Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart

A Report by Joanna D.

Spring ’10

Things Fall Apart is a metaphor for how the customs and attitudes that made Nigeria strong were instrumental in her collapse. They not only made her inflexible, but they repulsed her descendants. Even as weak past contributed toward her prideful attitudes, Nigeria’s prideful attitudes alienated her sons and destroyed her future. Thus, when the white man appeared she had neither the strength of resolve to drive them away nor the patience to negotiate with them.

Okonkwo is a great farmer in a Nigerian village. Okonkwo’s father Unoka “was lazy and improvident and was quite incapable of thinking about tomorrow.” He was always in debt, never rose in society, and died of a disease whose casualties were by custom denied burial. But he did know how to have a good time, and he played his flute to his death. Okonkwo, on the other hand, builds himself up by brute strength. Even while his father was living he began to make something of himself. “As a young man of eighteen he had brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat.”, a great wrestler.  He clears his own farm, becomes a sharecropper, and survives the worst year for farming in living memory. He becomes an elder and one of the greatest men in the village. “Okwonkwo was ruled by one passion—to hate everything that his father Unoka had loved. One of these things was gentleness and another was idleness.” So Nigeria rose from poverty by hard work and determination. But in the process she lost a precious thing, gentleness.

In his bounty, however, Okonkwo has gained something. Children by three wives. The three principle ones are Nwoye, Ikemefuna, and Ezinma. Okonkwo finds fault with all of them.

Though Nwoye, his eldest biological child, is only twelve, Okonkwo criticizes him for being lazy and pressures him to be strong and hardworking. Okonkwo fears that that “Nwoye resembled his grandfather, Unoka, who was Okonkwo’s father”. This treatment only serves to depress and terrify Nwoye.

When Ikemefuna’s father kills a village woman, Ikemefuna is taken hostage and entrusted to Okonkwo as a foster son. He quickly becomes friends with Nwoye who is two years younger, and “Even Okonkwo himself became very fond of the boy—inwardly of course. Okonkwo never showed any emotion openly, unless it by the emotion of anger. To show affection was a sign of weakness; the only thing worth demonstrating was strength. He therefore treated Ikemefuna as he treated everybody else—with a heavy hand. But there was no doubt he liked the boy…..And, indeed, Ikemefuna called him father. ” Three years later the elders of village along with the Oracle of their god, Agbala finally come to a decision. They will kill Ikemefuna in punishment of the original crime, but they urge Okonkwo to have nothing to do with it. Okonkwo comes with them. When the boy is hit the first time, he cries out to Okonkwo as his father. “Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being though weak.” Seeing the result of his father’s attitudes, Nwoye drifts farther away from him.

Ezinma is the only child of Okonkwo’s second wife. His wife ran away from her husband to marry him, and has had nine miscarriages since. Ezinma is the apple of her mother’s eye and of her father’s as well. He is not prone to show affection, but one night when she was sick he made medicine for her and when the high priestess took her for a night, he made four trips to the temple to see whether they were there. But even with Ezinma, Okonkwo finds fault in a way. “She should have been a boy.” as he is so fond of thinking.

Okonkwo alienates his eldest, kills his most beloved son, and wishes a girl were a son instead. For any family or civilization a dearth of sons is a tragedy. A disinherited son is a disgrace.

When the English enter the village, Okonkwo is absent from it. His gun, with which he has never hit anything, explodes during the last salutes of a funeral and shrapnel kills the deceased’s son. Since it was an accident, Okonkwo must only flee the village for seven years.

While he is among his mother’s kinsmen he refuses to be comforted, and an elder admonishes him. “Can you tell me, Okonkwo, why it is that one of the commonest names we give our children is Nneka, or ‘Mother is Supreme?’” Man belongs to his fatherland and a child to his father, yet a wife is buried in her motherland. The reason is simply that the mother is a source of sympathy. Indeed, even one of their gods is called Agbala, which means in Nigerian “woman”. The ultimate source of comfort is the mother, the motherland. Thus, Okonkwo must allow himself to be comforted.

When Okonkwo hears that the white men have appeared in first a distant village and then his own, he is in exile and powerless to do anything about it. By the time he can go home, the first English messenger has been killed in the distant town of Abame, and the first Nigerian massacre has taken place. Soon the English build themselves up too strongly to be dismissed easily. Had Okonkwo been present, it never would have happened. “Never kill an man who says nothing.” he blurts out, “Those men in Abame where fools.” They were also fools, he tells us, for not preparing for the possible consequences of their action. Perhaps this represents that though Nigeria knew how to treat the white men, she never had the chance because the English were mishandled by foolish peoples on the Nigerian borders.

By the time Okonkwo arrives home, the English government and a Christian mission have already been established all over the region. The mission is a particular difficulty. They rescue cursed twins and untouchables, against the command of the gods. Even worse, Nwoye, rejected and maltreated at home, hears the accepting and comforting preaching of the Christians and leaves Okonkwo to join the church. He says Okonkwo is no longer his father.

The first minister, who had always been agreeable and understanding to the Nigerians becomes ill and is replaced by a minister who encourages unthinkable trespasses against the sacred customs of Agbala and the other gods in defiance of their power. This leads to the incineration of the mission. Okonkwo and the other village elders are arrested and humiliated for their part in the destruction. After they return home, they hold a tribal meeting as they always have to decide issues. Some, like Okonkwo, want to rise up and drive out the English, even those, who, like Okonkwo’s son have joined them, but others fear the consequences. In the midst of this meeting, a messenger arrives from the English to tell them that they must end the meeting. Without further ado, Okonkwo kills him. When the District Commissioner arrives later to arrest Okonkwo, he finds that Okonkwo has hanged himself rather than face an English court. By tradition, he cannot be buried by his tribesmen; they must hire strangers to do it. He who had worked so hard to avoid such a fate has ended his life little better than his father.

The white men took what Okonkwo had worked so hard to attain: his reputation. He could not even take refuge in mother. They took over the government of his motherland, and even replaced Agbala. The English took his son and his future.  Okonkwo’s ideas about strength had already killed one of his sons. Okonkwo’s resolve was what built him up, but it also led to his death when, in the heat of anger he killed the messenger. Earlier when Okonkwo had spoken of thanking his friend, his friend had replied that Okonkwo could kill one of his sons for him and if that failed, he could kill himself. Okonkwo gave his everything for Nigeria, but it only served to tear it further apart. As Okonkwo says, “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife to the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”

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