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Things Fall Apart Essay, Research Paper

Chinua Achebe tells two different stories at the same time. One is of Okonkwo, the villager whose rise to power is halted because of all of his misfortunes. The other is of Okonkwo’’s village, Umuofia, and its struggle to hold on to its cultural tradition while facing colonialism from the West. The title, ““Things Fall Apart,”” describes perfectly what happens to both Okonkwo and his village. Okonkwo’’s life falls apart and as a result, he commits suicide by hanging himself. The cultural tradition of Umuofia falls apart, and becomes influenced by the West.

In ““Things Fall Apart,”” Achebe uses Okonkwo and the village’’s falling out to show how African culture, as well as other cultures around the world, suffered as a result of Westernization. In the book, Achebe focuses mainly on the character of Okonkwo. He experiences many successes in the beginning, but everything eventually comes crashing down on him. His early life is the typical success story. He starts poor, but works hard to earn everyone’s respect. From the beginning or the novel he is disgusted with his father because he had no ambition, and in Onkonkwo’s eyes he acts like a woman. He is a lazy old man who borrows money and never pays it back. Onkonkwo realizes that he does not want to be like his father, and it is this hatred that drives him to work hard. After his father’s death, Okonkwo pays off his fathers debts, and starts his long journey to the top of the clan. In a short time, Okonkwo’s hard work pays off and he becomes one of the village’s most respected members. He earns three out of the four village titles. He is recognized as the greatest warrior in Umuofia. He takes three wives and has many children. He is almost to the top of the clan when his journey to greatness starts to crumble.

As a result of a scuffle with one of the nearby villages, Okonkwo is given a boy to take care of. The boy, Ikemefuna, shows many similarities to Okonkwo and they become very close. He sees Okonkwo as a father figure, and even calls him ““father.”” Okonkwo even puts him before his true son, Nwoye. But one day the village elders finally decide that they way to honor their ancestors and gods is to sacrifice him for the good of the people of Umuofia and for the good of Ikemefuna’s people. Okonkwo takes the last blow to Ikemefuna, which caused his death, to show that he is not weak. The grief that follows starts Okonkwo on his downfall.

The next major event that led to Okonkwo’’s downfall took place at the funeral of one of the elders in the clan. When the group of men fired their guns to give the man his last salute, Okonkwo’s gun exploded and a piece of iron dug into a young boy’’s heart, killing him. Even though the death was accidental, Okonkwo was forced to flee from the clan. He had committed a crime against the earth goddess, and would have to leave the village for seven years. Okonkwo and his family fled to his mother’s land. Okonkwo had lost everything he had worked so hard for, and could not work to get it back for seven years.

While in his exile, missionaries came to his motherland. These white men greatly disturbed Okonkwo. When he heard that his oldest son, Nwoye, was one of the converts to the new faith his resentment for the missionaries grew. When he returned to Umuofia after his seven-year exile he was appalled by the number of people that had deserted their god and gone along with the white men. He became extremely distressed when the men of Umuofia decided not to go to war with the white men. When five court messengers came to stop a meeting in the village, Okonkwo finally released all of his anger. He beheaded the head messenger and thus finished his downfall. Okonkwo’s life finally fell completely apart as his body was found dangling from a tree.

All of the previously explained factors can be attributed to the final tragedy of Onkonkwo, but I believe that the state that Umuofia was in when Onkonkwo returned from exile was the final straw. Onkonkwo had such pride in Umuofia that seeing people abandoning their gods and daily routines was like torture. I think that he equated the people who converted with being like his father, having no goals, or pride in being a man. He rationalized these people who acted with such “disrespect” as being people that Umuofia wouldn’t want in their society, and so it was no problem with them leaving. Onkonkwo and others within Umuofia did not realize, however, that it was those people who made up their village, and without them, the great land of Umuofia was becoming obsolete and cowardly. When the people of Umuofia decided not to go to war with the white men, Onkonkwo felt like he was the only one who had any sense to him, he felt like he was the only man. That, specifically, was the reason that Onkonkwo decided to take his own life after killing one of the white messengers. He wanted to die a man, not a coward woman like man.

I the village of Umuofia fell apart in another way. When the white missionaries arrived, the villagers did not take them very seriously. They refused to see the missionaries as a threat and this led to their demise. However, because of the strength of the west, the village’s falling apart might have been inevitable. I think that if they had saw the missionaries as a threat from the beginning, that would have been the prevention of Onkonkwo’s death. He would have been right by Umuofia’s side fighting against the evils of these new beliefs.

Very few civilizations, if any, were able to withstand the threat of Westernization. It was a force that was too powerful and sophisticated for such common people to fight. Achebe’s book shows how this Westernization led to the demise of many ancient cultures because we can parallel the tragedy of Umuofia with tragedy’s of other African and Latin American societies.


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