Things Fall Apart is by the widely acclaimed African author Chinua Achebe. The story told is a tragic one of a person by the name of Okonkwo who s own stubborn views about what it is to be a man leads to his own demise. Okonkwo is often compared by people to the tragic hero like those in Greek tragedies. This is probably the primary way in which the text is interpreted but I feel Achebe is trying to make another point as well through the story. Achebe received inspiration to write the novel from a poem written by an Englishman by the name of William Butler Yeats. The title of the poem is The Second Coming. The poem talks about anarchy that is upon the world during the present time and how things will change with the second coming.” During this second coming the chaos that is prevalent will end finally after two thousand years. Achebe uses this poems basic idea by creating the story of Okonkwo who lives in a chaotic and barbaric world. To outsiders who are observing Okonkwo s people, they may certainly seem uncivilized in many ways. Achebe symbolizes the end of this anarchy in Okonkwo s society by the introduction of Christian missionaries who pacify the Ibo people and ultimately cause the death of Okonkwo. I believe Okonkwo is the last and final source of chaos that is finally muted to bring civility to the people.
The Ibo people live a very peaceful but ignorant life. At first glance their lifestyle may seem to be normal but when examining the depths of it we can clearly see why it would seem to be chaotic. When I use the term chaos or anarchy I don t mean it in the literal sense but in comparison to the modern world or in particular England. Anarchy or chaos in my usage is meant to be the lack of morals and/or certain values, which we as westerners would agree to be good. There are many things that the Ibo people were accustomed to that we would find horrific and savage. One of their customs was to throw away babies that were borne as identical twins because they were thought of as being bad. Another custom was to mutilate the dead corpse of a baby that was thought to be evil in order to prevent it from being borne again. Another thing that is chaotic about their culture was the fact that their laws and justice system were very perverted. For example for a war to occur is not difficult and if one does happen then there is very little ethics in warfare. We see this when the warriors bring home heads of those they have killed. The justice system is also messed up because a man that has killed may not necessarily get a just punishment. One thing I felt was not just was the punishment that the neighboring village received for killing a daughter of Umuofia. That village had to give up two innocent people who took no part in any crime and the person who committed the act received no real punishment to himself. Okonkwo embodied all that was brutal in this society and was the perfect example for it. He stood by his culture very strongly.
The introduction of Christianity into Ibo society brought an end to the madness. It brought law and order and also a better sense of morality. In the seven years that Okonkwo was gone things changed greatly. As soon as he left the missionaries came and started to spread the new faith among the people. These Christians brought with them a government and judicial system as well as a new way of life. Soon the Ibo society was being influenced by all this and became tamer and less ruthless. They were realizing that it was ok for them to be soft as was taught by the missionaries. With the judicial system, punishments were just and severe so many of the barbaric acts committed by the Ibo people that were mentioned before were curbed. Christianity taught them to love and respect one another and even though there were not many converts at first, the beliefs definitely rubbed off on them. When Okonkwo came back from exile, he was still the hard ruthless man he always was. He saw that his society had changed but he had not and he had much animosity against them. He felt they had become like women and he saw this especially when he killed the messenger and no one prevented the other messengers from escaping. Okonkwo killed himself because he did not want to die at the hands of the people he despised the most. Okonkwo was the last of that which was strongly against Christianity and the positive changes.
The story of Okonkwo was tragic but it also was a symbolic one. It showed a tragic death but also showed the power of God in bringing change and harmony. I strongly feel that Achebe s purpose in this novel was to show the power of Christianity. Okonkwos society is portrayed as peaceful but then there are hints that show its many faults. Since it is known Achebe received inspiration for the story from the poem by Yeats, we can safely assume that he follows a similar theme. It was clearly shown that the Ibo society was in chaos as far as their culture and religion and so guidance was needed to bring about a change. This catalyst for change was Christianity, which ended up influencing them to change somewhat and live more loving moral lives with having a greater value for life. Okonkwo was shown to be the final aspect of chaos that was left and with his death that was all gone. It seems after his death there was nothing else stopping the Christians from moving the Ibo people into a civilized frame.