Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart Essay

1413 words - 6 pages

Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart

The last chapter of Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" concludes with the sentence:
"He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger."
This refers to the District Commissioner's chosen title for a book he has written that would have the African people, the Igbo tribe specifically, as the main subject. From the title itself, one can say that the writer has an unfavorable bias against his subject. But come to think of it, there are many factors why it would be impossible for the District Commissioner to write an accurate description of the culture he's trying to write about. How can he do so when he knows very little about the subject? How can he do so when he is writing from a European colonialist's point of view? Let's focus on his selection of words for the working title of his book. The word "pacification" is very condescending in nature. It creates an impression, especially for those who are unaware of the realities about the Igbo people, that the latter are barbarians and uncivilized. It can create an impression that they are like a child who will likely loiter around an unknown place without any sense of direction if his parents decide to leave him alone. We are not saying here that the Igbo people are living in complete harmony during pre-colonial times. They may have had some internal misunderstandings, which are just normal in a community. But the point here is, the Igbo people don't need to be pacified because they are already living in peace generally prior to the colonialists' arrival. As a matter of fact, the natives may have felt more distress and unease with their arrival, especially the District Commissioner.
By peppering the novel with a lot of Igbo words, Achebe shows that the Igbo language is too complex for a direct translation into English. By using different proverbs, folktales and song that is originally written in the Igbo language, the author has managed to convey the beauty of his native language to the readers. In the book, the colonial masters have ridiculed the said language and called them "superfluous words", showing no appreciation at all of the beautiful and expressive language of the Umuofians. They have even come to the conclusion that their tribe was a "primitive" one. They have also said that the native customs are "bad" and their ceremonies and sacrifices as "frivolous". In the Chapter Twenty of the book, there's a conversation between Okonkwo and Obierika in which the latter rightly stated:
"Does the white man understand our custom about land? How can he when he does not speak our tongue?"

The language barrier between the colonists and the colonized enables critical misunderstandings to take place. The idea of someone vilifying certain customs and traditions in which he is unfamiliar is very laughable. The District Commissioner was...

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