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Many times when reading a book one develops a one-sided view of the situation because of the way the characters are portrayed. Usually, the characters the author wants to portray as good are cast in a positive light, meaning that only the good things about them are included and, in most cases, the story is told from these characters points of view. The characters the author wants to portray as bad are cast in a negative light meaning that only the bad things the characters do or participate in are included. It is on a rare occasion that an author manages to capture the many different aspects of their characters, allowing the reader to understand all sides of the story and to choose for themselves if they like or dislike the character(s). In the book Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe portrays both positive and negative aspects of Okonkwo and the Ibo culture to collectively form a neutral atmosphere, the reader does, however, develop sympathy and understanding for the Ibo culture because the book is written from their point of view; with the European culture, in spite of certain positive elements of their presence, one develops a very negative image of them as a result of their overall attitude towards and impact on the Ibo culture.
One positive aspect of the Ibo culture is the strong community ties they share symbolized by the large village gatherings that are depicted from time to time in the book. In these gatherings everyone in the community is allowed to participate and anyone who wants to can share their views. The clan called a meeting after a woman from Umuofia was killed in a neighboring village, and when the leaders decided they should discuss the presence of the Europeans. They came together to make decisions on what the village s course of action should be. They also came together as a community to view wrestling matches and the trials of the egwugwu. These brought the people of the village together.
The Ibo also had strong family ties. These were shown when Chielo, the priestess of Agbala, came and took Ezinma away from Ekwefi. Even though Ekwefi and Okonkwo both knew they were supposed to stay at home and let the gods control what was going to happen to their daughter, they didn t think twice about risking their lives for her when they thought she might be in danger. This was especially surprising because of Okonkwo s reaction. He tried not to show any compassion because he thought it was a weakness, but here he showed that he cared about his daughter very much and would try time and time again to protect her.
The Ibo also valued the art of conversation and refer to many proverbs when they speak; this was demonstrated many times during the book. Proverbs ranged from He who brings kola brings life to When a man blasphemes, what do we do? Do we go and stop his mouth? No. We put our fingers in our ears to stop us hearing. The Ibo valued hard work, and those who work hard were rewarded by the amount of yams they produce and the titles they were allowed to claim. They also valued time to relax, worship the gods, and celebrate. The book contains many descriptions of festivals or feasts, such as the Feast of the New Yam. The Ibo knew how to enjoy themselves and found entertainment in wrestling matches and dancing and traveling musicians and the dancing egwugwu. All these are examples of how the Ibo culture and its characters were portrayed in a positive way.
In contrast, there are also many negative aspects of the Ibo culture and the main character Okonkwo. The traditions of the clan were often very brutal, such as the tradition of mutilating the fourth ogbanje (a child who repeatedly died and returned to its mother to be reborn) and casting the dead child into the evil forest, unburied. The Ibo also abandoned twins in the evil forest and left them to die, again unburied. Ibo warriors were expected to bring back the heads of men they d killed, considered a sign of a brave man. The Ibo had designated outcasts in the society osu- who were supposed to be dedicated to a god. They would not let an osu marry, and an osu had to live away from the village, and was not allowed to participate in any of the activities of the free-born . The Oracle was in charge of the religious occurrences, and the clan listened to any decision made by him; however, many of the Oracle s requests were outrageous. He declared it necessary to kill Ikemefuna, a young boy living with Okonkwo. To make matters worse, Okonkwo helped to kill the boy who had grown to call him father and who Okonkwo looked to as his son. To kill a young boy who was like a son to you is not an admirable trait. This negative side of Okonkwo was evident throughout the book. Another unfavorable character trait that Okonkwo had was that he beat his wives and children constantly to try and prove to himself that he could control them and that he was a strong man. In one case Okonkwo got so out of hand he almost shot his second wife, Ekwefi. While the village did not condone this behavior, they did not put a stop to it either.
In this book, the Europeans were the ultimate enemy and danger to the Ibo. Chinua Achebe presents the Europeans from the Ibo point of view. Despite a few positive elements, the Europeans were portrayed in a completely negative light because of what their actions towards the Ibo. Positive elements associated with the Europeans were the presence of Mr. Brown and the sheltering of the twins and osu (outcasts) by the Christian missionaries. Mr. Brown was a Christian reverend who made an attempt to understand the Ibo ways and explained his own culture and religious ways to them without forcing his own views upon them. He recognized them as people and treated them as he would anyone else. When the Christian missionaries took the twins and outcasts into the church it gave the twins and outcasts a chance to belong to something. Instead of living their lives in fear of the mainstream Ibo community they could become a part of the Christian community. Also, despite the unwelcome attitude towards Christianity from some Ibo, the missionaries did not force Christianity upon the people, they simply introduced the religious beliefs and allowed people to join the congregation if they wanted to.
The negative examples of the Europeans behavior far exceed the few examples of positive behavior. The majority of Europeans were on a mission to take control of the area where the Ibo were living; they were harsh and unfeeling towards many aspects of the Ibo culture. When the missionaries set up a church in the village the clan was divided the issue of religion, which had never come into question before. This caused families, such as Okonkwo s, to break up. His son, Nwoye, decided to convert to Christianity, which made Okonkwo unhappy with his decision to the point that he disowned him. The Europeans also took many unnecessary lives. The Europeans went into the village of Abame and opened gunfire on the entire village because the people of the village had killed one European. The Europeans set up a governmental system in Umuru where they hanged any Africans who rebelled against them or the laws and rules that they forced upon the people. Reverend James Smith is an example of a European that did not have any concern or sympathy for beliefs other than his own. He saw things as black or white. And black was evil. He barred a woman from the church because she allowed her husband to perform the tribal ritual of mutilating the fourth ogbanje. District Commissioner took six of the leaders of Umuofia captive because they had burned down the church in retaliation to an attack against the egwugwu. The most obvious example of how the Europeans were unfeeling was the last chapter of the book, where Okonkwo hanged himself. The District Commissioner treated Okonkwo s death as a simple event that he could write a paragraph in his book about. He was so caught up in gaining control of these people he believed he was pacifying them when really he was destroying their sense of control, power, and their beliefs.
Despite the book being from their point of view, the Ibo culture was portrayed neutrally, with both their negative and positive aspects revealed; however, the Europeans come across in a very negative way because of their attitude towards and actions against the Ibo. The Europeans established a place for themselves in the land where the Ibo lived and took over the Ibo. They forced the Ibo to adopt their government and introduced their own religious ways. Doing so took away the power and control the Ibo had and created a divide in what had been a strong community. They significantly altered a culture of people that had been surviving on its own, and didn t seem to care when they destroyed everything those people had faith in. They were on a mission to take control of the land these people inhabited and if it meant destroying those inhabitants, then so be it. In the eyes of the District Commissioner it made for an interesting book.
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