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Interpretation of Igbo’s Culture in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe


In Things Fall Apart story, Chinua Achebe depicted culture’s positive and negative elements. The story indicates that the Igbo culture was universally conscientious, but the coming of Western people manipulated its cultural values. Achebe has portrayed the Igbo culture as having excellent philosophy with great depth of beauty and value before colonization. People had a high sense of respect and dignity for their culture, but the arrival of colonialists changed the family structure, religion, and gender roles, especially women in society. Women started taking part in decision-making and other leadership duties compared to the past when they were only allowed to do home chores. The role of each society member was defined clearly, starting from children, men, and women before the arrival of colonialists. Before colonization, men in Igbo society clanged on the coco yams as a manly symbol, and women were prevented from harvesting the yams.

Chinua Achebe has depicted feminism and masculinity as the significant cultural themes in this story by narrating the disastrous faf the Okoo was the main protagonist and the Igbo culture. Okonkwo was a leader in the Igbo community who believed in masculinity and always fought for his distinction and fame. He defeated Amalinze, a wrestler who had defeated everyone in the entire wrestling contest, enabling Okonkwo to bring honor to his people in the Igbo community. This shows that Okonkwo was determined to change how the community perceived their family. Despite his father, Unoka being lazy, Okonkwo wanted to disapprove of the community by outshining his father’s weaknesses. The father was nicknamed Agbala, similar to an unfortunate and feeble woman, because he was a disgrace to society. Okonkwo’s father died and left behind debts, but the son resolved to overcome this shame left by the father. Therefore, this paper aims to interpret how Chinua Achebe portrayed the culture of the Igbo community in the short story; Things Fall Apart.

Cultural Representation in Things Fall Apart

Chinua Achebe has represented the culture of the Igbo community by describing the missionaries’ arrival and their desire to build the Church. The people of the Igbos community gave missionaries land in the evil forest, believing that they would die there, but nothing happened. The failure of Missionaries to die resulted in significant changes in the tradition of the Igbo, which created a way to convert people to Christianity. People in this community started to believe in Christian God, who became more powerful than their community gods (Achebe 56). The evil forests in Igbo land got destroyed with the arrival of missionaries to create spaces for the constriction of schools, district offices, and churches. All this occurred when Okonkwo was exiled for seven years for shooting and killing Zeudu’s sixteen-year-old son. His family was taken to Mbanta, Okonkwo’s mother village. The exile ended with a feast for Okonkwo’s mother’s relatives to show gratitude to them during their seven years in Mbata.

Okonkwo went back to Umuofia and welcomed many changes in his home village. Many renounced their titles and reverted to Christianity. There is a new government system in his community. Prison, a state court of law, has been put up. Their norms, traditions, and culture are no longer respected, making Okonkwo unhappy about it (Parmentier and Fischer 1231). Achebe uses Mr. Brown and Reverend James Smith to show Cultural Relativism and Ethnocentrism. Eventually, war erupts, and the Igbo community realizes they have lost their traditions to Western culture. Okonkwo realizes that the Umuofia people will surrender and would not consider going to war. The relevance of the novel is seen. Everything has fallen apart for Okonkwo, and he has yet to achieve his mission in Umuofia.

The Igbos had values and norms they dearly respected and could not go against them. Yams, for example, were critical to the Igbo culture, and I found out that when Okonkwo’s home and animals were destroyed when he was exiled to clean the community, Obierika stored them. Yams were their staple food. Celebrations were held annually for the harvesting of the yam. The attire consisted of small clothing since the primary purpose for children wearing clothes was to conceal their private parts. Children were not to wear any attire until their adolescence when they were considered older and had something to “hide.” Ornaments were worn around the waists and necks as medicine against charms (Achebe 89). Besides, Uli was used for body art by both women and men, mostly to decorate in the form of lines forming designs and shapes on the body. Religiously, the ancient Igbo religion was known as Odinani. In their mythology, the supreme God is called Chukwu, which was valued as an excellent spirit. The Igbo believed that Chukwu was the creator of the universe and all that was in it. To them, the Cosmo is divided into four. Okike (Creation), Alusi, who are minor deities like Chi in Chinua Achebe’s, which are worshiped and served according to Igbo mythology, Mmuo (Spirit), and Uwa (the World).

