Why Do Things Fall Apart? | TeenInk

Why Do Things Fall Apart?

March 29, 2015
By AGarsson PLATINUM, Mill Valley, California
AGarsson PLATINUM, Mill Valley, California
24 articles 0 photos 1 comment

As this essay began to unfold before my keyboard, my brain has trouble finding three distinct reasons that led to the collapse of the intricate culture of the Igbo people. Throughout my experiences with history classes, I have studied the world’s most powerful civilizations. I have researched ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, China, and Japan, and although each were unique with their customs, I kept encountering this form of deja vu. In the likes of a dream, there were these reoccurring factors that always arrived at some point in an empire’s history. They led to the deconstruction of each nation and propelled them into the modern era. Those three factors were the decline in moral values over time, inflation, and political corruption. In the beginning, my brain automatically resolved that certain elements of the Igbo culture had become unstable and were the catalyst to the destruction of traditional life. At first, it all seemed to click: sacrifices were made at the random of the Oracle, the weather made the yam crops suffer and become scarce, and Okwonko had abused his relationships with his wives. Then, all of the sudden, I realized that even though I disagree with certain conventions, I feel this way due to my upbringing in modern Western society. In truth, life in Umuofia was perfectly functioning. Unlike the cultures I have analyzed in the past, the Igbo were not out to gain power or expand their technological horizon. With wealth determined by the individual’s stability and not luxuries, the three downfall factors did not apply. So why did things fall apart? Traditional Igbo life was destroyed because of the intolerances between two foreign cultures; the Christian invasion of the Igbo land. Throughout Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, European technology, religion, and politics plagued the values of Umuofia.


There is a reason why this book is divided into three parts. The very end of Part One is the metaphor of the end of traditional life and the beginning of modernization and Westernization. At the funeral of Ezeudu, all of Umuofia is dancing and socializing. Right before the burial, Okonkwo and other tribesmen give the respected man a last salute by firing guns into the sky. Suddenly, the excited scene turned to horror, when Okonkwo’s gun malfunctioned and killed the dead man’s young son. “The confusion that followed was without parallel in the tradition of Umuofia. Violent deaths were frequent, but nothing like this had ever happened,” Achebe 124. What is so interesting about this scene is how symbolic it is for today. In the Age of Industrialism, the West developed a number of powerful machines meant to better their lives. Although these innovations were something to be marveled at, it was also something that society was not prepared for. The Industrialists’ mishandling of their inventions led them straight to their doom: overpopulation, pollution, and riots. This scene shows how whatever solution we create will only make another problem to solve. Although Okonkwo does not question his banishment from Umuofia for seven years, his actions plant a seed in Obierika’s head. Obierika begins to question his system of government, and even though he eventually brushes it off, the concept of change has already been set in motion.


Part two talks about how religions clash with each other. When the Christian missionaries arrived in Mbanta, they were faced with a group of loyal believers to the Igbo faith. Unlike most cases, the missionaries did not try to force their principles onto the villagers. Instead, what ensued was a standoff between the two religions to see, for the lack of a better term, “got it right.” At first, the villagers completely denounce the idea of one God and that their altars are nothing more than wood and stone. Expect for Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son. “It was the mad logic of the Trinity that captivated him,” Achebe 147. Outsiders of a society are more likely to start accepting ideas outside of the norm, however Nwoye’s case is special. Nwoye has never been exposed to any other culture except his own, so when the missionary comes and talks about the brotherhood values of Christianity, Nwoye begins to believe them without understanding them. He initially believes it is the answer to his inner turmoil about losing Ikemefuma, making him blind towards the other aspects of both religions. Another point is when the villagers let the missionaries build a hut in the Evil Forest, hoping for them to be killed, only for them to thrive and secure more land. Religion around the world is based not off of observation itself, but the exaggeration of observation. When the missionaries survived living in the Evil Forest, it was no act of Christian dominance. What it does show is when two are more religions, foreign to each other, are situated together in a saturated place, faiths from both sides will be proven wrong. The reason war begins is because whoever wins the battle earns the stronger faith.


Part Three deals with how, in the course of time, one society will try to have their political beliefs become dominant. A new missionary comes to Umuofia by the name of Mr. Smith. As Chapter Twenty-Two describes, Mr. Smith was a man who saw the world in “black and white.” Early in his arrival, Mr. Smith expels a young Christian woman for mutilating her dead baby. In the Igbo culture, this act would be seen as harmless, as the mother mutilated the baby to be rid of the evil spirits. Shortly after, a Christian boy goes into the forest and kills a sacred python. The tribe is in turmoil and the elders can see that the end is near. Instead of ignoring the villagers claims that the Mother of Spirits was coming for her murdered son, Mr. Smith becomes afraid. “The chilling sound affected Mr. Smith, and for the first time he seemed to be afraid,” Achebe 187. This scene is interesting because it shows how there are two approaches in dealing with this incident, neither side is sure of how to save the village. Thus completes the transition of the warrior Igbo to a pre-modern society, debating over an issue rather than heading directly towards the spears.


Traditional Igbo life was destroyed because of the intolerances between two foreign cultures; the Christian invasion of the Igbo land. Each of the sections of Things Fall Apart show the complex culture unraveling. Part One talks about how the newly acquired technology malfunctions, exposing a new kind of human error. Part Two mentions the struggles between two faiths and how easily it is for us to be persuaded. Part Three notes that in order to accomplish any goal between two parties, we must make compromises. In short, Things Fall Apart was not about losing a culture, but the inevitable mixing of humanities.


The author's comments:

I wrote a similar essay a while ago about the book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, however this essay is centralized around how I believe a culture as intricate as the Igbo people could eventually collapse. 


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