Chinua Achebe Things Fall Apart
Things Fall Apart is the story of a proud man’s inglorious fall. The novel has universal appeal. Almost every culture’s literature has produced a similar tale. It is the story of an ordinary man who had to live through extraordinary circumstances, only to give up at the very end out of fear and frustration.
Umuofia may be regarded almost as a large, self-contained village, held together because of the clan’s strict adherence to its religion and laws. It is pride that brings its people together. With remarkable economy and simplicity of language, Achebe describes the fragmentation of this ancient culture and the alienation suffered by its people due to colonization. Umuofia, which means “People of the Forest”, is a town comprising of nine separate villages, feared by all its neighbors, as many of its clansmen are brave warriors
Almost every society has a strong cultural and religious tradition. Umuofia is no different. All the villages of Umuofia are governed by the Edwugwu and everyone worships the same gods. They celebrate various occasions together coming from afar to be with their relatives. They also mourn various losses in each other’s company. It is this that sets Umuofia apart from other towns. All its villages are bound by the same ancient code and not one of them functions differently.
We notice how proud the protagonist Okonkwo and his clansmen are of Umuofia. In fact, pride is the most visible trait that most men display. Other emotions are concealed even from their own wives and children. Overly emotional men are considered weak and unworthy.
In many ways, the society is a cruel and harsh one. A man’s pride depends on his status among his peers. He must necessarily take a number of titles in order to be respected by his friends. Otherwise he is considered an agbala or a woman. The people are often at the mercy of a number of gods and must try not to offend them or pay heavily for their impudence. It is the fear of unknown and unknowable gods that makes people respect the traditions of Umuofia.
The primary occupation of Umuofia is farming. Every year, before the harvest begins, the people pay obeisance to Ani, the Earth Goddess and the ancestral spirits of the clan during the Feast of the New Yam. It is ironic that a female figure should be feared by the clan because ordinarily they consider women inferior to men. We also see that men are almost defined by how much crop their lands yield every year.
Umuofia is essentially a patriarchal society. A woman helps her husband with his work during the planting and the harvest season. Her place at all other times is in the home and she is expected to look after her children by herself. A husband very rarely lends a hand in the rearing of his offspring. However, he must learn to control his wives and children. This is made apparent by Okonkwo’s treatment of his wives. He makes them submit to his will by beating them.
A man is allowed to marry several times. Sometimes women also have a say when it comes to choosing a husband-Okonkwo’s second wife Ekwefi runs away from her first husband to be with him. However, the way in which the clan arranges a marriage is degrading to women. Wives are bought by their husbands and belong to them, along with any children they may bear in the future. A woman’s family may continue to protect her after her marriage. However, there is a tacit agreement among the men that the only way to make a woman submissive is to beat her.
This is evidenced in the trial of Uzowulu against his wife Mgbafo. After hearing the case, the Edwugwu merely advise Uzowulu to go to his in-laws with a pot of wine and ask his wife to return home. “It is not bravery when a man fights with a woman,” they tell him. The matter is settled there. Uzowulu is not punished for beating his wife on a regular basis. Nor do they guarantee that Mgbafo will not be abused by her husband in the future. Their decision seeks to preserve Uzowulu’s pride, not Mgbafo’s safety. .
Many decisions regarding the well being of the people are taken by the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves. The clan is not given to hasty or impetuous decisions. They deliberate over every move and act only after having consulted with Agbala, the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves. The Oracle’s word is law. Agbala is feared by everybody. Women are not even allowed to be in his presence, in spite of the fact that Chielo, a woman is the priestess of the Oracle’s shrine.
Yet, some of the decisions made by the Oracle are questionable. This becomes evident when the death of Ikemefuna is ordered. It could be said that the priestess Chielo decided to have the boy killed because she wanted to teach Okonkwo a lesson for beating his wife Ekwefi. Her verdict, in some way, could have lead Okonkwo on the road to perdition. So even though women seem powerless, Chielo’s position as priestess gives them some power over the men.
The people have their own judicial system to settle disputes among themselves. Trials are presided over by nine Edwugwu each of who represent a village. The Edwugwu each impersonate an ancestral spirit and therefore all their decisions are the result of divine inspiration. They cannot be questioned because that would offend the ancestors of the clan. However, the Edwugwu are also not entirely impartial, as we have already seen in the case of Mgbafo and her husband Uzowulu.
In spite of these discrepancies, the people continue to place their faith in the laws put down by their forefathers. It is only after the colonization of Umuofia that the final breakdown of the society begins. It starts when many begin to embrace Christianity and repudiate their own gods. It sows the seeds of doubt in the minds of others and with this comes a loss of pride in their own traditions. This is the final blow and inevitably leads to the downfall of the entire clan of Umuofia.
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