When change is introduced within a society the reaction to it determines its survival or destruction. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart depicts an intricately woven African society existing in a period when it was believed that all non-European societies were uncivilized. The novel focuses on the nine Ibo-speaking villages of Umuofia, where tribal custom dictated every aspect of members' lives. With the arrival of the Europeans and the introduction of Christianity several conflicts arise which alters Umofia’s social organization, justice system and their religious beliefs. It was almost inconceivable that an African society could be so complex and organized, with established social and political hierarchies and functional legal systems. In order for such a system to thrive there had to exist a well-defined relationship between the individual and the society, where each member has clearly defined roles within the family, tribe and community. The individual in Ibo society had several fundamental characteristics one of which was knowledge of his or her role within the immediate family circle. Each member of the family unit understood who the head was, and what was expected of them on a daily basis for continued survival and development. Another noticeable attribute of the Ibo individual was the ability to clearly understand the structure of the community. As a member of a family group, one knew where his or her family fit in the hierarchy. The path of ascendancy within the society was also common knowledge, along with the ways and means of attaining a higher title or status. Respect for authority was a fundamental principle by which each person was guided. On the other hand, community in Ibo society made constant demands on the individual. One had to understand that although the society is driven by the desire to acquire and own, a selfish trait in itself, it could not be done at the expense of the community structure. The community was to be preserved at all cost. Growth of the individual was the foundation of the community because it served as a means of establishing the pecking order. However, it was a means to an end, and that end was the preservation of the unified community structure. Acting en masse was a common feature of the community. They chanted and sang in unison to a thumping drumbeat, almost like the singular heartbeat in the human body. They responded “Yaa!”(10) almost in one voice when addressed at the gathering of warriors. Cohesion was the most stringent requirement in the Umofian community, dictating the relationship enjoyed by the individual with others. If anything can be said about the relationship within the Ibo community the most appropriate description would be one of co-dependency. The individual derives his or her identity from the community to which they belong, and their status is supported by the established community structure. On the other hand, the community is validated by the willingness of the individual to act cohesively with others towards the preservation of the community. There could not have been a community without individuals willing to come together to support a common vision or ideal. Likewise, the individual becomes insignificant without a community to recognize him or her. Ibo community, deeply rooted in spiritual and ceremonial compliance, had to survive by carefully molding each member. It was analogous to a jigsaw puzzle, every piece different from the other but essential all the same. Any missing element meant an incomplete picture and a weaker structure, ultimately causing things to fall apart. More importantly, the complete picture was the primary object and, as important as each part was, unless they created a whole they were meaningless. Personal achievement was the yardstick by which all were measured. The size of one’s barns, the number of wives and the number of offspring all established a higher degree of importance, at least for males. Women on the other hand were...
Cited: Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Random House, 1994.
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