Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Things Fall Apart- the tragedy of an individual or the tragedy of society?

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a tragedy of an individual as well as the society. The protagonist of the novel, Okonko who was rich and respectable at the beginning of the novel meets a tragic fate at the end of the novel. But when he suffers, his whole tribe also suffers. At the beginning of the novel, the Ibo society was a peaceful, organic society, but at the end of the novel it falls into pieces. Thus the novel records not only the sufferings of Okonko but also his whole society.

At the beginning of the play we see Okonko as a prosperous leader of he Ibo people. But the novel ends with his tragic end. Thus, we can say that the novel Things fall apart is a depiction of Okonko’s tragic fall. Okonko was definitely a man of importance for his society. He was a well known person through out the 9 villages and beyond. He was a warrior ad wrestler who gained respect through his athletics. He was a fierce-free individual. He hadn’t lost one fight or any battles. And for this the people of the village loved him. He was also respected because of his wealth.

Okonko had three wives and many children. He was able to take care of his wives and children.

But suddenly a disaster takes place in his life. He unconsciously kills the son of a man who had warned him not to kill Ikemefune. Although the killing was an accident, Okonko and his family are forced before nightfall to flee to his distant native village to Manta. When they are gone his compound and his possessions are destroyed by his fellow tribesman in a ritual cleansing and purification of his sin.

When Okonko came back to his village he found that everything was changed. After the clansman burn the Church building down, the District Commissioner asks the leaders of the clan, Okonko among them, to go and see him for a peaceful meeting. The leaders arrive, and are quickly seized. While they are in detention waiting for the fine to be collected from their people, they are beaten severely by the court messengers and their heads shaved. They are held in jail until the clan pays a heavy fine.

Embittered and grieving for the destruction of his clan’s independence, and fearing the humiliation of dying under white law, Okonko ends his life. The District Commissioner and his messengers arrive at Umuofia to find Okonko has hanged himself. They are asked to take down his body, since Ibo mores forbid clan members to touch it, as suicide is regarded as a ac of weakness and as attack against nature.

Like Okonko his Ibo society also meets a tragic fate. In the first part of the book we see a socially, politically and religiously organic Ibo society. But this organic society becomes divided and virtually loses all energy at the end of the book.

At the beginning of the book we see that the Ibo people have a strong faith in their traditional religion. The religion of the Ibos consisted in the belief that there is a suspense God, the creator of the universe and the lesser gods. The supreme God was called Chukwu. The other gods were made by Chukwu to act his messengers so that people could approach Him through them. People made sacrifices to the smaller gods, but when the failed, the people turned to Chukwu. Ancestor worship was also an equally important feature of the religion of the Ibo people. There were man superstitious ideas related with their religious belief. They believed in evil spirits and oracle. One of such Oracles is responsible for Okonko’s sacrifice of Ikemefuna. This incident underlines the superstitious brutality of traditional Ibo society. Thus we find a very strong and extremely detailed picture of Ibo life society prior to the coming of the white man.

But later the Christianity, the colonial religion, mostly replaces the traditional religion. When the white man arrives, however, he ignores the Ibo’s values and tries to enforce his own beliefs and religious practices. Missionaries would convince these tribesmen that their tribe worshipped false gods and that its false gods did not have the ability to punish them if they chose to join the mission. Like many others, Okonko’s son is also affected by the colonial religion.

Prior to the coming of the white the political life of the Ibo people was also very organic and strong. They were very loyal to their political leaders.

The colonial politics affects the Ibo society. Okonko’s life is also affected by the colonial politics. The Ibo people become the victims of the colonial politics and many people die as a result of colonialism. The same things happen to him.

When conflicts came up between villages, the white government would intervene instead of allowing villagers to settle them themselves. In the novel when the white man’s government has come to Umuofia, the clan is no longer free to judge its own; a district commissioner, backed by armed power, judge cases in ignorance of tribal custom.

Things Fall Apart chronicles the double tragedies of the deaths of Okonkwo, a revered warrior, and the Ibo, the tribe to which Okonkwo belongs. In literature, tragedy often describes the downfall of a great individual which is caused by a flaw in the person's character. Okonkwo's personal flaw is his unreasonable anger, and his tragedy occurs when the tribe bans him for accidentally killing a young tribesman, and he returns to find a tribe that has changed beyond recognition. The Ibo's public demise results from the destruction of one culture by another, but their tragedy is caused by their turning away from their tribal gods.