In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, a recurring theme in the novel is the role of fate in the lives of the Igbo. This presents itself in one form as the presence of the gods as omnipotent entities, capable of changing the course of events through their will. At the very beginning, we learn that the Goddess of the Earth, Ani, is responsible for the success of the harvest. In Chapter Five, we learn that Ani was “the ultimate judge of morality and conduct” (16). It is implied that should Ani pass judgement on a person’s conduct, her punishment or reward is reflected in the value of one’s harvest. One could argue that among the Igbo people, the will of the gods is a reflection of the value of a person, or the balance of their chi. When the gods are angered, as in Chapter 4 when Okonkwo does not follow the Week of Peace, he is told that “We live in peace with our fellows to honor our great goddess of the earth without whose blessing our crops will not grow” (30). It is possible to take from this the understanding that the members of Okonkwo’s village are expected to live by a certain moral code to avoid Ani’s judgement and therefore the punishment of a bad harvest. I found myself wondering throughout the first part of Things Fall Apart, reading it for the first time, whether the introduction of fate and destiny that are introduced so early on foreshadow the events of the second part. Does Okonkwo’s belief that because he has worked hard, he is entitled to the rewards, become his downfall? This, to me, is one of the evident conflicts present throughout – between Okonkwo’s determination to be a better, more successful man than his father, and fate in all its unpredictability.
Another theme that is explored throughout the novel are concepts and understandings of manhood and masculinity. It becomes evident very early on that to Okonkwo, ideas of masculinity equate to ideas of self-worth. He strives to embody the opposite of the qualities held by his father – laziness, a lack of ambition. Okonkwo is a strong warrior, a strong leader, and is held in high esteem by the members of his clan. Okonkwo believes yams to be the crop of men, a sign of how well they can provide for their families and by which their masculinity is measured. A poor harvest, by Okonkwo’s measure, implies both a lack of masculinity and also of hard work. I question here what Achebe means to suggest about the Igbo definition of masculinity, and whether – had Okonkwo’s father given him a different, more affluent childhood, would Okonkwo have an alternate opinion of masculinity? Is it his ambition or fate, or both, that led to the events that unfold?