The Themes Of Things Fall Apart
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Before we can begin discussing, we must first know what the book is about. Most of the novel takes place in Umuofia, a group of nine villages located on the lower Niger. Umuofia is a strong clan, experienced in war and contains a great population. These people have proud traditions and are advanced with their social organization. Okonkwo was raised with nothing, but he ended up rising to a high position through hard work. He was always haunted by the thoughts of his cowardly father, Unoka, a man who left his legacy tarnished. Okonkwo became a warrior, a clansman and became an exceptional provider for his family. He has three wives and he grows yams, the most important crop to the people. Okonkwo also has a twelve-year-old son, Nwoye, whom he finds to be unproductive and is worried is going to end up like his father. A neighboring tribe creates displeasure with Umuofia and to steer clear of war, they offer the clan one virgin and a fifteen-year-old boy. Okonkwo decides to care for the boy, Ikemefuna, and finds that he can be an ideal son. Although Okonkwo becomes fond of the boy and the boy eventually calls him “father”, Okonkwo shows no affection towards him.
When the Week of Peace comes around, Okonkwo accuses one of his wives of neglect, and beats her senselessly. This leaves the rest of community shocked although tries to make up for what he did. Ikemefuna lives with Okonkwo and his family for three years which leads to Nwoye looking up to him. One day, Ogbuefi Ezeudu, a well-respected elder in the village tells Okonkwo privately that the Oracle says Ikemefuna must be killed. The elder doesn’t want Okonkwo to take part in this action since the boy calls him “father”. Okonkwo tells Ikemefuna that they must visit his old village urgently and as they make the journey; Okonkwo’s men attack the boy. Showing confusion, they boy looks to Okonkwo for help, but since Okonkwo doesn’t want to look weak in front of his men, he kills the boy himself. After returning to the village, Okonkwo falls into depression, and the death of the elder Ogbuefi Ezeudu is announced across all the villages. At his funeral, traditions require to fire guns to remember one who has passed. Okonkwo’s gun explodes and kills Ogebuefi Ezeudu’s sixteen-year-old son. Since killing a clansman is a serious crime, Okonkwo was forced to take his family into exile for seven years.
He takes his family to his mother’s native village and all of Okonkwo’s buildings and animals are burned and killed. This is done to cleanse the village of his sin. In his motherland, Okonkwo settles down and is disappointed in his misfortune. Obierika, a man from Okonkwo’s previous village, brought news that another village, Abame, was destroyed by white men. Six missionaries soon travel to the place Mbanta in Africa. The missionaries’ leader, Mr. Brown is the one who speaks to the villagers and he tells them different ideas. He says that the gods they believe in are wrong and that polytheism is like worshipping idols. The villagers on the other hand do not understand the concept of one God. Mr. Brown’s goal is to convert the people of Umuofia to Christianity, but he wants to do it without any of his followers arousing hostility with the villagers. Since Mr. brown ends up becoming sick, Reverend James Smith takes his place. He is portrayed as a strict man who lets all the passionate converts who were previously following Mr. Brown’s rules do whatever they wanted they thought was necessary. One of the converts, Enoch, unmasks an egwugwu during a ceremony which is an act equal to killing a spirit of the ancestors.
Since this occurred, the egwugwu burn down Enoch’s home and the church of Reverend Smith. Because of this action, the District Commissioner, asks the leaders of Umuofia to meet. He then throws all the leaders in jail, where they all physically abused. Later, the prisoners are released, and all the clansmen decide to hold a meeting to get rebel against the commission. When Reverend Smith’s men find the clansmen during their meeting, they try to force the villagers to stop. Okonkwo bravely steps up and kills the leader of the messengers, hoping it would fuel a rebellion by the clansmen. The clansmen however, allow the rest of the messengers to escape. This makes Okonkwo realize that his clan did not want to go to war. The District Commissioner soon arrives at Okonkwo’s home, where he finds Okonkwo hanging from the ceiling with a rope around his neck. Obierika then explains that committing suicide is a terrible sin, so none of Okonkwo’s clansmen are permitted to give him a proper burial. The commissioner, unfazed by the suicide says that Okonkwo’s rebellion would be an interesting part of the book he’s writing, called The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.
The book ends with this tragedy. There are many themes presented throughout this book that can be connected to readings we have done in class. The themes that I found in this book after careful analyzation were fate and free will, respect and reputation, sin, fear, religion, masculinity, and justice. All these themes can be found in readings we have done throughout the semester. The first connection of themes that comes into mind is with the short story, Rashomon, by Akira Kurosawa. This story is about a woodcutter, a bandit, a samurai, his wife, and a priest. The woodcutter found the body of a samurai, who was murdered a few days prior. Beneath the gate of the city, the police have a hearing about the murder. The priest brings forth the fact that he saw the samurai traveling with his wife earlier during the day. The woodcutter is present at the hearing and the police bring a bandit, who confessed to the murder. Throughout the story, flashbacks of each person involved in the hearing create many different versions of what took place in the murder. One of the biggest themes found in this story is pride. Akira Kurosawa shows that humans beings are unable to be honest with themselves. This same idea is presented in Things Fall Apart. Chinua Achebe creates Okonkwo a character who is a lot of pride in what he dies and is very full of himself. This is what leads Okonkwo to be the one who killed his adopted son, Ikemefuna.
