The novel Things Fall Apart explores the tragic story of a hero within the rich and cultured society of the Igbo tribes. Chinua Achebe delves into various aspects of the Igbo culture prior to the arrival of white missionaries, highlighting the consequences that ensue when these norms clash. As the story progresses, readers witness events that contribute to the disintegration of Igbo society.
Main Themes in Things Fall Apart
1. Theme of Gender and Muscularity
One of the central themes in the novel is the significance and superiority attributed to the male gender within Igbo culture. The importance of muscularity is emphasized, as men who lack physical strength are labeled "agbala," which translates to "woman." This fear of being perceived as weak haunts Okonkwo, as he associates masculinity with aggression and believes that anger is the only emotion a strong man should display. Consequently, he frequently resorts to beating his children and wives to instill strength.
In contrast to Okonkwo's rigid beliefs, Obierika, a thoughtful character, refuses to participate in the killing of Ikemefuna, displaying a more flexible mindset. The contrasting perspectives highlight the complexities surrounding gender roles and the rigid expectations placed upon men in Igbo society.
2. Father vs. Son
The novel explores the dichotomy between fathers and sons, focusing on the contrasting relationships between Unoka and Okonkwo, as well as Okonkwo and his own son, Nwoye. Unoka, Okonkwo's father, is a man who rejects warfare and violence, instead embracing art, music, and leisure. In stark contrast, Okonkwo embodies the ideals of a warrior and rejects anything associated with his father's "unmanly" ways.
A similar contrast emerges between Okonkwo and Nwoye. Nwoye rejects his father's rigid beliefs and traditions, ultimately joining the white missionaries. Okonkwo's shame is compounded by the realization that he himself is an anomaly in relation to both Unoka and Nwoye, highlighting the generational conflicts and changes within the Igbo society.
3. Flexibility vs. Rigidity
The clash between flexibility and rigidity is a prevalent theme throughout the novel. Okonkwo's unwavering rigidity and refusal to adapt ultimately contribute to his tragic fate, even prior to the arrival of European missionaries. The introduction of a new culture serves to hasten the disintegration of Okonkwo's world.
Conversely, characters like Obierika demonstrate flexibility and open-mindedness. Obierika opposes violence, displaying a willingness to negotiate and adapt to change. His contrasting perspective highlights the potential for resilience and survival in the face of societal shifts.
4. Resistance of Cultural Change
Things Fall Apart delves into the impact of change on individuals and society. The novel depicts the tensions arising from the clash between traditional Igbo culture and the intrusion of European influences. Okonkwo staunchly resists the religious and political norms brought by the Europeans, fearing that embracing them would compromise his own sense of masculinity. Okonkwo's resistance stems from a fear of losing societal status, as his worth is tied to traditional standards.
Meanwhile, converts to the new culture experience an elevated status, exemplifying the allure of the opportunities presented by the missionaries. The novel portrays the internal struggle of many villagers caught between preserving tradition and embracing change.
5. Theme of Fear
Fear plays a significant role in the story, shaping the tragic downfall of Okonkwo and impacting various characters throughout the novel. Okonkwo's fear of weakness and failure, inherited from his lazy and disgraceful father, dominates his life. While Okonkwo possesses great courage, his fear prevents him from displaying vulnerability.
Other characters also grapple with fear. Ekwefi fears losing her daughter due to previous losses, resulting in a heightened sense of protectiveness. Nwoye fears his father's wrath and joins the white missionaries to escape it. Fear drives characters to behave in negative ways, potentially incurring the wrath of the gods and societal disapproval.
6. Complexity of Igbo Culture
The novel explores the intricate nature of Igbo culture, showcasing its customs, traditions, and complexities. Achebe delves into various aspects, including social and family rituals, justice codes, food production, marriage customs, religious beliefs, supernatural practices, shared leadership, and opportunities for personal success based on individual effort.
Through its portrayal of Igbo culture, Things Fall Apart highlights the rich tapestry of customs and traditions that shape the society. The complexity and conflicts within this culture become a backdrop against which the events of the novel unfold.