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Things Fall Apart
Transcript of Things Fall Apart
Question 2: "The story of Okonkwo is in a way the story of our culture; he pays a price because he places too much emphasis on strength and manliness." Discuss this quote as it applies to both the novel and our own modern American culture.
"Yam stood for manliness, and he who could feed his family on yams from one harvest to another was a very great man indeed" ( Achebe p.33)
When Okonkwo says this he is referring to his oldest son Nwoye who from Okonkwo's perspective has not become a man yet because he is as lazy and weak as Okonkwo's father Unoko. Okonkwo meant that he who maintained his family was a hard working man and can be related to American culture as well.
In American culture, men are portrayed as the main providers of the family and are seen as hard workers. Although nowadays some women are the providers in their family, society has portrayed men as the main household providers for a longer time. Women also have a role in Okonkwo's culture. Women are in charge of the house, cooking and the children.
"Ekwefi peeled the yams quickly ...She cut the yams into small pieces an began to prepare a pottage, using some of the chicken" ( Achebe p.43)
This shows that in the Igbo culture, a woman's job is to cook and care for their husband and children. A typical American family is portrayed with men being the main workers and bring the household income while women are at home cleaning and getting everything and everyone ready for when dad gets home while daughters help the mother and the sons usually help the father. Some families have a single parent raising the family and therefore this image does not apply to them but over time society has portrayed this image of the American culture.
Greatness and Ambition- Okonkwo's driven and determined, but the character traits that make him great are also the ones who show his weaknesses.
"And when she returned he beat her heavily. In his anger he had forgotten that it was the weak of peace... Okonkwo was not the man to stop beating somebody half way threw, not even for fear of a goddess" (Achebe 29-30)
. Okonkwo has many traits that make him great and successful, but some traits, such as his harshness, actually hurt him and make him weak.
Masculinity- Okonkwo has a deep obsession with masculinity and sees anything loving and tender as being weak.
"So Okonkwo encouraged the boys to sit with him in his obi, and he told them stories of the land- masculine stories of violence and bloodshed" (53).
Other men in the book show us a more sophisticated masculinity but Okonkwo is too harsh and strict to his family and his harshness soon drives Nwoye away.
Fear- Most of Okonkwo's actions are driven by fear of being like his father, a weak and lazy man. As a result, he pushes himself to do his best and be one of the manliest hard-working men in the village. Because of Okonkwo's desire to be strong and powerful, he's afraid of failing and being seen as weak by others.
"Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak" (61).
Just because of his fear of being weak, he had to kill Ikemefuna, who he loved and actually had pride in although he wasn't his son.
Achebe's purpose of writing "Things Fall Apart" was to convey a fuller understanding of African culture to the western world. His writing is filled with proverbs that the Igbo people's virtues.
"A child's fingers are not scalded by a piece of hot yam which its mother puts into its palms" (67).
In addition, his writing is simple and easy to understand.
"'The market in Umuike is a wonderful place,' said the young man who had been sent by the Obierike to buy the giant goat. 'There are so many people in it that if you throw up a grain of sand it would not find a way to fall to earth again'" (99).
Furthermore, Achebe adds the occasional Igbo word to enhance the reader's knowledge on the Igbo culture. Likewise, the Igbo people enjoy singing songs, which adds on the novel's lyrical quality.
"'If I hold her hand, She says 'Don't touch!' If I hold her foot, She says 'Don't touch!' But when I hold her waist beads, She pretends not to know'" (118-119).
Significance to Literary Canon
As mentioned previously, Things Falls Apart was written to give our western culture a clearer view of African culture. Many people nowadays view Africa has a violent, uncivilized continent. However, many ways of the Igbo people go against this assumption.
"The hearing then began. Uzowulu stepped forward and presented his case" (90).
The novel also has biographical purposes; the author himself is a member of the Igbo people. He was also raised as a Christian because of his father, who was a missionary, so Achebe got a taste of both worlds. This gives the events a proper support, as Achebe clearly knows what he is talking about.
"He [The Comissioner] had already chosen the title after much thought: "The Pacifiction of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger" (209).
Finally, the novel seems special in the way that is has a strong meaning yet uses simple word choice as to not confuse the reader. We are given the literal version of events instead of a figurative one. For example,
"Okonkwo slept very little that night. The bitterness in his heart was now mixed with a kind of childlike excitement" (204).
Usually in other novels of literary merit, figurative language is used in a way that makes it a challenge to understand the passage.
"[Okonkwo's] whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness." How is this idea demonstrated in the novel? Okonkwo suffers because he does not understand himself. Do his experiences help lead him to self-awareness or not, and why?
Okonkwo does become aware with the help of his experiences. He knows from his experiences with his father to not show weakness and failure.
"Unoka....was a failure. He was poor and his wife and children had barely enough to eat. People laughed at him..."(5).
He saw how his father was a failure and that gave him the experience to strive for a title. He also saw how they laughed at his father and he didn't want the life that he made for himself. Okonkwo also becomes aware of the trouble he has caused.
"The only course open to Okonkwo was to flee from the clan...[he] had committed the female, because it had been inadvertent. He could return to the clan after seven years." (124)
He knew he had killed someone and what he had caused, therefore putting him into exile. This experience showed him what kind of a man he was even though he didn't know it was going to happen. The experience helped him become more aware of his violent behavior. Okonkwo also becomes more aware of how much he hates white men.
"Let us not reason like cowards...this is what a man does. These people are pour filth over us daily and Okeke says we should pretend not to see."( 158-159)
Okonkwo does not appreciate the missionaries taking away there believes and customs. He believes what they are teaching is just filth. He becomes of the relationship with the white men.
Blue Cohorts 1