Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart - The Downfall of the Ibo

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One of Chinua Achebe’s goals in Things Fall Apart is to portray Ibo culture

vividly and honestly. Unlike European perspectives of the Africans – such as Conrad’s

Heart of Darkness – Achebe’s representation explains intricate customs, rituals, and laws

and develops individual characters. Things Fall Apart shows Ibo society to be fully

functioning and full of life. However, Achebe maintains his objectivity and avoids

giving the Ibo any undue sympathy, painting some of their customs – such as the

mandatory abandonment of infant twins – in a questionable light. While it is easy for us

– especially in this age of political correctness and multiculturalism – to place upon the

white man all the blame for the downfall of the Ibo, Achebe does not make the situation

so simple. In fact, it is the acquiescence of his comrades, not the intrusion of the

Europeans, which eventually causes Okonkwo to take his own life. Thus, it is difficult to

place the Ibo and the white men into traditional categories of good and evil, for each

exhibits positive and negative qualities. Although the Ibo certainly possessed a lively,

stable society before the Europeans arrived, their internal struggles contributed to their

own demise.


Throughout the novel, Achebe offers detailed illustrations of the richness of Ibo

culture. Many episodes do not directly advance the plot, but rather serve to provide

examples of this culture. One of the most significant signs of the development of Ibo

culture is its system of laws and justice. A whole chapter describes the proceedings as

egwugwu (important clansmen who dress as village ancestors) determine the verdict in a

wife-beating case (87). The villagers are not stupid enough to believe...

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...ld do if the missionaries brought military

reinforcements. In any case, if Ibo society can be compared to a tragic hero, its irrational

beliefs would be its tragic flaw. It was these beliefs which directly alienated members of

society, such as Nwoye, Nneka, and the osu, and created a rift within the Ibo. While such

beliefs and customs are certainly evidence of the depth of Ibo culture, their irrational

basis could not withstand the white man’s defiance of them, as shown by the church’s

survival in the Evil Forest. Ironically, it is these beliefs – the presence of a social

structure, the development of a religion – which not only show the richness of Ibo

culture, but also lead to its downfall.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.” An Introduction to Literature. Terry, Joseph. New York, NY: Longman, 2001.
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