Things Fall Apart Culture Clash Essay

In looking at culture clash in Achebe's Things Fall Apart, we will focus mainly on the late portions of the novel (from Chapter Fifteen to the novel's end). In this section of the narrative, missionaries arrive and undertake a mission of Christian salvation and colonization. English governmental bodies are also brought to bear in the region.

First, the whites appear as a rumor, talked about in a "woeful story." Described as "riding an iron horse," the first white man encountered is feared because he appears so different. Village elders in Abame consulted their Oracle, which told them "the strange man would break their clan and spread destruction among them." The men of Abame then killed the white man due to the Oracle's prediction. Not long after that killing, white men arrive in Abame with guns and effectively wipe out the village. 

As evidence of culture clash, this episode presents a stark initial conflict between two peoples with little understanding of one another (and little interest in developing any understanding). 

Pointing out more details of culture clash, we can look at how Okonkwo's son, Nwoye, is severed from his family by the missionaries and their religion. 

"It was not the mad logic of the Trinity that captivated him. He did not understand it. It was the poetry of the new religion, something felt in the marrow." 

Nwoye joins the Christians, adopting their religion and separating himself from his family.

This turn of events can be seen as an indirect product of the conflict expressly created by the missionaries that sought to turn the Ibo away from their traditional religion and to forget their gods. The missionaries preach that there is no compromise possible and that their views are the only valid views. To join them is to cast off one's history if one is of the Ibo people and culture. At least, this is how the missionaries are introduced and/or how they introduce themselves upon arriving in Mbanta-- seeking to save the local people by turning them away from a native religion. 

Nwoye's decision to leave his home is also helped by Okonkwo's anger, which is both part of his character generally and part of a specific and focused response to the colonist mission in Mbanta. 

The missionaries build a house in a forbidden region, demonstrating a lack of understanding of local taboos. They also receive outcasts (osu) as members of the church community. As the Christians and their converts continue to demonstrate a lack of concern for the Ibo customs and taboos, they are ostracized from the clan, a move that briefly creates an overt clash between the two cultures, putting them at odds with one another. 

Later, when Mr. Smith takes the place of Mr. Brown, a woman is hanged for allowing her husband to mutilate their dead child according to customs that allowed the bodies of dead children to be treated in this way "to discourage it from returning." Smith's response is to say that "Those who believed such stories were unworthy of the Lord's table" and to have the woman "suspended" from the church. 

As the missionaries and the foreign governments that accompanied them become entrenched, the tribes begin to lose cohesion. 

"The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart."

This speech from Obierka communicates one of the most important effects of the colonization program instituted against local customs and in opposition to traditional laws and cultural beliefs. While the missionaries who arrive in Umuofia and Mbante may be well-intentioned according to their own consciences, they are nonetheless pursuing a program of antagonism whose aim is to undo native traditions and cultures. 

Obierka explains that a man, Aneto, is hanged because he acts on traditional customs that have been overturned by a white court that has received payment and support from a local family. The suggestion of self-interest and corruption implied here serves to negatively characterize the mission of the colonist occupiers in the region. Also, this episode demonstrates a basic conflict that exists when two codes of law are being enforced in the same area/village.  

The clash of cultures can be seen as a conflict of interests in the novel as the fundamental interests of the colonizing peoples is to undermine the integrity of local traditions and cultures so that they can be replaced by European and/or Christian institutions of government and of faith. 

For more information on Achebe and his life, check out this interview:

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Things Fall Apart was written by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe in the twentieth century. It is seen as the typical modern African novel in English. It was first published in 1958 by William Heinemann Ltd in the UK in 1962. The title of the novel comes from William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming”. Achebe was born in 1930. Achebe mostly writes his novels in English as Igbo language was hard to understand as this language originated from various types of dialects. This essay will discuss the clash of cultures the Igbo community faces with the coming of the

British colonizers and Christian missionaries in the novel Things Fall Apart. Set in pre-colonial Nigeria in the 1890s, Things Fall Apart highlights the clash between colonialism and traditional culture. Achebe’s father was among the first to be converted in Ogidi, around the turn of the century. Achebe himself was an orphan raised by his grandfather. Things Fall Apart deals with how the prospect and reality of change affect various characters. The tension about whether change should be confidential over tradition in the patriarchal society ften involved questions of personal status. Okonkwo, for example, struggles with the new political and religious orders generated by the Europeans because he felt that they are not manly and that he himself will not be manly if he tends to join or tolerate them. To some extent, Okonkwo’s condemnation of cultural change is also due to his fear of losing social status. His sense of self-worth is dependent upon the traditional standards by which the society judges him. Another example would be when Okonkwo returns from exile, he does not adapt to the change brought in by the colonizers.

In fact his disapproval of western culture leads him to suicide. On one side Okonkwo is being presented as a strong character by attaining his culture, but on the other hand he was a coward leading himself to suicide. So the clash of culture brought tensions in the Igbo society The villagers in general are also caught between resisting and embracing change and they face the dilemma of trying to determine how best they could adapt to the reality of change. Many of the villagers were excited about the new opportunities and techniques that the missionaries rought. This western influence, however, threatens to quench the need for the change of traditional methods of farming, harvesting, building, and cooking. These traditional methods, where it was once essential for survival, were now to some extent, unnecessary to the Igbo people as the new technologies were invented by the whites which also included education. Throughout the novel, Achebe shows how dependent such traditions are upon storytelling and language and thus how quickly the rejection of the Igbo language for English could lead to the uppression of these traditions. In Things Fall Apart, western culture is portrayed as being “arrogant and ethnocentric”. Language is also a sign of culture clash in the novel. Language is an important theme in Things Fall Apart on several levels. In indicating the original and often formal language of the Igbo, Achebe emphasizes that Africa was not the silent or confusing island. Rather, by scattering the novel with Igbo words, Achebe shows that the Igbo language is too complex for direct translation into English.

Similarly, Igbo culture cannot be understood within the framework of European colonialist values. Achebe also points out that Africa has many different languages: the villagers of Umuofia, for example, make fun of Mr. Brown’s translator because his language is slightly different from their own. To write his novel in English language also depicts that as the culture of Igbo society was washed of by the whites the language also changed. Hence, this essay has discussed the clash of cultures on Igbo society due to colonization and how the characters were affected by such changes.

Author: Brandon Johnson

in Things Fall Apart

things fall apart clash of culture

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