Chinua Achebe's works reveal the sustaining relevance of "the sacred" to his audience and invite his readers to consider the metamorphosis of sacred tropes from traditional to colonial times. The mask in Achebe's novels Things Fall Apart and No Longer At Ease is one of a number of tropes which represent the shifting of the locus of "the sacred" from community to individual. This trope, and others like it, reflects upon the way in which European influence has directed the social significance of spirituality through the process of colonization. Through the examination of these tropes, one should develop a critical awareness of the relationship between the sacred and the profane in the Modern context of No Longer At Ease, observing the once-sacred symbols which come into being as metaphors for the displacement of traditional Igbo eschatology and the contemporary presence of a widening gulf between the individual "the sacred."
The conflict between "the sacred" as traditionally defined by the Igbo and that which has been imposed by European colonial rule can best be illustrated by MirceaEliade's suggestion that "the sacred is equivalent to a power"; and, ultimately, it is the possessor of this power who is afforded the luxury of constructing reality (12). When read critically, one notes that Eliade prompts the reader to form narrow conclusions concerning what he refers to as the "archaic," "primitive" man who, much like the community represented in Things Fall Apart, is surrounded by the essence of spirituality in every aspect of daily life. More completely, Eliade states,
The man of the archaic societies tends to live as much as possible in the sacred or in close proximity to consecrated objects. The tendency is perfectly understandable, because, for primitives as for the man of all pre-modern societies, the sacred is equivalent to a power, and in the last analysis, to reality. The sacred is saturated with being. Sacred power means reality and at the same time enduringness and efficacity. The polarity sacred-profane is often expressed as an opposition between real and unreal or pseudoreal...thus it is easy to understand that religious man deeply desires to be, to participate in reality, to be saturated with power (12-13).
Considering Eliade's assertion that "the sacred" is a vehicle for power in "pre-modern" societies, much irony is present in the fact that Modern European man, while distancing himself from the "primitive" definitions of a traditional, all-encompassing spirituality, is deeply waged in the battle for the power that can be extracted from the sole possession and revised definition of "the sacred." In the novel No Longer At Ease, one begins to see the serious implications of displaced ownership and ambiguous definition of sacred objects and rites.
Masking as Achebe portrayed in Things Fall Apart supported traditional...