Post-colonialism is used to describe the period during the second half of the twentieth century, it is an important turning point among the Western literature, postcolonial writers usually aimed to examine the former colonial culture and the relationship between these regions and the rest of the world. Chinua Achebe is one of the most important representatives in the postcolonial writers, his famous novel “Things Fall Apart” as a contradiction between the traditional African culture and western civilization, it describes all the challenges and opportunities that people meet when they were the isolated society turned to the rest of world. The invasion of Western civilization has an influential meaning for the traditional African society.
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The novel depicts the comparison of traditional African life and the post-invasion life of Western civilization. In this process, the nation’s rules and culture, the structure of society, and the human heart had been quietly changed. We cannot judge that it is good or not, but it is indeed inevitable and irreversible.
First of all, the novel clearly described the life of traditional African culture and life after white people came. The original environment in which the main character Okonkwo lived was a well-ordered village with many gods, people here are hardworking and kind, helped each other and respected the elderly. People here mainly made their lives by planting, they lived a life of self-sufficiency. For example, in chapter two wrote that the moonlight nightlife here “the happy voices of children playing in open fields would be heard. And perhaps those not so young would be playing in pairs in less open places, and old men and women would remember their youth”(Davis et al. 1607), and when Okonkwo asked his friends to help him, his friend was very happy to lend him yam seeds(Davis et al. 1612). People here lived for a simple and harmonious life, the villagers work at daytime and they create wealth by their hardworking hands. However, there are also many drawbacks in this kind of life, such as their ignorant belief in the gods, they were polytheism which they believed in many gods, is described in this novel “Umuofia was feared by all its neighbors. It was powerful in war and in magic, and its priests and medicine men were feared in all the surrounding country”(Davis et al. 1608). “it never went to war unless its case was clear and just and was accepted as such by its Oracle- the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves”(Davis et al. 1612). The abandonment of the twin children, when women gave birth to the twin children, they had to be thrown away. Men can beat his wife, Okonkwo beat his wife during the sacred week because his wife went to plait her hair at her friend’s house(Davis et al. 1616). And the poor health care, when Okonkwo’ s the second wife had borne ten children and nine of them had died in infancy, and his daughter got a fever, he went to the bush to collect leaves making medicine(Davis et al. 1616). All of those represented their barbarism, ignorance, and backwardness, this also implied that their ancient lifestyle will eventually be replaced by new technology, it just a matter of time.
On the contrary, although the appearance of white people met in the form of violence, the missionaries established the churches, schools, government, the military here, and also accept people who were not cared in the society to join their religion. Such as mothers who lost their twins, the weak who were abandoned by society began to join the Christians, they respected every person, they also brought a lot of benefits to this society. For example, the white missionary set up a school to teach young Christians to read and write, they were also rescued twins from the bush(Davis et al. 1670& 1671). It is undeniable that although the inherent civilization of Africa was primitive and isolated, it also had its value. However, this original peace has gradually been broken when Western civilization entered, when the white people first came in to this village, villagers were shocked by those strange men and tried to tied their iron horse to the sacred silk-cotton tree(Davis et al. 1667), which also means that they never left this area and never touched with the outside environment before. These colonists often considered themselves to be saviors and believed that they brought wealth to the rest of the world regardless of the persistence of the opponents. When they imposed these Western civilizations, manners, technology, and knowledge on these primitive, wild people, they began to resist enlightened people. However, their hearts began to hesitate and slowly accept this foreign culture, of course, some people may choose to die in order to preserve the original civilization live like Okonkwo, But this is not a wise decision, the new things will eventually replace the old things, which is the inevitable trend of social development.
