Society and its Characters
Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart tells the story of the African Igbo society which was dominated by European imperialism. Achebe uses his own personal knowledge of African culture to portray the Igbo tribes as a complex society with well-established beliefs and traditions. The heart of this novel is not in its context, however, but in its characters. Achebe creates complex characters to live in the vastly changing society of the Igbo tribes. It’s evident in the actions and beliefs of Okonkwo, Obierika, Mr. Brown, and Reverend Smith that Achebe was trying to make a statement about the interrelationship between character and society in the novel.
Okonkwo is the novel’s most complex character. His complexity stems from his relationship with society, which is best demonstrated in two ways in the novel. First, it is demonstrated in Okonkwo’s notoriety and the way it changes from the beginning of the novel to the end. The novel opens with a description of Okonkwo. He “was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements.” Achebe immediately introduces Okonkwo as a strong and powerful man. “That was many years ago, twenty years or more, and during this time Okonkwo’s fame had grown like a bush fire in the harmattan… When he walked, his heels hardly touched the ground and he seemed to walk on springs, as if he was going to pounce on somebody. And he did pounce on people quite often… He had no patience with unsuccessful men. He had no patience with his father” (Achebe, 4). Society is depicted as having a fixation with Okonkwo, though it is really the other way around. Their admiration fills him with a deep devotion to his tribe and his culture. His complexity arises with his exile and the arrival of the European missionaries in Umuofia. While exiled, “he had lost his chance to lead his warlike clan against the new religion, which, he was told, had gained ground.” Okonkwo felt...
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