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Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart Book Review - Essay Example

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Chinua Achebe’s book, ‘Things Fall Apart’ is a book that was set in the Igbo community in Nigeria during the1890s when the Colonists began to explore the inlands of West Africa. …
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Chinua Achebes Things Fall Apart Book Review
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"Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart Book Review"

Module History and Political Science Describe the setting (time, place, culture) of the novel. Apply what you have learned from reading the essay "Igbo Culture and History". Attend to Achebe’s presentation of the details of everyday village life ways in Umuofia, the values and beliefs of the Igbo people, and the importance of ritual, ceremony, social hierarchy, and personal achievement in Igbo culture. How is social life organized? What are the important celebrations? What is the role of war, of religion, and of the arts? What is the role of the individual in relation to the community of Umuofia? Compare /contrast Igbo ways of life, customs, perspectives, beliefs, and values to those of your own culture. Chinua Achebe’s book, ‘Things Fall Apart’ is a book that was set in the Igbo community in Nigeria during the1890s when the Colonists began to explore the inlands of West Africa. Achebe strives to present the cultural statutes of the Igbo people as they were at a time when no Western influence had yet affected the community. On reading ‘Things Fall Apart’, one is immediately struck by the numerous complex ceremonies that attended daily life among the Igbo. For example, wedding ceremonies were complicated affairs that were punctuated by periodic sacrifices to various gods and goddesses. Then there were the egwugwu who would judge all legal disputes while observing numerous ceremonies. Even mundane activities such as the cooking of some foods had to follow given specifications that had cultural significance. Yams, for example, due to their complicated cultivation and harvesting process, were considered to be a manly crop while other staples such as cassava were less significant. In the Igbo community, whenever visitors were received in homes, the ceremony was marked by the breaking of a kola nut. The Ibo religion which promoted belief in many gods, determined how people raised their children, ruled the society, or entertained and communicated with each other. Achebe uses an Igbo proverb that states, “…that when an individual agrees with something, his chi agrees also” (Achebe, 27). This shows that the Ibo felt that if an individual believes in his or her chi – or personal god- the deity will protect the individual and ensure his o her success. The Igbo believed that the gods ruled over the affairs of men, as is portrayed when Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, was informed that, “…when a man is at peace with his ancestors and gods, the greatness of his harvest will be according to the strength of his arm” (Achebe, 17). There are aspects of Igbo culture, such as the importance of showing hospitality, and the importance of religion in bonding together the community, that are emulated by my culture. However, the difference is in the fact that the community members are not ruled by the political or spiritual community leaders’ interpretations of religion. Everyone, and in particular the women, are free to make their own decisions about the issues n their lives. It is much freer than Okonkwo’s society. Even as Achebe works to educate his readers about African culture and to combat demeaning stereotypes about Africa, he does not present the Igbo society as ideal or perfect. The portrait of this culture on the eve of its "falling apart" in Part I of Things Fall Apart is complex, sometimes contradictory and critical. What aspects of pre-colonial Igbo culture does Achebe seem to question or criticize? How does Achebe use characters like Obierika, Okonkwo, and Nwoye to offer such social criticism of Igbo society? It would appear that Achebe is critical of the roughness towards the helpless that characterized traditional life in the Igbo community. He used the happenings in the lives of various characters to demonstrate the errors that were common in Igbo traditional life. For example, Okonkwo's best friend, Obierika, is portrayed as a thinking man who encourages Okonkwo to be more balanced in his emotions. In contrast to the main character, Obierika is a dedicated father, friend, husband, and a responsible member of the Igbo community. He tries to make Okonkwo think about the deeper and more important issue such as universal truths and morality. His example shines a light on all of Okonkwo’s animalistic tendencies. Another character is Nwoye who is Okonkwo’s elder son. Nwoye is left aghast by Okonkwo’s disruptive version of masculinity and finally goes against his entire community by turning to Christianity. The action that sent him yearning for a gentler society was the murder of his adopted brother, Ikemefuna, by the man who had sworn to protect him- Okonkwo. Achebe portrays all of Okonkwo’s flaws right from the start of the book. Okonkwo has tremendous abilities, is a wrestler, a fighter, and a respected man. He is also numbered among the revered egwugwu, and