Secondly, there is also an apparent comparison in this novel, which is the description of the patriarchal society and the matriarchal society. In Okonkwo’s village, the difference between men and women is very obvious. It had always been dominated by male society. A man could marry multiple wives and had many children, they were the main labor force of society, the real wealth creator in the family. For example, “Okonkwo was a wealthy farmer and had two barns full of yams, and had just married his third wife”(Davis et al. 1606), “during the planting season Okonkwo worked daily on his farms from cockcrow until the chickens went to roost”(Davis et al. 1607), many people believed that a real man should like Okonkwo, he could not have the worth from his father, but he must be brave, strong and hardworking, they judged a man by his title and land, he can create his own wealth. Men were respected in this society, they were the leader, the ruler and the decider of the family, such as Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand, his wives lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his little children(Davis et al. 1609), although his heart was not a cruel man, he must behave like that. While women were quite unappreciated in this society. They were men’s accessories, they had no rights to resist men and challenge their authority. They were more like an object, a machine, they cooked, cleaned and served their husbands every day. However, their value is often ignored by society, their status is extremely low like they prepared three meals for their husbands, they were not respected and appreciated by their husbands, they thought that was women’s duty to work, women were also be careful with their husbands, they may be beaten with a small matter like Okonkwo beat his wife on a few occurrences. For example, when his second wife did not prepare a meal and his wife only cut a few leaves to wrap some food, Okonkwo gave her a sound beating and left her(Davis et al. 1620). Women could not challenge men’s masculine and authority. When men had a meeting, women could only be served them and were not allowed to attend and make a decision even they may have the talent. They were treated poorly, the different roles of men and women had been treated differently in this society, which has led to social inequality during this period.
However, the important period of women’s role appeared was when Okonkwo was exiled to his mother’s homeland, his uncle asked his children and Okonwo why is Okonkwo with them and why is it that when a woman dies she is taken back to her home to be burned, he emphasized the importance of mother, when children were beaten by his father, they would seek sympathy in their mother’ shut, when there are sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland(Davis et al. 1620), he pointed ‘mother is supreme’, feminine played an important role in this society although Okonkwo still did not get the importance of famine. At that period, in the Western civilized world, they emphasized the equality between men and women. Women gradually had their own status in society, they began to go out to work and learn to protect themselves instead of being beaten by their husbands. They played their own role in society and reflect their own value in the competent society, they were not like the women in primitive Africa and China who were treated poorly. In this respect, Western civilization did exactly convey these high-quality ideas to these isolated societies.
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Not as obvious as the comparison of the external environment, Okonkwo’s inner contrasts in the novel are also very strong, such as the contrast between his son and his father and himself. His inner fear was very afraid that his son would be like his father. He believed that a real man should be as masculine and strong as him, and earn his title and respect on his own merits. In his eyes, his father Unoka was weak, poor, alcoholic, lazy, and he mentioned his hate to his father in several places. For example, when he was a little boy, he had resented his father’s failure and weakness, even now he still remembered how he had suffered when a playmate had told him that his father was agbala(Davis et al. 1620). With a father like him, Okonkwo had begun even in his father’s lifetime to lay the foundations of prosperous future, he was possessed by the fear of his father’s contemptible life and shameful death(Davis et al. 1611). His disgust to his father was very obvious, and he feared that his son was as lazy and weak like his father, so he kept prevent him from doing the wrong things. But in the end, his son became a Christian despite his blockade when the new Western religion entered the society. He did not realize his mistakes, he was unwilling to accept new things, and his thoughts were kept old-fashioned tradition which was finally would be eliminated with the development of the society, and he firmly believed that his son eventually became the kind of person he hated most. In fact, he is the biggest loser. In addition, he was very contradictory to his daughter, Ezinma. He was satisfied with his daughter because she always respected her father, followed her father, they had a lot of thoughts in common, and lived in a way his father liked. But he complained that her daughter was not a boy, thought that if she was a boy, she must be very excellent. In fact, this is a typical denial and contempt for famine from his own heart. he could never get rid of his old-fashioned thoughts, and this was destined to be a loser.
Overwhelmingly, “Things Fall Apart” describes the changes in the life of African primitive life and the invasion of Western civilization, the contrast between the roles of men and women, and the struggles of Okonkwo’s inner heart, which fully demonstrates the progress that civilization brought the light and hope to this primitive society although it was not very mature at the beginning and it also implies that the wild lifestyle should be destined to be eliminated by society.
- Davis, Paul, et al. The Bedford Anthology of World Literature: The Modern World, 1650-The present. Vol. 2. Compact Edition. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009.