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Cultural Change Explored In Things Fall Apart, By Chinua Achebe

1882 words - 8 pages

William James, a famous American philosopher, once stated, “The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives”. This quotation effectively illustrates how change in one’s attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs can alter the environment in which one lives. This concept is clearly demonstrated throughout the novel Things Fall Apart, authored by Chinua Achebe, by establishing a connection through the development of its characters and the change in traditional African tribal villages seen in the Nineteenth Century. It will be established how various characters demonstrated by the author throughout the novel exemplify how change in one’s attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs can alter the environment in which one lives addressed by William James’s quote above. First, by analyzing Achebe’s development of Okonkwo’s character through his initial character description and the emergence of outsiders, it is evident that he is portrayed as an old fashioned character that is less responsive to change. Secondly, through examining Nwoye’s character, Okonkwo’s son, it becomes apparent that the youth in the novel are more open-minded, easily persuadable and more adaptive to societal changes. Lastly, uncovering the meaning behind the arrival of European missionaries, it becomes apparent that Achebe defines this group as being a “disease”, poisoning the society in which Okonkwo lives. The author look’s at individuals as being critical and influential figures in shaping the environment to which they belong, beginning with Okonkwo.
Okonkwo, the main character in Achebe’s novel, begins as an individual who holds great power in the Umuofia clan as it is stated in the novel, “And such was a deep fear that their enemies had for Umuofia that they treated Okonkwo like a king…” (Achebe 24). The description given early in the novel clearly establishes his character as being a strong and wealthy man who is well respected among the rest of the tribe due to his superior fighting abilities and his influential personality. Having achieved such elite status within the Umuofia clan, Okonkwo appears to be old-fashioned as it is seen in his approach in raising his family and tribal people. However, Okonkwo’s character changes incrementally with the emergence of a boy, Ikemefuna, from a neighboring village, who was brought to him because of his brutal attack against his wife Ojiugo during the ‘week of peace’. Amongst the Umuofia clan, the ‘week of peace’ is a tribal ritual whose conditions are not to complete any evil sins in a certain week span. After having accepted Ikemefuna into the family, Okonkwo experiences a shift in his mental state. Shortly hereafter, he questions this change, which demonstrates his lack of willingness to change which is clearly demonstrated in the book in several different ways like in chapter Eight, Okonkwo proclaims to himself, “When did...

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