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In Chinua Achebe’s classic Things
Fall Apart, culture, religion, farming, and the importance of family
are expressed through the lens of the main character Okonkwo, and more
importantly the Igbo lifestyle as a whole. The book is set in Nigeria, Africa
in the early 1900s. It takes place in a set of villages called Umuofia, where
the Ibo people reside. Achebe makes sure to include as many details about the
village as he can, such as the fact that they grow yams as a form of
representing status and that palm wine is the “local drink”. When Okonkwo, the
protagonist, begins his journey in life with little to no help from his old and
selfish father, he is faced with his own internal dilemmas as to why his father
is the way he is and how he will do it on his own. Despite the unfortunate hand
he has been dealt regarding his father and his family situation, he still
manages to work hard on his own, and with time obtain his own social standing
and elevated status amongst the people in his town. He eventually has a large
farm that is his and only his, several wives, and more than plenty of yams.
Life seems to be perfect for Okonkwo, until he begins to have issues with a fluctuating
Africa and the British imperialists behind it. Things Fall Apart is a deeply layered novel that addresses intense subjects
such colonialism and its effects, traditions and proverbs, and the
enlightenment of Igbo culture exclusively, which are all slightly hidden behind
a mask of entertainment found in the fictional tale.

            Achebe
makes a point to describe in great depth and detail the Igbo culture. Being a culture unknown to many, it encompasses a polytheistic
religion, a large emphasis on father-son legacy, set agriculture customs, and even
a strong belief in the idea of evil spirits. Every major event that happens in
the book has some kind of significance based on the Igbo culture. For example,
the fact that they adapted a polytheistic religion, with different gods or
goddesses to oversee each aspect of life. All of these gods and goddesses
report to one “head” God who overseas them all, Chukwu. Different aspects of
Igbo religion are brought up throughout the novel, and several times religion
and religious observances play a major role in the plot.

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             In addition to these, the eye-opening concept
of colonialism is examined through the direct perspective of Okonkwo. He continues
to fight what we discover over time is nothing but losing battle to stop
missionaries from taking full control of his people. It all started with
religion. In order for any cultural change to begin to take place, the colonists
have to begin by introducing their own religion to the people who they are colonizing.
They attempt to dispel fears by arriving on a platform built from goodwill, but
their eventual goal is to essentially to entirely change the beliefs of the
tribe. What’s even more surprising, though, is that in the end in this particular
instance they are successful. Once they get a foot in the door in Umuofia,
hardly any time passes before their tactics are successful and nearly everyone
is converted to Christianity. As readers who have become (as intended by the
author) attached to the tribe and its customs now, we are saddened to see the
Igbo stripped of their customs, rituals and beliefs. The missionaries original
goal was to bring only religion to the people, but once they succeeded with that
task they didn’t stop there. They soon sought to bring what they viewed as
“civilization” to the tribe as well. But as readers, we now better understand
that the tribe was perfectly functional and “civilized’ in their own respects
without the help of the colonizers.

            Achebe’s purpose in writing the
novel was to present an intricate, dynamic society to a Western audience who may
have observed African society as unsophisticated, meek, and regressive. By
telling a story and by inviting the reader into a culture that most know so
little about, we are able to better understand how what might have seemed like
a barbaric society, was in reality a society successful in its own respects.

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