`` Things Fall Apart `` By Chinua Achebe

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The fin de siècle was a period of rapid change in Europe, with new technologies that increased contact between Europe and other continents like Africa. Europe’s subsequent Scramble for Africa was justified by new sciences and theories, such as social Darwinism and degeneration. However, both the justifications for imperialism and the act itself often ignored native voices. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (TFA) provides an African view on imperialism; although his novel appears to support some of the justifications for imperialism, the book ultimately rebuts these by showing how harmful imperialism was to Africans. During the fin de siècle, Darwin’s theory of evolution claimed that humans descended from primitive ancestors and evolution did not have a direction (Darwin). Racial scientists took this to mean that some humans were further evolved, and that the white man had superior mental faculties (Wallace, in Armstrong 222). TFA seems to reflect this idea. Okonkwo is “huge,” “bushy,” with “heavy” breathing and a walk that makes it seem like “he [is] going to pounce on somebody” (Achebe 3). He is animalistic and savage; he beats his wives for small infractions and his family lives in “perpetual fear” of his temper (Achebe 21, 9). However, Achebe’s Africans are neither savage nor any less evolved than the white men. The villagers scorn Okonkwo’s violence and short temper, condemning his breaking of the Week of Peace and his disdain for lesser-titled men (Achebe 22). In fact, Umofians value “civilized” arts like speech and music as highly as “barbaric” ones like wrestling and war (Achebe 5). The complex language system reflects the level of mental development; certain concepts like chi are so complicated that Achebe cannot translat... ... middle of paper ... ...ces like the Africans (Kidd, in Armstrong 229). Yet, as seen in TFA, the realities of imperialism were much more ambiguous. Imperialists like Mr. Brown were benevolent, though not necessarily beneficial. Likewise, not all Africans were victims or saw imperialism as a negative development. Imperialism benefitted certain Africans like Nwoye and the osu. In the end, Achebe’s message about imperialism is best summed up by Obierka’s observation: “[the white man] does not even speak our tongue [.] But he says that our customs are bad” (Achebe 124). TFA shows that one of the main reasons imperialism was so harmful to the natives is the sometimes unintentional, sometimes deliberate lack of understanding of by the Europeans. Because they assumed that Africans were incomprehensible and inherently different, they decided that Africans needed outside help to become “civilized.”

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