The notion of balance in Achebe's novel is an important theme throughout the book. Beginning with the excerpt from Yeats's poem, "The Second Coming," the concept of balance is stressed as important, for without balance, order is lost. In the novel, there are many systems of balance which the Ibo culture seems to depend upon. It is when these systems are upset that "things fall apart." Okonkwo, the Ibo religion, and ultimately, the Ibos' autonomy were brought to their demise by an extreme imbalance between their male and female aspects. These male and female aspects can be generally be described as the external, physical strength of the male; and the internal, passive, and nurturing strength of the female. Achebe uses a disbalance toward the male side to destroy the people and their culture.
Okonkwo, the main character of the book, was born the son of Unoka, who was a loafer. Unoka was too lazy to go out and plant crops on new, fertile land, and preferred to stay at home playing his flute, drinking palm wine, and making merry with the neighbors. Because of this, his father never had enough money, and his family went hungry. He borrowed much money in order to maintain this lifestyle. Okonkwo perceived this as an imbalance toward the female side in his father's character: staying at home and not using one's strength to provide for the family is what the women do. In reaction, Okonkwo completely rejected his father, and therefore the feminine side of himself. He became a star wrestler and warrior in his tribe and began providing for his family at a very young age, while at the same time starting new farms and beginning to amass wealth. He is very successful, and soon becomes one of the leaders of his tribe and has many wives and children. His big ambition is to become one of the powerful elders of the tribe, for what could be more manly than that?
Unfortunately, everything is not perfect. His son, Nwoye, seems not to be showing the characteristics of a real man. He prefers to stay with his mother, listening to women's stories, than to listen to his father's tales of battle and victory. Later, when missionaries come to the tribe, Nwoye is attracted to their Christian religion because of its unqualified acceptance of everyone, much like a mother's unqualified love. Of this, Okonkwo reflects that "fire begets ashes," where fire is the powerful, destructive, male force, and ashes the inert, weak, female force.
Okonkwo is eventually defeated when he finds that his physical strength is not powerful enough to overcome the white men, and, unable to accept this, he hangs himself.
The Ibo Religion's Demise
The Ibo religion falls in much the same way. This religion is centered about the worship of male gods and ancestors. The female god among these may be the Earth goddess, but Okonkwo offends this goddess twice in the story to save his masculine image: once when he beats his wife during the week of peace; the other when he strikes down his adopted son. The gods' functions are mainly to help in war, and to aid the yearly yam crop, which is considered a man's crop. The highest members in the religious organization are the most respected men in the society; during ceremonies, they don costumes and play the role of the deceased ancestors. The primary influence women have in this religion is in the role of the oracle, who is a woman, although she embodies a male god. It is the women, also, who practice witchcraft, which is greatly feared in the tribes, but it should be noted that even this is a passive force with only intangible connections to any physical effects.
When the Christian religion is introduced, preaching universal acceptance, many members of the clan who are dissatisfied with the Ibo religion are drawn toward it. Some of the title-less men described as 'women' in the tribe are immediately drawn to it. Nwoye, who dislikes the practice of...