Novels Kanthapura and Things Fall Apart

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Updated: Nov 30, 2023
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This essay will compare the novels “Kanthapura” by Raja Rao and “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, focusing on their depiction of cultural and societal changes in colonial India and Nigeria. You can also find more related free essay samples at PapersOwl about Chinua Achebe.

Category: Chinua Achebe
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Raja Rao and Chinua Achebe through the depiction of the respective philosophies in their novels Kanthapura and Things Fall Apart brings out the perception of social, cultural and traditional aspects of Nigerian village Umuofia and Indian village of Kanthapura. Moreover, both the authors through these philosophies put light on the issue of colonization which the African natives and Indian natives suffered at the hands of white missionaries and Britishers. Rao who was an ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi, paid respect to him by writing and adopting about the Civil Disobedience Movement and Non Violence Movement that Gandhi implemented against the ruling colonial government in his novel Kanthapura.

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Similarly, Achebe also adopted the philosophy of Igbo culture, their traditions, their festivals and folklores. He as a true religious believer of his culture and social practices wrote about the Igbo community and cosmological dimensions of the Nigerian lives in his novel Things Fall Apart. Both the author wrote for their respective nations and highlighted the major issues in the novel through these thematic philosophy of Gandhian Ideology treasured by Rao in Kanthapura and Igbo life philosophy by Achebe in Things Fall Apart.

The centrality and the plot of the novel Kanthapura revolves around the Gandhian Philosophy which illustrate the commencement of Indian Freedom Struggle by Mahatma Gandhi in the early 20th century which left a great impact on the people of India and Rao is one of them who used it to aware its reader worldwide. Gandhian Philosophy is very well depicted in the novel which in reality impacted and affected many villages and parts of India. Similarly, Achebe in his first novel Things Fall Apart portrayed the cosmological and cultural philosophy of Igbo life. He wanted to emphasize in his novel mainly about the homegrown people of Umaro who caught themselves in the clutches of high functioning of the western culture, who not only captured their religious belief but also being in minority they somehow dominated the majority natives of the Africa. As Edward said quotes, “what I left out of Orientalism was that response to western dominance which culminated in the great movement of decolonization all across the Third World” (Said, 1993, p.12). Therefore, things started to fall when the western culture through their ways of life forced the lives of Igbo hence distorted their cultural and religious belief all together which created the major destruction within the community by ruining their peace. So, the commonality in both the novels lies with the dominance of the western world over the eastern world which is portrayed by adapting the major issues of philosophy by both Rao and Achebe intelligently in the respective novels.

Mahatma Gandhi through his ideology of non-violence, non-cooperation, peace, truth and love inspired many writers like Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx as well as Indian writers. And all these writers through their immense inspiration and passion made their readers think persistently about the issues and protest that Gandhi made in real life during Indian Freedom Struggle. He aroused the devotion and belief of many Indians for the independence through his ideologies to fight for freedom not with a war but with a protest. A well-known critic K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar declared this period of freedom struggle against Britishers as the “Gandhian Age”. Not only that, writer like Munshi Premchand left his job to join hands with Mahatma in his protest of Non-Violence. In many novels, Gandhiji is projected as an individual or as a mysterious presence. In Rao’s Kanthapura, the presence of Gandhiji is seen in the character of Moorthy, he is considered as his replica who in the village of Kanthapura performed satyagraha and motivated other villagers to follow the path of freedom struggle against the Britishers. Gandhi in Kanthapura is also seen as the presence of God for the village kanthapura where not only he is the replica of Moorthy but many other characters as well displayed through philosophy of life and political struggle. Gandhi is also seen as an embodiment of The Epic Ramayan’s characters of Ram, Sita and Ravan that is, Lord Rama as the one who is sent for the protection of the nation India which is “sita” from the rule of British slavery which is regarded as Ravana. Moreover Gandhi in the whole novel, felt like an invisible presence who poured his thought of ideologies throughout the entire book. In the novel itself we see that the protagonist Moorthy, at the very young age got highly influenced by the teachings of Gandhi which he preaches to the villagers. He asked the villagers to discard all the clothes made by Britishers and wear khadi dresses to follow the path of Non-violence, truth and peace. The ideology of Gandhian Philosophy is introduced by Rao in the character of Moorthy. He taught the villagers about Mahatma Gandhi’s sayings “spinning is as purifying as praying.” (Rao18) to follow the path of Non-Violence. So the villagers started rebelling against the British Raj and would gather near the temples to sing songs, to pay respect and love for Mahatma Gandhi:

“Our King, he was born on a wattle-mat,
He’s not the King of the velvet bed,
He’s small and he’s round and he’s bright and he is sacred
O, Mahatma you’re our King and we are your slaves”(Rao203).

Therefore, Rao gave us the vivid picture of how the impact of ideologies helped the villagers to overthrow the British Empire away from India.