Women in Igbo culture had specific roles that were also part of the norms and traditions. They were the weaker sex in the Igbo culture. However, as a family members, they also had other important values like the ability to bear children. They were to be submissive to their men. On the other hand, the male was more powerful in any family and was to display their prowess on battlefields to show their masculinity. Okonkwo is the first to win in a wrestling competition and bring the head of a man home (Chukwumah 235). For this reason, he is seen as the most powerful in his society. Women in the Igbo society showed much care for their children. Children were carried on their backs, tied with some piece of clothing connecting the mother and the baby with a knot in her chest. In most cases, the Igbo women walked bare-chested. Maidens wore short wrappers with beads around their waist ornamented with necklaces and beads.

There is a significant change in family structure as well. Before the intrusion of colonialism, the eldest son inherited what the father had. Although Okonkwo had nothing from the father, his son Nwoye did not inherit anything from him. He rebelled and was converted to Christianity, and attended school (Chukwumah 234). Men, as the head of families, had the authority to marry as many wives as they wished and could sometimes beat them without anyone questioning. It is evident that marriage was also upon arrangement but not on love, as success in Igbo society was evaluated by the number of women and food.

The intrusion of the white and Okonkwo’s struggle to be different from his father shows masculinity. Okonkwo believes his father had no ‘manly’ attributes and had no qualities of a strong warrior or made any contribution to his family and clan. He fights and wins many titles and is viewed as influential in society (Parmentier and Fischer 1234). The Umuofia, and Okonkwo in particular, would face the white people for making their young lazy and reliant on the whites. Even Okonkwo’s son joined the Church. To him, his son has feminine attributes. In this story, Okonkwo has built his whole life on the masculinity of the tribe.

Men in this context were always controlled by their inner will (Chi), and no man could rise above his destiny. Okonkwo is possessed by this spirit that later fell him apart. He defines masculinity quite narrowly. Because tenderness is a sign of weakness to him, he decides to kill Ikemefuna, a young boy, to show his brevity; he beats up his wives and provokes his people against attacking the missionaries. According to most cultures, the male power always depends on his authority and brute force. This should not be the case in the modern society. Evidently, he did not get support from his fellow clansmen and always called them ‘effeminate.’ ‘Worthy men are no more,’… the days when men were men (Achebe 141). Okonkwo even goes to kill the messenger by himself to show his degree of masculinity, but others escape, and he knows he cannot fight alone. “The white man has put a knife on the things that held us together, and we have fallen apart” (Achebe 124-125). He decides to hang himself, which is a sign of cowardice and is against the Igbo culture. Throughout the book, we are shown men with different understandings of masculinity in Igbo society. For instance, Nwoye was converted to Christianity despite his father’s rebellion. He never agreed with his father’s ideas.

In the Igbo culture, the Chi (man’s will) is essential to manhood. Okonkwo is exiled as a result of Feminine murder and firmly believes that Chi is not for greatness. Nobody could rise against his Chi. It is evident that the conflict that arose between the British colonists and the Igbo was; as a result, tribes Chi. Masculinity was also weight as per one‘s Chi. Men like Okonkwo were guided by their Chi (Achebe 225). They were destined to rise as far as their Chi allowed them. If the Chi of the colonialist were more robust than theirs, they would take the day. Okonkwo, whose Chi is perceived to be strong, has led society to trouble. He forces his will against the whole community and kills the messenger. His Chi was more substantial than that of his clan members, so he faced the messengers as an individual. “In that brief moment, the world seemed to stand still….” “In a flash, Okonkwo drew his machete…descended twice on the man’s head”(Chukwumah 238).

Although the authenticity of the Igbo culture has faded, some significant changes have occurred because of Westernization. Today the majority of Igbo people have embraced Christianity. The arrival of missionaries like Mr. Brown, a patient, kind, and understanding man, came “(Chukwumah 239). Churches were built, and the gospel was preached to surrounding towns and villages like Mbata. Okonkwo’s son was converted and enrolled in the school. Their traditional attire has been Westernized. For instance, shirts and trousers have overtaken traditional Igbo culture clothing style. Their traditional baby-carrying technique is still practiced, although the method was modernized as the child carrier used by mommies. The New Yam festival is still celebrated annually in West African countries.

