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Chinua Achebe's novel "Things Fall Apart" is a story that illustrates the effects of a new Christian religion in a tribal village in Africa. It is a well distinguished culture and has a value system that continued for many years as they trace back into their ancestry. However, a conflict arises when the culture suddenly starts to fade and modern tribesmen allow white missionaries to intrude on their system and convert many of the tribe's younger members to the Christian faith. The tribal system eventually falls apart because younger members are not able to remember people of the past or unable to relate to violence when they have lived in safety and peace. They then become uninterested in a faith that does not fulfill their needs for music, joy and love, instead of focusing on the obedience of a higher being.
Okonkwo could remember to another time when children, like his own son, were not lazy. He could also remember the laziness of his own father, Unoka, and that his father had not received any titles as a clansman. He was determined to be a respected farmer of yams to ward off the shame of his unsuccessful and dishonorable father.
"Fortunately, among these people a man was judged by his worth and not according to the worth of his father. Okonkwo was clearly cut out for great things. He was still young but he had won the fame as the greatest wrestler in the nine villages. He was a wealthy farmer and had two barns full of yams, and had just married his third wife. To crown it all he had taken two titles and had shown incredible prowess in two inter-tribal wars" (8).
Okonkwo becomes a man with great strength and personality, achieves his goal to
become rich and famous, a privilege that was unseen before in his family. Age was also an extremely important and greatly valued among his people, but success was honored. "As the elders said, if a child washed his hands he could eat with kings. Okonkwo had clearly washed his hands and so he ate with kings and elders" (8). This was Okonkwo's drive in life and so he remained successful and worked twice as hard to prove to others that he was not the same man as his father. Unfortunately, this was not a mutual feeling in the clan, and Okonkwo, in trying to make up for his father's mistakes, took on the responsibilities of an older man as a young boy which led to him having the mindset of an elder in the community.
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Okonkwo's son, Nwoye, definitely did not have the same work ethic and was not working to prove his manhood to the rest of the village. So, for Okonkwo to expect hard work ethics from his son by nature was not realistic, because Okonkwo's work ethic was without doubt not one of an inherited result either. It certainly does not help when Ikemefuna moves in with them because Okonkwo sees quite a bit of himself in him, which makes Nwoye seem even less of a hard worker. This work ethic however, is an essential value in the community and when younger members of the generation do not feel that they are responsible for the tribe's lasting existence; they may not feel that taking part in the village life is needed. Then again, Okonkwo's work ethic is much stronger than the normal that is necessary for the tribe to continue to do well. As a result, leads to Okonkwo beating Nwoye for only giving the minimum amount of work expected of him. Perhaps Nwoye turns to Christianity because he feels that, in his tribe, he is looked at as a failure. Maybe he feels that he would not be an adequate member and would not be able to meet the standards necessary for the tribe to succeed, therefore turning to the missionaries who were accepting of everyone, even those who had been officially exiled from the village.
Okonkwo's father was always optimistic and even though he had been lazy; he assured his son that he would succeed in life. "Do not despair. I know you will not despair. You have a manly and a proud heart. A proud heart can survive a general failure because such a failure does not prick its pride. It is more difficult and more bitter when a man fails alone (24-25). However it is easy to see that in washing his hands entirely of his father's ways, Okonkwo also washed away the values of compassion, supporting the ones near to him and the love to take time out and relax.
In the book we saw that there are times when Nwoye would like to hear stories. He likes stories about life and the moral lessons they can offer him to keep himself from making the same types of mistakes. Okonkwo likes him to listen to stories of war and of fear, "[m]asculine stories of violence and bloodshed" (53), the blood of his past and of his ancestors. "Nwoye knew that it was right to be masculine and to be violent, but somehow he still preferred the stories that his mother used to tell, and which she no doubt still told to her younger children" (53). This type of violence had not occurred during the children's time in the village. Fighting for their lives and village was a thing of the past, extreme measures that were taken by their ancestors to hold on to and cherish. It was something that the children could not relate to and were unable to find interest in. It is more likely that like Nwoye, many children preferred the stories told by their mothers. These stories based on events in real life were something that every child could relate to within his or her life. They were able to find reason and meaning and link the moral lessons to the events they would take in their own lives as they grew up.
Jesus often taught his disciples through parables in Christianity. They were stories that were simple to follow because they were based on everyday events in peoples' lives. They were not necessarily factual stories and were never about war or violence to convey the message of courage. These are probably the stories that Nwoye and other children seemed to relate to more closely and is most likely one of the many aspects of Christianity that the people, including Nwoye, would come to love and believe in strengthening their faith in the Christian God.
There is also the idea that the younger generation, having never met their belligerent ancestors, and experiencing only passive lives in harmony with nature would automatically look to Christianity for the loving support it provides. Okonkwo and those of his time worked to please their gods in order to survive. For instance, there is an annual feast of offering to Ani, the goddess of the earth. The eldest, a man of course, would break kola nuts in order to give thanks to his ancestors before they would enjoy in their own meal. In giving thanks to their ancestors the people would also pray and ask the gods to fulfill their prayers. Uhendu, Okonkwo's uncle, does this before the final feast in leaving his motherland to return to his own society in Umuofia after seven years of exile.
"The oldest member of his extensive family was Okwonko's uncle, Uchendu. The kola nut was given to him to break, and he prayed to the ancestors. He asked them for health and children... He then broke the kola nut and threw one of the lobes on the ground for the ancestors" (165). It was necessary to offer a man's best to the gods. In Christianity, this same belief occurs as the priest sacrifices his offering of bread and wine to God in remembrance that there is a supreme ruler. Also in Christianity, followers are expected to support and honor their church, and ultimately their God.
However, Christianity's God is not a mystifying, untouchable being like the gods in Umuofia. The Christian God is a father who rules totally, but with a loving touch over his people. He listens to their needs and answers their prayers. He accepts all people unlike the villagers of Umuofia who were told that it was the gods' will to exile people for their mistakes. Therefore, many of the younger villagers in search of love and safety, and those who returned from exile, were much in favor of this new religion and so they followed the white missionaries. These missionaries were solely intending on converting the villagers so that they could organize them into a government and conquer the people quietly in the name of the Queen.
Thus, it was the white missionaries who caused the fall of Umuofia and not religion. Religion was just a tool they used to shake those who had already lost faith in their clan and their own personal worth within the clan. As a result, when the missionaries took the faith that tied them to their clan, the faith in their gods, the villagers quickly gave up their possessions to follow this loving, accepting way of life that the clan had denied them.