Conflict plays a critical role in making any given story engaging, as witnessed in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The book starts a rich discourse on the cultural conflict between the missionaries, colonial government, and the native Africans. Okonkwo, the protagonist in the story, is caught up in an internal struggle that ultimately affects his entire life; he does all he cannot be like his father, Unoka, who he termed lazy and effeminate. Even at a tender age, Okonkwo had already learned that his father was the mockery of the village, and he resented him for it and his failures (Achebe 13).
Unoka was a man with neither a title nor ambition, which became the driving force for Okonkwo’s wanting to become his father’s exact opposite working extra hard to build the reputation of a proud, strong, masculine man for himself. Okonkwo ends up being well known in all nine villages, with his prominence resting entirely on his achievements. Okonkwo intends to show all villagers how different he is from his father, having land, building a reputation, and getting the ‘Idemili’ title, which was, in fact, ranked, the third-highest title in the land. Because he did not grow to be like his father, Okonkwo considered himself successful.
Despite Okonkwo’s determination to get more titles and his hard work, many changes are happening in his village, starting with the coming of the missionaries who built churches in different villages propagating Christianity instead of traditional religion. Although many Igbo people converted and the missionaries were successful at dividing the people among themselves, they failed at destroying the Igbo culture (Achebe 29). The setting up of the colonial government, justice courts, and prisons that came after marked the beginning of the real disintegration process. As the colonial government began to impose laws, those people that resisted the laws were thrown into prisons, and not even the members of the council of elders were spared.
When the district commissioner representing the white men is sent to Okonkwo and the tribal people to civilize them, Okonkwo loses his patience and kills him (Achebe 91). Okonkwo knew for a fact that his clansmen would not back him up in fighting the Europeans because they were afraid of being hanged by the white man. In hopelessness, he gives up and kills himself (Achebe 142).
Okonkwo’s suicide resulted from cultural conflict where he could not deal with the changes in his village brought about by Christianity and colonization; his death was meaning the victory of the European political stunt and religion and the defeat of the Igbo culture. The destruction of Okonkwo’s traditional world tears him apart, and he is not willing to live in the new world anymore. In committing suicide, Okonkwo dies a disgrace just like his father.
The European control of the tribal government changed the only ways the indigenous people were accustomed to and broke tribal unity enforcing their ideas on the Igbo people due to ignorance and disrespect for the Igbo culture. The perpetual introduction of new philosophies destroys traditional government and religion, consequently ending the traditional customs, values, and beliefs. The clash of cultures in Things Fall Apart demonstrates the devastating consequences that can arise from them.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Doubleday Canada, 2009.