Although Achebe has made known his desire to counteract through his writing the negative image Africans have been given through works like Conrad’s Heart of darkness and Cary’s Mister Johnson, in Things Fall Apart he nevertheless presents both “positive and negative aspects of traditional Igbo life” rather than simply “ idealizing and romanticizing the past” Substantiate .
Chinua Achebe wrote his debut novel “Things Fall Apart’ as a reply and critique of Heart of Darkness. In “Heart of Darkness’ Africans are considered as nothing more than savage and non human, uncivilized as Conrad presents Africa through the eye of Colonist. As a reply, Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart to counteract ancient and typical views of Africa. With this backdrop, this essay illustrates that Achebe shows a different image of Africans in total contrast of what Conrad produced in Heart of Darkness. He looks at Africa from an African person’s view point. Chinua Achebe presents both positive and negative features of the Igbo people and provides the picture of society, religion, politics, economy without any attempt to romanticize or sentimentalize them (Nnoromele147). This essay reveals that Achebe has presented different political, psychological and personal issues of the Igbo people from the view point of both viewer and a critic. On one side he shows the productive and rational side of the Igbo, on the other side he emphasizes their senselessness and irrational beliefs too. In this essay, I claim that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart explicates and uncovers the reality as human beings the Igbo have merits as well as imperfections.
Achebe depicts the religious, social and political life of the people living in African villages named Umuofia, Mbanta and other smaller ones. Achebe considers them as people of great tradition, history and institutions. Just as there are two sides to every coin Igbo culture has its own charm. The pride of their culture lies in the reality they believe in life and appropriate in leading a very simple life. They choose to stay far away from the crowd. They prefer to share happiness as well as the sorrows of the others in their community. Achebe’s presentation of the Igbo culture in the novel is largely authentic. For instance, their perspective on religion has been presented, they are polytheistic, meaning they believe in god and worship more than one deity. There are different traditions and rituals that are linked with Igbo society such as the celebration of the Peace week which is observed to reap a lavish and abundant harvest. Chinua Achebe has also mentioned other ceremonies regarding marriage and courtship in the novel. Achebe tells us that most marriages are polygamous in nature, which is actually important in Igbo society. The enforcement of law, order and different aspects of war all have been presented throughout the novel. Achebe has also presented that Igbo people are extremely clan oriented. They treat each other like family and always share their news with each other, as can be seen in case of Okonkwo’s wives. Achebe prevails the idea that Africans are normal human beings as “they talk and laugh among themselves like all and with others who stand near them”.
Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart’ depicts Africa as a civilized society. Through novel Achebe tells us that Africa is not savage or dark continent the Europeans made it out to be. He uses proverbs and vocabulary of Nigeria. Achebe’s use of native African language is the indication of his rebellion against the European colonizers. Achebe presents us the social and family rituals, food production and preparation process, the customs for marriage ceremony, religious practices and beliefs and leadership for the community. The people of the village led happy life and they were contended with what they had. The main trade and occupation were farming. They worked hard in their fields from morning till evening during seasons of sowing and harvest. They did not have knowledge of advanced techniques of farming. They were hospitable as they always gave a warm welcome to their guests. They provided those kola nuts and palm wine to eat, drink and rejoice in their company. They also lived together with one another for example Okonkwo got full assistance from his mother’s brother Uchendu and his sons for seven years of exile. Festivals not only gave them the opportunity of eating and drinking but also helped Igbo people to develop intimacy among them. They were also happy so far as their political life is concerned. There was a committee of elders comprising of nine great men of clans to decide all the political problems in a democratic way.
Achebe has depicted not only the positive side of the Igbo culture but he has also shown the superstitious practiced by them. The superstitious beliefs among the Igbo society give the Europeans a chance to split of their harmony. The white man takes benefit of this aspect to his maximum benefit. Tolerance is a issue yet the villagers become victim of their tolerant attitude about the missonaries. If they had refused them from the beginning and had not allowed them to stay, things might have come out in different way. By the time they understood the destructive impact these things had on their own lives, it was too late. In the novel even the protagonist Okonkwo was not without flaws. He was well known character in the nine villages. His tragic flaw short sightedness, anger and violence brought his downfall. He wanted his son Nwoye to be great man in his life. That was the reason he treated him badly without thinking that his harsh and rude behavior might turn his son in to a rebel. Fear of weakness/failure was also tragic flaw in his personality. He murdered Ikemefuna “because he was fearful of being weak’. Okonkwo was happy when Ikemefuna came in to his family. Though Okonkwo liked the boy yet he treated him in anger. He treated Nwoye, Ikemefuna and others with a heavy hand.
In the novel Okonkwo is presented as a cruel person who treats his wives harshly, even breaking the traditional customs of gentleness and kindness in the week of Peace just because he was annoyed with his youngest wife. “He has strict adherence to the village customs and believed that he would never be a true man unless he was able to dominate the household and his wives’ (Tobalase,2016). Achebe also narrates incidence in the novel where he tells a story that there was once a man who want to sell a goat at the market. He led it on a rope which he binds around his wrist. But after sometime he turned back and saw what he led at the end of the leather was a heavy log of wood. This story tells us a lot. It means that Achebe does not partly show us that Igbo are free from all kinds of wrongdoings. Rather his purpose is to show the fact that as human beings the Igbo have some merits as well as demerits. The novel also suggests that the unjust and prejudiced Osu caste system is a social hole where the Igbo themselves go down in to. The Osu are untouchable in the Igbo villages and their existence is considered a taboo in the society. They are people devoted to god who cannot marry the villagers or live with them. The outcasts can not acquire any of the four village titles, when they die, they are buried in the Evil forest and they are not provided a funeral. The Christian missionaries welcome the Osu with open arms and explain that everyone is the child of god. The Osu are the first to be converted to Christianity. The Osu have long been remained underprivileged, deprived of basic rights. The Osu find a way out from their repressed and suppressed emotions in Christianity. In “Things Fall Apart’ Achebe considers that negative elements of Igbo society are responsible for the downfall of Igbo society. “The seeds of decay are inbuilt. The colonizers just fastened the action” (Aggarwal221). Western culture won over the hearts and soul of the common people not by force of arms but by the ability of appeal as their message of peace was considered superior to the violence and human sacrifice of conventional society.
Achebe has thus tried to deliver an insight in to the African traditions which was never highlighted in such a way before. He wrote the novel to counter colonist depiction of Africa as revealed especially in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and other texts like Joyce Carey’s Mister Johnson. In the novel he inclines towards the Igbo side but with the eye of critic. He goes through the ins and outs of the day to day life of Igbo. As a result, he uncovers the examined and unexamined life of the Igbo people long before they were invaded by Europeans.