Not only Moorthy but there are several other characters in the novel that followed Gandhi’s path of teachings and beliefs. The character of Jayaramchar who expressed the ideas of Gandhi in the following lines “Fight, says he, but harms no soul. Love all, says he, Hindu, Mohammedan, Christian or Pariah, for all are equal before God. Don’t be attached to riches, says he, for riches create passions, and passions create attachment and attachment hides the face of truth. Truth must you tell, he says, for the Truth is God and, verily, it is the only God I know.” (Rao22) through these lines he wanted the villagers to take the path of truth to fight against the controlling human behavior of British Rule. The teachings of Gandhian philosophy made the villagers go crazy for the protest and in the novel we see preaching of many slogans like “Vande Matram, Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai, Inquilab Zindabad”(Rao174,175).

Patriotism aroused among the people of Kanthapura which signifies the importance of freedom struggle and they declared the rule of “Government of the Mahatma.” (Rao207) rather than the dominance and rule of Britishers. Hence the English Government intertwined during the protest which resulted as the destruction of the village kanthapura. Despite all the dominance, rule and authority they still fought back for the freedom. Gandhian philosophy taught by Moorthy to the people of Kanthapura did one good thing which is to stand united by resolving their inner issues of untouchability, casteism, poverty and subjugation of the woman characters in the novel.

Chinua Achebe as an African writer wanted to bring back the dignity of his native people who got into the hands of the European imperialists in the colonial era. He wanted to restore the dehumanized black people as he quotes in one of his articles The Role Of The Writer: “African people did not hear of culture for the first time from Europeans…their socities were not mindless but frequently has a philosophy of great depth and beauty…they had poetry and above all, they had dignity. It is this dignity that many African people all but lost during the colonial period and it is this that they must now regain…the writer’s duty is to help them regain it by showing them in human terms what happened to them, what they lost” (Achebe7).This is why Achebe uses the philosophy of Igbo life to restore the nativity of his people away from the clutches of the Europeans that is missionaries in his first novel Things Fall Apart. Achebe during his college days saw the growing nationalism among his fellow natives which motivated him to write and adapt the philosophy of Igbo life and bring about the awareness to less educated. He wanted to bring peace, love and unity among the Igbo people so that they can fight against the missionaries. But that remained as a dream as the missionaries being in minority distorted the lives and peaceful environment of the village Umuofia. Achebe wanted to bring the realistic approach through his novel Things Fall Apart where he gave the vivid picture of Igbo people and its culture though the medium of issues of Igbo life philosophy. He has the utmost knowledge of his Igbo cultural milieu, their tradition and customs.

Okonkwo who is the protagonist of the novel portrayed how he confronted and handled the rule, dominance and control of the westerners that is Christian missionaries in Umuofia. Achebe also brings out the side of Okonkwo where he wanted to unite its people against missionaries by making them remind of their God, rituals, customs and beliefs. But he couldn’t achieve all of this and killed himself in despair of his culture in the end of the novel. God as the Supreme Being and of utmost importance in Igbo culture is severely rooted in all aspect of Igbo life philosophy. Moreover, the treatment of women in Nigeria is also highlighted by Achebe. Okonkwo beat his youngest wife in the week of peace because he was agitated by the rebuked villagers for disrespecting the Yam Festival. Thus he got the wrath by the priest of Goddess Ani, where she says “You are not a stranger in Umuofia. You know as well as our forefathers ordained that before we plant any crops in the earth we should observe a week in which a man does not say a harsh word to his neighbor. We live in peace with our fellows to honor our great Goddess of the earth without whose blessings our crops won’t grow. You have committed a great evil” (Achebe22).

The other tradition of man and woman being one in Igbo society which maintained the harmony among the clans got distorted and disturbed when colonizers came and colonized the village of Umuofia. Achebe feels that Igbo life was a money-oriented society in pre-colonial era but at the same time the strong spiritual belief balanced the whole situation “unfair rivalry and bellicose materialism” (Achebe12). Not only had this but Igbo life and culture had respect and right to life. Therefore a man plays a crucial role for himself and his family or the clan. That is why it is considered as a great sin to kill one of the members of their clan which we see in the novel when Ezeudu warns Okonkwo not to kill Ikemefuna, which is considered as a heinous crime for the society who strongly believes in culture and religion “It is the kind of action for which the goddess wipes out whole families…but of oracle said that my son should be killed I neither would dispute it nor be the one to do it” (Achebe49).

Gandhian philosophy in Kathapura and Igbo life philosophy in Things Fall Apart have the common ground of issues which both Rao and Achebe portrayed through their writings. Both Moorthy and Okonkwo being the central characters in the respective novels fought against the dominance in different ways but with a one motto that is to bring about the unity and religious belief in their natives to fight off the missionaries. Yet one thing differs, in Kanthapura we saw the path of freedom is achieved through Non-violence but in Things Fall Apart, we see many incidents in the novel where the path of violence is seen like killing among the clan, suicide, agitation caused by missionaries resulting in anger. Therefore, Rao brings the idea of life in respect with Gandhi’s vision in Kanthapura. Whereas, Achebe through his African customs, portrayed the way of life to present the Igbo culture in his novel Things Fall Apart.

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Novels Kanthapura and Things Fall Apart. (2020, Nov 03). Retrieved from