The first cultural element presented in this story is cultural relativism, which perceives no culture as superior or inferior. This shows the cultural relevance of others’ norms, values, and traits. We can understand that one value or standard suitable for a specific culture can be inappropriate for the other. In the novel, Mr. Brown, a missionary, is culturally relative and even restrains overeager members like Enock from provoking clan members. He befriends clan members who later are convinced and converted to Christianity (Achebe 256). Mr. Brown discusses religious beliefs with Akunna. In this context, neither gives up his belief, but they all learn the other party’s faith and gain much respect for one another. Therefore, this notion does not propagate becoming harsh or judgmental towards any particular cultural values or norms.

Ethnocentrism is another cultural element evident in Things fall apart. Reverend Smith replaces Mr. Brown as the new leader of the Christian Church in Umuofia. He is ethnocentric and comes with strict and uncompromising rules. He wants to convert other people to the new forms of worship forcefully (Parmentier and Fischer 1237). He “sees “things as black and white people in the Igbo, where black, according to him, are evil. The Europeans came with new laws and religions to the Igbo culture. The British condoned domestic violence because Okonkwo beats his wife during a week of non-violence.

Nevertheless, it is a criminal offense, as per the missionaries. This aspect creates a ridge between the two cultures and leads to an ethnocentric approach to dealing with each other. The correct concept by one group is harsh or unequal in another culture. The tribal culture might be harsh as per the Europeans, but it is not better according to the Igbo culture. Reverend Smith is disrespectful to the Igbo leadership, beliefs, and customs. He even relates the Igbo religion and their leaders to Baal prophets of the Old Testament in the Bible (Achebe 60). To him, Reverend Smith sees their views as evil. He even demands that the Igbo elders convert to Christianity and disown their beliefs. He even sends away a woman convert from the Church, who adhered to her traditional custom during the burial of her dead child.

Cultural violence is also evident in the story, and this refers to violence between people of diverse cultures in a country or community. However, according to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, it is used in a context that includes punishments against different crimes, ritual sacrifices, and other kinds of primarily sanctioned violence. Achebe explored the internal workings of Igbo culture (Ogbalu 365). He presents Okonkwo as violent, but his statements about culture and violence are only evident in the actions and beliefs of the entire Igbo community. Most Igbo people in the novel are less violent than Okonkwo, the main protagonist. The forms of violence portrayed are against the prevalent cultural forces that encourage violence.


The Igbos had values and norms that they dearly respected and could not show any form of disrespect. Things that fall apart present their traditions, norms, and customs. They had a unique form of music, dance forms, visual art, attire, language dialects, and cuisine. Significantly, they also hold a higher value for Yams and believe they should not be destroyed. In the masculinity context, it is evident that there is a significant difference in how Africans and Europeans view masculinity. The Africans see it first based on their physical appearance and prowess to face another in a battle or war, as in the novel. Women were not allowed to do specific tasks as that was against the traditions and norms, which could lead to repercussions. Okonkwo, for example, believed that killing Ikemefuna, beating the wives, and inciting his society to war were signs of being “manly.” It is also important to respect one culture. Achebe used this short story to reveal the differences between the Igbo and the Western culture. The story has also demonstrated how the arrival of the colonial people eroded the cultural practices and values of the Igbo community despite resulting in development of schools, education and healthcare.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. “Things fall apart. 1958.” New York: Anchor 178 (1994).

Chukwumah, Ignatius. “Rethinking Aristotle’s Hamartia: The Igbo Nigerian Tragic Form in Chinua Achebe’s Fiction.” Journal of Narrative Theory 49.2 (2019): 223-246.

Parmentier, Marie-Agnès, and Eileen Fischer. “Things fall apart: The dynamics of brand audience dissipation.” Journal of Consumer Research 41.5 (2015): 1228-1251.


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