Instead of staying away from his adopted son’s destined death like he was told to by the elder, Okonkwo didn’t want to show weakness in the heat of the moment when he was surrounded by his men. The guilt and depression that Okonkwo faced was one of the main reasons he ends up killing himself. The theme of pride is shown in Rashomon through all the characters. Each character tells a different version of the story by exaggerating the truth. This makes the characters feel better and more powerful than they are. Tajomaru describes himself as someone who is very masculine and deceiving while the wife says she is the victim of rape and abandonment. The samurai’s ghost says that he was a victim of the wife’s betrayal. Ego or pride is the basis of which each speaker tells their own unique story. It seems like pride is the whole reason why this story was formed. Without the presence of self-pride in each character, the truth would have been revealed to the reader. Another theme connected to pride is the theme of faith in Things Fall Apart. Towards the end of the novel, Okonkwo decides to make a huge choice. As stated earlier before, Okonkwo kills the leader of the Christian messengers in front of his clansmen, hoping they would follow him.
Okonkwo thought he had enough respect to be the one who sparks the rebellion against westernization of Umuofia. Instead, his fellow clansmen let the messengers escape, leading Okonkwo to feeling betrayed by his clansmen. He had worked his whole life gain reputation and respect, and as he was slowly losing these attributes in the falling action events, he became devastated. The idea that he couldn’t trust his own clansmen to follow his lead made him lose faith in his people. His death can be interpreted in two ways, one being that he had so much pride in himself, that he would not conform to the Westernization as the rest of his village was facing. The other interpretation is Okonkwo was defeated by the idea that nobody looked at him as a leader anymore, and him committing suicide, which is a sin in his village, completely strips Okonkwo of the honor and trust he once had. The theme of faith presents itself in Rashomon. In this, the loss of faith is about no longer trusting humans, God, or society. The priest initially says that the samurai’s story might cause him to “lose his faith in the human soul”. The other characters in this story such as the police, begin to view the world as selfish, pessimistic.
It seems as people in this story do not believe in mankind’s ability to be trustworthy or morally right. Another piece of writing that we read in class that can be made connected with Things Fall Apart is the book, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. This book is about a group of troops on the ground fighting in the Vietnam War. They are connected in the terms that both Things Fall Apart and The Things They Carried are both part of the historical fiction genre. Although it is historical fiction, the genre for The Things They Carried is expressed in a different way than it expressed in Things Fall Apart. The Things They Carried is a collection of twenty-two stories recording the author, Tim O’Brien’s, memories as solider in Vietnam. However, the book crosses the line between fiction and fact many times according to the author, but the names used are of real people. Unlike Things Fall Apart, there is no set story with a beginning and end. The collections of stories work together because they all contain the same characters and themes.
The story begins by introducing Tim O’Brien’s platoon leader, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross. Throughout the story we see Jimmy Cross’s love for a girl named Martha who he met in college, the death of Ted Lavender, a soldier in Vietnam, and a story listing what men carried during war. These things that the soldiers carried included supplies, memorable items, tokens of luck, and emotions. One of the stories from this book we focused on in class was “How to Tell a True War Story”. In this piece, O’Brien writes about how true war stories are not righteous and gives us the indication to not believe a story that seems moral. He gives an example of this by telling us about Rat Kiley’s reaction of not receiving email back from a fallen soldier’s sister telling her that her brother is dead. Rat Kiley’s shows frustration and calls the sister a “dumb cooze”. The fallen soldier is revealed to be Curt Lemon, who died while playing catch with a smoke grenade and tripping onto a rigged mortar round. O’Brien then adds that a war story cannot always be believed because the graphic parts are true, and the ordinary parts are made up.
He uses the story Mitchell Sanders told him as an example of story that is impossible to tell. The story is basically about how a group of soldiers had to live in the mountains for a listening operation, but they started hearing people talking at a party and music playing. They called air support and killed everything they found, but still heard noises the same night. Since the noises were still present, they came back to the ground and had no explanations for the sounds. O’Brien goes on to explain that a true war story can’t be separated from the story individually. By this, O’Brien is trying to say a war story isn’t something that can be made general and only is significant if you truly believe it. For example, he says Kiley shot a water buffalo repeatedly and although it was bleeding a lot, it still lived. Tim O’Brien uses this chapter or story to inform readers all the different ways war can be described. He emphasizes the point that war shouldn’t be generalized because you can feel a wide array of emotions from courage to despair or thrill.