One’s culture and traditions are an essential part of his/her life because they shape their perspective of the world around them and influence their decisions every day. When those traditions are being challenged, one will either defend them, or accept the change. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe explains how the missionaries start to change the perspective of the Igbo people and evoke a dilemma within themselves. Achebe conveys the theme of a society evolving from changes in the social system through utilizing the settings and the prominent characters of Okonkwo and Nwoye.The time and place a novel takes in can either directly or indirectly impact a theme or motif that is echoed throughout. In this case, Chinua Achebe takes advantage of the settings in this novel to highlight how the colonial administration impacts the villages/clans in Nigeria, where the fictional clan of Umuofia is.
In Things Fall Apart, Igbo Land is portrayed by Achebe where there are two conflicting cultures. Despite that, the tolerance of the Igbo for missions is one of the main reasons why the Christianization of Igboland was successful (McLaren 105). “Achebe localizes that encounter in Igboland with fictive Umuofia clan, so as not to overgeneralize what happened in the entire continental Africa” (Ogbaa 99).
As for the time period, the novel takes place in the mid 1900’s, which is when the official colonization began in various African nation-states by Europeans (Ogbaa 99). Utilizing the time period accurately contributed greatly to the change in perspective of the Umuofia people that Achebe was trying to convey.In the novel, Achebe describes the Igbo as being stuck between respectively different cultures. Before the missionaries invaded their land, “they were undisturbed by the present and they had no nostalgia for the past” (Nnoromele 40).
The leaders of Umuofia did not believe that the strange culture/religion would last long here at first (Okhamafe 140). But then they realized that the new faith was attracting outcasts and even leader with titles, who were becoming converts.Moving on to the characters, Okonkwo, the main character in this book, is often seen as “representative of traditional Igbo society” (Shea 74).
Okonkwo plays an important role in terms of the theme of change because he reacts differently to the missionaries than others in the clan of Umuofia. Throughout the novel Okonkwo is portrayed as the most opposed to change (Killian 85). While rest of the Umuofia people accepts the missionaries, Okonkwo believes that doing so will diminish his identity and values (Nnoromele 269).
Despite the fact that the villagers did not agree with the religion, they still appreciated the many beneficial things the missionaries brought with them such as a trading store and new goods, which kept the money flowing in Umuofia (Okafor 117). Although Okonkwo is admired by villagers and embodies the Ibo culture, he interpreted the values and customs too strictly (Ojinmah 96). “Okonkwo’s tragic demise arises from his lack of full understanding of his people and their culture” (Okafor 117). Okonkwo becomes so caught up in trying to prevent further influence; he forgets to listen to what the people want.On the other hand, the missionaries actually helped redeem Nwoye spiritually and helped Nwoye find solutions to his unanswered questions. When Ikemefuna and the twins were killed for the sake of “pleasing” the gods, “something seemed to give away inside of Ikemefuna” and “signaled his final break with the traditional Umuofia society” (Ojinmah 105).