Themes are overarching ideas and beliefs that the writers put into their work. Themes in Things Fall Apart are aplenty and diverse. Chinua Achebe has not only described the struggle of the indigenous people but also the entrance of colonialism before it spread to the far-flung clans of Africa. Some of the major themes of Things Fall Apart are given below.
Themes in Things Fall Apart
Colonialism and Its Adverse Impacts
Colonialism is one of the major themes of the novel which is introduced in the later in the book. When Okonkwo returns from exile to his village, Christianity has already spread so far. The entire tribe is facing trouble due to the new religion and civilization represented by Mr. Brown. Okonkwo knows that “The white man is very clever” and despite having tarnished reputation in the village, he locks horns with them. He comes to know that Mr. Brown has started teaching the natives how to read and write. Several norms and traditions have been abolished calling them savage ways. However, it happens that the Igbo people become furious over this cultural onslaught but not all of them. This transformation of the locals spread chaos and change the indigenous culture but at the cost of the destruction.
Social Transformation and Tradition
The novel, Things Fall Apart, also deals with the battle between progressive social transformation and traditions. Most people including Okonkwo do not accept the new religious and social order brought by the British missionaries. Similarly, most of the villagers are also caught in the struggle between the social and religious changes and their traditions of society. They are pondering over the dilemma of whether to accept the new reality or stick to their old-fashioned way of thinking. When Okonkwo kills a messenger, the silence resulting from some natives is based on the fact that they are ready to accept transformations. However, the same has dislodged him from his position of becoming a manly figure as opposed to his father’s meekness.
Masculinity and its demonstration are considered a virtue in the African villages as shown in this novel. Okonkwo stresses much upon masculinity that he is often ashamed at his own father who was a musician and lazy instead of being an active and a violent man. That is why he does not like his son, Nwoye who is peaceful and compares him to Ikemefuna who is more courageous. Okonkwo’s masculinity makes him cruel and ruthless even in his domestic affairs. It is also that when others fail, to prove his masculinity he kills Ikemefuna. He then encourages himself after that during his self-reflection when his conscience makes him feel guilty. He also berates his ancestors for avoiding bloodshed and anger.
Superiority of English
Although Achebe has tried to insert Igbo words in English, it seems he has accepted the imperialism of language. The English Language has been termed superior through Mr. Brown and another missionary who speaks English and has spread English as a medium of religious preaching and administrative work. Whenever a local wants to assert his superiority, he speaks English. However, at the same time, Achebe has also made it clear through the words of Igbo that the native language is untranslatable and is complex and transparent just like English.
Achebe has used the form of a novel to record the life and social norms and traditions of the Igbo people before the arrival of the white men. He has outlined their norms of masculinity, and social fabric plausibly through the character of Okonkwo, his wives, his ancestors, and his son. Even Okonkwo himself is the epitome of the strength in the Igbo society.
Although the first part of the novel shows the social fabric of the Igbo people. It also discloses how it starts disintegrating and forming into a new social setup after the arrival of Mr. Brown and other representatives of the English people. The whole social fabric falls apart after the tribes accept a new way of life. The invasion by the foreign language and foreign culture have eroded the very values of the Igbo people. These reasons drove Okonkwo to kill the messenger and commit suicide while he tried to resist the invasion of the alien culture. This completes the social disintegration and its evolution into a new social set up.
Ambition and Grandeur
Okonkwo’s disenchantment of his father’s behavior and adoption of aggressive manly traits point to his ambition of becoming a head of his tribe. He demonstrates all the quality of a leader and starts transforming his nature and becomes more ruthless. However, as he realizes his failure and commits suicide.
Free Will and Fate
A human’s chi or spirit is always in synchronization with his will. In other words, it is aligned with the way that a person can control his own destiny like Okonkwo. However, at several moments, it appears that Okonkwo uses his free will but does not have control over his life as fate sends him to an exile, drives him to kill the missionary and finally, suicide. These events defy this notion that there is a free will in the Igbo society.
Tribal Beliefs and Customs
The threat to the Igbo society, belief system, and customs are coming from the new religion of Christianity preached by Mr. Brown. Okonkwo knows this very well and refuses to accept the change. Although some people support him in the start, they soon leave him for more progressive and prosperous Christianity instead of following the old Igbo conventions. The customs of the Igbo clan seem to give way in the face of the new civilization.
Sense of Justice
The sense of justice and dispensation of justice gives stability to society as shown by Things Fall Apart. The Igbo people have different institutions and traditions for dispensing justice to the people. Okonkwo is exiled under this tribal legal system and is brought back after seven years. He kills his adopted son Ikemefuna under this system. However, when the arrival of the English has destabilized this system, the Igbo system seems old and barbaric in comparison to it. Their traditions fall apart due to the fast institutionalized religion and governance of the white people. Therefore, it provides a sense of justice that prevails in the end when Okonkwo commits suicide.