted stronger influence and had power to control Igbos and their land. They showed hostile approach for taking over Igbo lands by use of their influence in spreading the gospel and abolished the traditional routines and beliefs of Igbo. In this way, missionaries were superior to Igbo as explained by the writer.

The white missionaries viewed Igbo as uncivilized who needed their help desperately. Though their motive of the white missionaries to Umuofia was to establish their rule over the people, they must have also seen as a method of cultural exchange between these two cultures, as both missionaries and Igbo had never known each other’s culture until now.The analysis illustrates that cultural exchange might have benefitted the Igbo people more as they did not shown any interest in knowing about the world that existed outside of Umuofia. If the white missionaries had not at all arrived to their land, they would be completely ignorant about existence of civilizations elsewhere. Without a doubt, the white missionaries assumed themselves superior to the Igbo and because of this; some of the converts to Christianity were to the messengers of missionaries. It was the perception of the white people that the Igbo were a burden, as they were required to take their care by educating and informing Igbo of the things, which they had no knowledge of.

As the white men believed that their culture was morally superior to that of Igbo, this caused conflict between these two cultures. Though these problems appear to be resolved in the current period, they still exist and are cause for clash between these two cultures. It is very important to understand the benefits and the challenges resulting from European colonialism on the Igbo society. Igbo society had highly benefitted from the schools and education in the society, which reduced the illiteracy rate in the village. Due to this development, most Igbos is educated today, has expanded the knowledge, and become more enlightened. The Europeans taught their culture also to Igbo, though they found it to be a challenge to make the transition from their culture to that of strangers, yet they could learn some new aspects from it.


Things Fall Apart focuses and analyses Igbo society as shown in the novel, before and after arrival of missionaries to Umuofia, which led to clash of cultures. It also incorporates critical theory to analyze the novel. It is based on post-colonial criticism, as it is relevant to Achebe’s writings in Things Fall Apart. Post-colonial criticism dealt with literature critiques from countries subjected to colonial rule. As Achebe hailed from Nigeria, a colony of Britain, some elements of writings in the story are influenced by this such as style. The message given by the British was that their own society was much superior and the conversion of locals should not only be from their religion but in the entire way of life that was intermingled with it. This resulted in their endeavor to change every aspect about Igbo culture. By the adaption of the English culture and their religion, many aspects of Igbo culture were sacrificed by their discarding their cultural heritage and division between the clansmen who adapted to new culture and those continued with the traditional ways (Jeyifo, 1993). Firsthand experience of Achebe of such attack on his identity as presented with the character Okonkwo, showed the inability to adapt to the new environment. The aim of white missionaries for coming to Umuofia was to rule over it and as Igbo people were compassionate, and thus were unsuspecting of their intentions they welcomed white missionaries to their land and gave their land with no idea that these people will become cause for their culture to collapse. In the absence of culture, the Igbo society is coming to an end which depicts the significance of Okonkwo falling apart that led to his suicide.


  1. Achebe, C. (2014). Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe. New York, NY: Spark Publishing.
  2. Ikuenobe, P. (2006). The Idea of Personhood in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Philosophia Africana, 9(2), 117–131. doi: 10.5840/philafricana2006924
  3. Jeyifo, B. (1993). Okonkwo and His Mother: Things Fall Apart and Issues of Gender in the Constitution of African Postcolonial Discourse. Callaloo, 16(4), 847. doi: 10.2307/2932213
  4. Osei-Nyame, G. K. (1999). Chinua Achebe Writing Culture: Representations of Gender and Tradition in Things Fall Apart. Research in African Literatures, 30(2), 148–164. doi: 10.1353/ral.2005.0076
  5. Rhoads, D. A. (1993). Culture in Chinua Achebes Things Fall Apart. African Studies Review, 36(2), 61. doi: 10.2307/524733
  6. Whittaker, D. (2007). Chinua Achebes Things Fall Apart. doi: 10.4324/9780203496404
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Igbo Society In Things Fall Apart. (2021, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from
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