Evil in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart

Evil in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart

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Evil in Things Fall Apart


Throughout the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the reader feels evil. Evil is a concept that is hard to define. The dictionary defines it as " morally bad; wicked" (Funk & Wagnalls 220). But is the definition of evil really as simple as that? Many would say that there is more to defining evil than just a few words. Evil can also be defined by a culture. If one were to study various cultures around the world, he or she would discover that each culture has a different way of defining evil. Even world politics sometimes plays a role in defining evil. But one's personal definition seems to have the most impact on what one thinks is evil.


Theology has played a strong role in defining evil for thousands of years. The Bible teaches Christians that Satan is evil, and not to follow his teachings. Evil as a concept in Christianity developed in the third and fourth centuries. During that time, St. Augustine determined that "Evil is the privation, or absence, of good, as darkness is the absence of light." (Funk&Wagnalls19) In modern times, theology has had a difficult time defending the existence of God in light of the many atrocities that have occurred in the last 100 years, such as the Holocaust, World War II, the Vietnam War, and the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. As a result, theology is now having to redefine what evil is.

Cultures and politics among cultures have a way of defining evil for their own inhabitants. The Europeans who visited the Ibo culture in Things Fall Apart viewed many of the customs that the natives practiced as evil or barbaric or primitive. The Ibo concept of the "Evil Forest" was one of them. It was something that each village had and "In it were buried all those who died of the really evil diseases, like leprosy and smallpox." (Achebe 148) Another belief held by the tribe in the novel is that if a woman has children, and each dies under "evil" circumstances, then she is under attack by an evil tormentor. The remedy to this problem is to " Let her not sleep in her hut. Let her go and stay with her people. In that way she will elude her wicked tormentor and break its evil cycle of birth and death" (Achebe 77).

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Another custom practiced by the clan is the killing of twins after they are born. All of the above mentioned customs could be labeled evil, and they were by the Europeans that came to Africa to colonize during the time period that this novel takes place.


In turn, the natives saw the European culture and religion as invasive and parasitic. Some of the natives willfully converted to Christianity, but " There were still many who saw these new institutions as evil..." (Achebe 183). The natives found many of the European customs to be contrary to their own, and labeled them evil. In more recent times, entire nations view each other as evil. For several decades the United States and the Soviet Union viewed each other as evil. The United States determined that the Soviet people were not free, and that deprivation of freedom was evil. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, saw the U.S. as a capitalist nation of which greed had totally consumed. The American view on the Soviet Union reached its climax when President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union the "Evil Empire." Each of these views is valid, but are the United States and the Soviet Union really evil?


     The most influential definition of evil on an individual is the one that the individual devises for himself or herself. What really makes evil an ambiguous concept is the fact that people define evil in different ways. Certain groups of people believe that Adolf Hitler's slaughter of 6 millions Jewish people was not evil. Some people felt the United States' participation in the Vietnam War was evil, and they labeled American troops as baby killers and the like. Many people believe that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were evil youths when the shot and killed 13 of their fellow students at Columbine High School, even when many of the victims begged for their lives to be spared. Most people's definition of evil comes from the religion they practice, and the values they hold.


With all the ways that evil can defined, what is evil? Theology, culture, politics, and the individual all offer different definitions. It would seem that the only way for a person to understand and define evil is to take the cultural definitions, and the religious definitions and create their own definition that fits their own unique perspective of the world in which they live. If you take the word evil, and spell it backwards, you get the word live. The debate on what is evil seems to boil down to just one simple thing. It is just a matter of perspective.

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