The dark and mysterious black hole that is the unknown may often lead to false assumptions concerning what is foreign or distant from personal realities, creating the risk of spawning offensive racial stereotypes that marginalize the truth and result in widespread belief in falsehood. Chinua Achebe looks to combat this phenomenon through his writing in Things Fall Apart, as he narrates the story of Okonkwo and his village. The novel challenges stereotypical characteristics attributed to Africa and its people by offering an insider’s perspective on the complexity of Ibo society and colonialism.
Historical factors and unfamiliarity with genuinely African perspectives cause the establishment of condescending misconceptions, which do not reflect reality within African communities. Superficial knowledge of the peoples and cultures that make up this region generate ideas that are heavily influenced by Eurocentrism and colonialism, resulting in “fragmented, and at times, fallacious, images” of individuals and societies (John Metzler). It is not unusual to associate “savagery” and “lack of civilization” with this continent, or even to consider Africa as “a homogenous place analogous to a country”, brought about only after European intervention (Metzler). Added to the lack of truly legitimate perspectives that can disprove these assumptions, Africa has been stereotyped as a wild, dark landmass ridden with chaos and violence when, in fact, it is not.
The cultural complexity revealed by Achebe’s novel that disproves this stereotype is partially determined by the intricate and developed religion of the Ibo. The diversity of spirits that compose their religion shows sophistication through a structure that comprehends greater gods such as Ani - “the ultimate judge of morality and conduct” - observing lesser gods, appointed to minor roles (Chinua Achebe 36). Within this society spirituality is especially important because deities, ancestors and chis, personal gods, directly affect fate, law, punishment and prosperity, among other aspects of everyday life. Religious figures that exemplify this are the egwuwus, physical representations of the villages’ ancestors, who are responsible for conducting trials and determining consequences for unique cases that need mediation.
These religious aspects permeate and influence social organization, making Ibo societies stand out for effectively determining roles among the population. The egwuwus justify this as they are responsible for “justice in the clan” and represent the top of the social hierarchy (Achebe 171). These spirits are usually incarnated by the most prominent men, who must earn these positions according to a system of titles and honor that certifies their merit. Likewise, social norms also dictate the grounds on which individuals are marginalized, usually pertaining to spiritual explanations. The osu, for example, are deprived of specific activities, such as attending “an assembly of the free-born”,...