In Things Fall Apart, Achebe shows the ruthlessness of the missionaries in pursuit of new converts. Domestic support for the missions depended in large measure upon the tangible success of their preaching, ''success'' being reflected in the numbers of conversions. This relentless focus on "success" caused the "cultural rape" of the people of Umuofia.
Achebe even hints at their use of bribery and blackmail in their endeavours. He tells us, ''the white missionary had set up a school to teach young Christians to read and write'' (126). The inference is clearly that the unconverted heathens were not given this opportunity. Yet bearing in mind the orality of Nigerian culture, the apparent pointlessness of learning to read and write is exposed. This is indicative of the move away from Nigerian pre-colonial orature, towards a more Eurocentric culture.
Gerald Moore has stated in Seven African Writers that Achebe's goal in writing Things Fall Apart was to recapture ''the life of his tribe before the first touch of the white man sent it reeling from its delicate equilibrium'' (58). This is central to an understanding of the novel. Right from the tribes' first encounter with the whites, the reader observes it being unchangeably altered.
It is the coming of the missionaries which brings the disruption. After thousands of years of unviolated and untouched tribal existence, Okonkwo returns after just seven years of exile to find his village almost unrecognisable. Similarly, his fellow clan members seem unwilling to recognise him. Instead, ''the new religion and government and trading stores were very much in the people's eyes and minds ... they talked and t...
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...ind a substitute for slaves. Yet they cannot reconcile themselves with white intrusion and indirect rule through a District Officer. Perhaps the reason for this ambiguity and uncertainty lies in the difficulty in finding a language or a voice for expressing and describing white intervention. Such was the clash of cultures involved in the colonisation of Nigeria that even the language had to alter to accommodate it. In many cases, this alteration brought about a silencing of native dialects, and a loss of indigenous voice. This is potently reflected towards the close of the novel with Achebe's assertion that ''even now they have not found the mouth with which to tell of their suffering'' (Things Fall Apart, 145), an issue keenly raised in Spivak's essay ''Can the Subaltern Speak?''.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Anchor Books. New York: 1959.
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