Things Fall Apart from Multicultural and International Perspectives
Chinua Achebe composed a trilogy consisting of Things Fall Apart (1958), No Longer at Ease (1960) and Arrow of God (1964). The common thread among them was the Ibo (fictionalized Igbo) culture of the African continent. Cultural conflict is the main issue of this trilogy. The conflict started in Things Fall Apart and reached its acne with Arrow of Gad. This paper will focus on the struggle of Okonkwo to maintain the ethnicity of Ibo culture of the village Umuofia under the powerful authority of British colonizers. At the same time, the women of this novel will also be studied regarding their instrumental role in the plot of the novel and how they get also affected by colonialism. However, the research question of this paper is a combined approach of colonialism and feminism to explore rightfully the purpose of this novel and how far Achebe had succeeded in it. The setting of this novel is 1890s in Nigeria. Civilization was not at all advanced in the African continent at that time resulting in the inhabitants to live in the darkness of superstition and illiteracy (Aggarwal, 2011). Their life was very simple, and they were very fervent about their religion and god. Achebe noticeably uses the mean of criticizing colonialism also to point out the shortfalls of Igbo people that finally caused their falling apart.
Ibo culture in the village Umuofia practices acutes patriarchy. However, they have a very organized and systematic administration and jurisdiction. Their religion is very much dominating in leading life. In spite of being their religion apparently polytheistic, Ezenwa (1997) called it to be diffused monotheism. It is true they have some minor gods, but the chief god for them was Agbala. They had untainted trust upon their gods and there was a semi-divine human known as priest Chielo, who used to communicate between mortals and divinity. The reason of describing the religious tradition and framework of Ibo is to anticipate the clash with Christianity. The Ibo people may not be educated, but they are quite aggressive in protecting their culture (Dannenberg, 2009). The backdrop of the novel is the advent of colonialism the Achebe aims by delineating a core African ethnic group to break the animalistic description of Africans. Achebe strongly objected the image of Africa as pictured in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in his essay “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” (1975). In the background of colonialism Achebe tried to show that unlike the conventional stoic and silent representation of Africans, the Ibo people had a strong voice and attitude to fight off. Their first challenge was to protect their culture from the grasp of anglicized lifestyle. At this point, the issue of multicultural perspective encounters with the so-called ethnic novel.
Achebe wrote this novel keeping the international perception about Africa and the co-existence of both Christian culture and Igbo culture in most of the African colonies in mind. Things Fall Apart is not just a novel bound to the tradition, rituals and culture of Ibo but Achebe used the Ibo culture in order to explore their way of perceiving on an international level (Jua, 2009). Systematically, the Ibo religion and Christianity share many similarities such as one prime God (Agbala in Ibo and Jesus Christ in Christianity), prophetic communication between human beings and divinity (Chielo both as priestess and Prophet and saints and cardinals in Christianity).The international perspective is in a way the perspective of European and American continents. In fact, the original text of Things Fall Apart presents the same thing. But the subtext contains the heavy criticism upon the primitive treatment of the clans of Africa. They might not grow and advanced like the other parts did, but that did not mean they were hollow and unsubstantial. As delineated in the novel, they had enough elements on their own to build, maintain and continue their culture, tradition, religion and society.
Masculinity is prioritized in Ibo culture and effeminate a real shame for the entire clan. The main of a way of exhibiting masculinity is winning in wrestling matches, projecting one’s self as ruthless and justified, dominating the women at home and earning through agricultural prosperity. In the anglicized culture to be considered, it is more or less the same. The only difference with British society is they put up a veneer or etiquette, civilized and education. On the other hand, the same practice in Ibo culture looks primitive and barbaric just because they follow no such hypocrisy. Chinua Achebe wanted to break the cliché of international perspective being a benchmark for an unknown and less popular culture to be recognized by the world, rather international perspective should be the absolute practice of cultural relativism. International perspective should be that panoramic to understand any cultural phenomena to be equally connected with this world such anything related to Europe and America (Rhoads, 1993). That has been the main point of Achebe in the entire novel of Things Fall Apart or in the entire trilogy for that matter. In this context, the advent of British colonizers has been beautifully described in Chapter 7 of this novel by the symbol of locusts. They were seen to occupy every inch of space of Umuofia projecting the goal of conversion of the Christian missionaries in that place.
A social system collapses in this novel, and it gives rise to more chaos and disintegration. The opening stanza of Yeats’ “Second Coming” has been used by Achebe to signify the uncontrolled situation in the novel. “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold” is here to define the conflict between prowess of center and its integration over an entire society (Aggarwal, 2011). So far, this has been the encounter between two kinds of patriarchal systems. But, the notion of underlined feminism cannot be ignored in this novel. However, it is to be noted that the projection of women in Ibo society is neither explicit nor implicit reflection of Achebe’s opinion. He accounted fictionally the real role of women normally played in Igbo households. For Ibo or Igbo, a female is the weaker gender, and they are subject to abide by domestic duty, give birth and raise children and to be punished if found guilty in any case.
The Ibo women are the appropriate examples of subalterns or they are ‘doubly suppressed’. They have no voice to speak their mind as it is considered as breaking the norms. In fact, feminine nature is a kind of shame of Ibo people. Okonkwo’s father was alleged to be effeminate, and it has been an insult for Okonkwo. To break the preoccupation of people for his family and himself, he worked hard to prove his masculinity and establish himself as a leader in Ibo society. He strictly controls over his three wives. And as he is not satisfied by the manly projection of his oldest son and he is feared of him being like his grandfather, he beats him occasionally to teach him the right ways of life. Ikemefuna is much preferred by Okonkwo as he is the way how he wants his sons to be (Jua, 2009). Subjugation of women is common and very much justified in Ibo society. He is very brisk to express his affections for his children in spite of having great fondness for his daughter Ezinma. On the contrary, divinity for Ibo people is Agbala, who is a goddess, and she communicates through the priestess Chielo. Like other societies and cultures around the world at that time, in Ibo culture too women have been either dominated or worshiped. Either their voice is considered as a divine order or their voice is never recognized by the society. Women are born under the shadow of her father and die under the shadow of her husband.
To a justified conclusion for this paper, the relation between colonialism and feminism is undeniable considering the multicultural perspective of the novel. Any culture recognizes the existence of both masculinity and femininity. A multicultural or international approach may assimilate different characteristics of both the genders, but the scenario remains same more or less. In the context of colonialism apart from the suppression of colonized masculinity, the colonized femininity gets completely lost.
Aggarwal, R. (2011). Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart; colonialism versus tradition. IJAR, 3(4), 221-222.
Dannenberg, H. (2009). The Many Voices Of Things Fall Apart. Interventions, 11(2), 176-179.
Ezenwa-Ohaeto. (1997). Chinua Achebe: A Biography. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, p. 81.
Jua, R. (2009). Things Fall Apart And Achebe’s Search For Manhood. Interventions, 11(2), 199 202.
Rhoads, D. (1993). Culture in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. African Studies Review, 36(2), 61.