even has titles. However, his luck changes with his killing of his adopted son. Up to that point, Okonkwo has benefitted by being the prime follower of his community’s traditions. With the murder, though, the fallacies contained in Igbo traditions start to shine through. His down fall is representative of Achebe’s disapproval of some of the more brutal practices that were sanctioned in traditional societies. From chapter 1, identify all the factors responsible for the rise and fall of states and empires in Africa. In your assessment, why did the contact between Europe, Asia, and Africa affect the socio-political and economic development of the continent of Africa. Use specific references from your readings to illustrate your point. The European powers were to blame for the utter destruction of African cultures and traditional governments. They favored the creation of servile communities that were economically, technologically, and politically dependent on the colonialists. Christianity was used by the colonialists to divide and conquer- as is demonstrated by the division that took place in the Igbo community and in Okonkwo’s own home when members of Igbo society began to accept the new religion. Historically, the communities of Africa that accepted the Christian culture of the missionaries were actually left with hardly any destruction being done to their cultural and traditional values. The Northern Nigerian Fulani and Hausa chiefs, for example, preserved their culture and traditional institutions. The communities that resisted Christian indoctrination, though, suffered the dismemberment of their societies. In ‘Things fall Apart’ the Igbo religion is viewed as being heathenish by people like the inflexible missionary Mr. Smith. The District Commissioner and Mr. Smith both disregard richness and complexity of Igbo society. Using Binyavanga Wainaina’s satirical essay “How to Write About Africa, Saine, Aidoo, & Hess “The Social Construction of Africa and Africans in the Western Media,” and Keim’s “How We Learn,” as your point of reference, discuss some of the myths and stereotypes popularly held about the continent of Africa and its people in the Western World? What has shaped this general attitude and mindset about Africa? What is your role as a budding scholar in dispelling these myths and stereotypes? Use specific reference to the readings in your response There are ways in which Africans in general are characterized that do not do justice to them as the citizens of an entire continent filled with different tribes. A book such as Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things fall Apart’ is one of the few that choose to focus on actual lives of human beings living in African rather than the animals that dwell in the continent or the different types of sunset that can be experienced. Binyavanga Wainaina has written widely on the West’s tendency to make broad generalizations about things that do not even matter when writing about Africa. One would have thought that this tendency would have disappeared with the independence of African nations. However, today, it is stronger than ever. This is hard to deal with because the things that Europeans write about Africa are not markedly racist. It is just that they are repeated cliches of particular aspects of the continent that have been displayed in the international media for years. These factors, though, do not represent the whole of Africa. In his humorously written text, Wainaina noted, “whenever I read some White writer’s material on Kenya, it is always filled with wild game at breakfast time, snakes that drop into the baths, and lions that maul calves. However, I have only seen a single snake in my whole life; I am also not aware of anyone who has ever been bitten by a snake” (Wainaina). According to Wainaina, if one were to judge from what is often displayed in the Western media, Africans all dress like Zulus or the Masai. No Western-based media stations ever show the numerous skyscrapers that line cities across Africa, from Cairo, to Nairobi, and onto Johannesburg. Africa is filled with tall and thin tribal members who are always starving, instead of going to their workstations from morning to evening to eke out a respectable living. Africans are also never depicted as favoring ordinary foods such as rice and beans; they are always portrayed as eaten ‘traditional delicacies’ such as monkey brains, worms, insects, or grub. Africans are vacant, soulless creatures who are always being mistreated by money hungry rulers and being saved by saintly Westerners. The animals of Africa, on the other hand, have more life attributed to them than the humans. They are complex and well rounded characters that constantly display American qualities. They have names, desires, and endless ambitions for their huge families. The elephants and big cats, especially, teach values to their children and are caring. The program ‘National Geographic’ constantly keeps Westerners entertained with the antics of the only creatures in Africa that are allowed to have ordinary human characteristics. Works Cited Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor, 1994. Print. Wainaina, Binyavanga. “How to Write about Africa.” Ignorant Art. 2006. Web. 08 Oct 2013. Retrieved from http://ignorantart.blogspot.com/2006/10/how-to-write-about-africa-by-binyavanga.html Read More
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