The theme of cultural conflict in “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe
In Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart," cultural conflict is a major theme that drives the narrative. Set in pre-colonial Nigeria, the novel follows the life of Okonkwo, a highly respected member of the Igbo tribe, as he grapples with the arrival of European colonizers and the erosion of traditional Igbo culture. Through the portrayal of Okonkwo's struggle to maintain his cultural identity in the face of external pressures, Achebe highlights the complexity of cultural conflict and its lasting impact on individuals and societies.
From the outset of the novel, Achebe establishes the Igbo culture as a complex and vibrant society, with its own customs, traditions, and social hierarchies. Okonkwo, a highly accomplished wrestler and warrior, embodies the ideals of this culture, which values strength, bravery, and masculinity. However, as the novel progresses, we see the arrival of European missionaries, who bring with them their own beliefs and practices, including Christianity and a new economic system.
Achebe portrays the clash between these two cultures through the character of Okonkwo, who finds himself torn between his loyalty to his own cultural traditions and the allure of the new opportunities offered by the colonizers. As he witnesses the gradual erosion of traditional Igbo customs, including the use of ancestral gods and the role of the clan in governing society, Okonkwo becomes increasingly disillusioned and resentful.
One of the most powerful scenes in the novel is the burning of the village's ancestral shrine, which marks a turning point in the Igbo people's relationship with the colonizers. As the villagers watch in horror as their ancestral spirits are consumed by flames, they realize that the colonizers pose a serious threat to their way of life. For Okonkwo, this moment represents the ultimate betrayal of his culture, and he becomes consumed with a desire to resist the colonizers by any means necessary.
Throughout the novel, Achebe uses vivid imagery and symbolism to convey the depth of the cultural conflict. For example, the yam, which is a staple of Igbo culture, serves as a symbol of wealth, power, and masculinity. When Okonkwo's crops are destroyed by a drought, it represents not just a loss of material wealth but a blow to his sense of identity and self-worth. Similarly, the locusts that descend on the village are a symbol of the colonizers' invasion, representing the overwhelming force of external influences that threaten to destroy the Igbo way of life.
Ultimately, Achebe's portrayal of cultural conflict in "Things Fall Apart" highlights the complexity and nuance of this topic. He shows us how cultural conflict can be both an internal struggle, as Okonkwo grapples with his own sense of identity, and an external conflict between different societies and worldviews. Moreover, he illustrates the lasting impact of cultural conflict, as the Igbo people are forced to confront the reality of their changing world and adapt to new circumstances. By doing so, Achebe offers a powerful critique of colonialism and its impact on African societies, while also highlighting the resilience and strength of the human spirit in the face of cultural change.