Chinua Achebe’s 1958 novel Things Fall Apart explores the dissolution of Igbo tradition and community in the fictional Nigerian village of Umuofia, as well as in the life of the novel’s protagonist Okonkwo – a dissolution resulting partly from the religious conflict between traditional Igbo spirituality and the Christianity brought to the region by Western colonial missionaries. While the arrival of British colonial forces to Nigeria was about much more than just religion, religious concerns were still central to (and religion an important tool for) the Western colonizers, and.as such they play a deeply significant role in Things Fall Apart. This paper will examine the deterioration in tradition and community resulting from this religious conflict by comparing them to earlier hints of cultural dissolution in the life of Okonkwo. Two specific events – Okonkwo’s violation of the Week of Peace by abusing his wife, and the later killing of his adopted son Ikemefuna – suggest that conceptions of tradition and community in Umuofia were weakening even before the arrival of Christianity and British colonialism. This fact by no means exculpates the Western colonizers, but it does complicate any simple interpretation of the novel. Achebe’s willingness to draw parallels between Okonkwo and the colonizers does not ultimately undermine Igbo spirituality, but rather honor it as a three-dimensional reality that resists simple good/bad dichotomies. The parallels also point to a shared humanity that might constitute a way forward in the midst of cultural conflict.
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