Main Themes of Things Fall Apart

Main Themes of Things Fall Apart

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Things Fall Apart

It is hard to imagine being invaded and forced to change virtually all of our ways by a foreign nation. Unfortunately for the Ibo society, imperialism was forced upon them. All they could do was sit back and watch as the English changed all aspects of their life. Everything from religion to family life was changed by imperialism. The title, Things Fall Apart, suits the book very well because that is essentially what happened to the Umuofia village. The cultural traditions of Umuofia eventually fell apart. The main points of focus in Things Fall Apart are life inside the Ibo tribe, the struggle of one man’s desire to succeed, and imperialism.
During part one of the story, Achebe takes the reader through the daily lives of the Ibo people. The reader is exposed to different aspects of Ibo culture like the role of women in society and the process of growing food. The role of women in the Ibo tribe was very specific and minimal. When a man wanted to marry a woman, he had to pay the bride price to her relatives only if they accepted him. “My daughter’s suitor is coming today and I hope we will clinch the matter of the bride-price” (Achebe 65). This is from a conversation between Okonkwo and a friend. Women were given virtually no rights and their only purpose was to give birth, cook, and clean. Women had no say in tribe meetings and never allowed to talk back to their husbands. The agriculture of the Ibo society was also a main focus in Things Fall Apart. Yams were the main nourishment through every meal and they called these yams "the king of crops." Furthermore, people used the yams for every traditional celebration and used kola nuts to offer their "chi" or personal god. These foods, as Achebe had described, were sometimes related to or involved with the religion or ancestral spirits of the Ibo tribe.
The main character of this book, Okonkwo, is a truly hardworking and ambitious man, but these characteristics are mainly driven by hatred and resentment for his father. His father was a lazy man who held no title in society and owed many debts. In fear of ending up like his father, Okonkwo makes a concerted effort to work hard and earn respect among his peers.

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Okonkwo earned respect through his farming and wrestling. "His fame rested on personal achievements. As a young man of eighteen he had brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat...Okonkwo was as slippery as a fish in water" (Achebe 1). Despite all of his personal achievements, things begin to go downhill for Okonkwo as the book goes on. He is banished from the tribe for seven years for a terrible accident caused by him and it was during this time imperialism begins. Okonkwo returns only to find his tribe overrun by the English. Okonkwo was a troubled character with a fear of failure and an inability to control his anger and swallow his pride. He was so focused on success he failed to realize his own personal flaws. This is what ultimately led to his demise. Okonkwo is outraged to find out that even his own son Nwoye is taken in by the new religion being introduced to his tribe. This is when Okonkwo’s anger gets the best of him and he kills the district commissioner. When he finds out no one is in support of him, he commits suicide. Okonkwo can be considered a tragic hero driven by the fear of failure and also the fear of change.
When the white missionaries came to colonize the Ibo tribe, many believed that they would not stay long. Christianity, among other things, was forced upon the tribe. However, some of the natives were not opposed to this new religion and found it rather intriguing. Others were pressured into converting to Christianity. The interesting thing about European imperialism during this time is that the Ibo culture did not lack religion and structure before the white missionaries came. In fact, their religion was quite intricate and they believed in a number of gods. Also, in Umuofia there was a democratic system of government with no one ruler and a complex system by which people could gain political power through economic success. The people of Umuofia were not as savage as the Europeans perceived them to be. They had their own currency, a structured government, and religion. In other words, the Ibo had a thriving culture and economy in pre-colonial Umuofia. However, they did not possess the military power or technology needed to stop the white missionaries.
Things Fall Apart does a very good job of showing what life was like in Africa during imperialism. In a very short time, major changes to the Ibo way of life took place. The new religion that was forced upon the natives made the claim that all men are created equal yet the missionaries viewed them as uncivilized and sub-human. The European desire for social and economic dominance is displayed in Things Fall Apart. Traditional family and religious values were lost when the missionaries came. Achebe shows the reader what effects these had through the character, Okonkwo. He would rather kill himself than be killed by his self-proclaimed enemy, which is exactly what he did. Things Fall Apart is a tale of tragedy and the despair of a fallen hero.
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