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This master piece by Achebe, Things Fall Apart, depicts a society with a primitive lifestyle. With an unbiased point of view, he narrates and calls everything as he sees it through his novel. Igbo culture, like any other culture had to grapple with tremendous changes that the wave of colonialism came with. The outcome of the Igbo cultural system was dependent on how they welcomed these changes that swept across the African content, Nigeria included. The reaction of a culture was dependent on the value system that they upheld.
The Igbo was a cultural society that was characterized by male dominance during the pre-colonial era as evidenced by the fact that the story revolves around male characters. As the plot of the story unravels, it is very difficult to find a female character associated with prominence. More often than not when female characters are mentioned, they are either sexual partners, priests, cooks or a nanny for the children. The female character was a possession of the domineering male character. As a result, a consideration of how three characters, Okonkwo, Obiereka and Nwoye’s reactions to the value system of their culture will be instrumental on how Achebe criticizes the Igbo culture.
Okonkwo reveals himself to be a staunch believer of the Igbo value system and culture. He exudes a faith that reaffirms his convictions to the societal standards and is selfless just to prove that he is a genuine tribesman. Okonkwo is not an isolated character in this regard since many other male characters were forced to conform to these cultural values in order to fit the societal jigsaw. This spirit coerced many in the Umuofia community to act contrary to their emotions and rationale just to please their society. This dogmatic attitude crippled the reasoning of many an Igbo tribesman.
A case in point of this cultural practice is the cold blood murder of Ikemefuna who was an alien from a neighboring village living as a slave in Okonkwo’s house. Over the years, he developed a strong bond with this family particularly with Okonkwo and Nwoye. Okonkwo seemed to be like a father to him who reduced the grief he had now that he had been separated from his sister and mother. Ikemefuna exuded a spirit and character that won the Okonkwo’s affection. However, Okonkwo never wanted to display such emotions as he thought that this would make him look weak. This stance that he held inhibited him from rejecting a decision to kill Ikemefuna made by Umuofia based on the “Oracle of the Hills and the Caves”.
Okonkwo’s obliges to go with the village men who are mandated to execute Ikemefuna; Okonkwo participates in the murder of Ikemefuna in the forest since “he was afraid of being thought”. This is a typical example of how the culture of the Igbo paralyzed reasoning in order to conform to the societal standards.
All this did not go down with Nwoye as it proved to be turn of events and the way he perceived things. Okonkwo’s absence from Umuofia (seven years of exile in Mbata) was followed by the entry of a people strange to Umuofia, the white men. Straight away, the white men started assimilating the Igbo through their new practices and religion. A section of the Igbo welcomed the white man’s lifestyle while the majority disdainfully refuted them. Nwoye though was fascinated by the hymns and poems rather than the theology and rationalism of the new religion. All the questions he had grappled with like the execution of Ikemefuna and several other inhumane cultural practices of the Igbo were seemingly getting answered by these new believes injected by the white men.
Okonkwo’s return from exile was met with a big surprise. The fact that his son through whom he could see his father was had embraced these new lines of thinking enraged him big time. On hearing that Nwoye, his eldest son was seen among the church congregants, he responded he violently beat him with a stick and choked him out of his breath. This iron fist rule was Okonkwo’s modus operandi in straightening his family since earlier on; he had handled Ekwefi, his second wife in a similar manner. These events highlight how Okonkwo domineered his family, a typical practice among the Igbo.
In addition, the Igbo culture was characterized by intolerance. Even though they allowed the white men to construct churches, they shunned them, more so those Igbo people who embraced different opinions such as the ones that were being sold by the white men. Their tolerance of the white people might have been because they thought that their deity would demolish them as societal ‘outcasts’ or the fear of the white men that crept in them.
Obiereka, A third character to be considered for the purposes of this essay was an intimate friend of the Okonkwo’s. He displays a clear thought which relatively more rational than a majority of the Igbo men. However, the actions of Obiereka, rather than speak in favor of him, discredits him. The marriage of his daughter happens according to the cultural tradition since she has no voice in choosing her marriage partner. This shows how women are portrayed as property to be owned in the Igbo culture. By paying the bride price, the woman remains at the whims of her husband thus disenfranchising them in the society.