Religion and Ideology in Things Fall Apart
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe begins by introducing the main character of this story, Okonkwo. Okonkwo is a strong and wealthy warrior of the Umofia clan. He was well respected because he was the ideal man of their tribe, in that he was extremely masculine and an extraordinary wrestler. However, he was ignorant when it came to verbal communication. Achebe states, “He was tall and huge, and his bushy eyebrows and wide nose gave him a severe look…He had a slight stammer and whenever he was angry and could not get his words out quickly enough, he would use his fists” (Achebe, p. 3-4). Okonkwo’s lack of communication skills made him the opposite of his father, Unoka. Unoka was a lazy musician who was always borrowing money and did not believe in physical fights (Achebe, p. 3-4).
Okonkwo was extremely focused on maintaining his reputation as the most masculine man as well as the most powerful in the village. One day, Okonkwo was told by a town elder that he had to kill his foster son, whom he had become fond of. To keep his reputation of masculinity, he did as he was told and killed Ikemefuna, pushing himself into a fog of depression (Achebe, p. 61-62). Time passed and one of Okonkwo’s friends, Ogbuefi Ezeudu, died (Achebe, p. 121). At the ceremony of his death, all the warriors had their guns, and Okonkwo’s mistakenly fired, hitting and killing a young boy (Achebe, p. 124). As a punishment, to keep the peace with nature, Okonkwo and his family are exiled to Mbanta for seven years (Achebe, p.124). While there, he rebuilds a farm in Mbanta, but he is less enthusiastic, especially after hail storms came and ruined his crops (Achebe, p. 130). After the seven years, Okonkwo and his family returned to Sofia, he was surprised to see a group of white men had moved in and been teaching their religion, Christianity (Achebe, p. 144). Okonkwo was infuriated and tried to get the rest of their clan to run them out of the village. However, many members of the clan liked the white men and began believing in their religion. Okonkwo began to see that he was losing control of his village to the missionaries. As a result of his loss of control and his stubborn personality, Okonkwo committed suicide by hanging himself (Achebe, p. 208).
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In the following essay, I will call attention to the treatment of the environment in Things Fall Apart. I will argue that based off of Chinua Achebe’s novel, there is a correlation between the peace of the people and the peace of the environment. First, I will discuss and summarize the article written by Senayon Olaoluwa called Ecocriticism beyond Animist Intimations in Things Fall Apart. Second, I will put forth my argument stating there was a correlation of peace between people and nature in Things Fall Apart, using examples from the article as well as the primary source. Finally, I will provide a conclusion of everything previously stated.
Senayan Olaoluwa’s work, Ecocriticism beyond Animist Intimations in Things Fall Apart, is only one chapter out of an entire book called Ecocriticism of the Global South. Ecocriticism is a “field of literary study that considers the relationship that human beings have to the environment” (What Is Ecocriticism?, n.d.). In his work, Olaoluwa follows the definition and writes about ecological aspects throughout Chinua Achebe’s work Things Fall Apart. In fact, Olaoluwa’s thesis statement is the following, “This chapter explores the various layers of ecological concerns that find articulation in the text” (Olaoluwa, p. 197). The environment is a key role in many lives of Africans today, as well as at the time of Achebe. In fact, many Africans practice animism which, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is defined as “attribution of conscious life to objects in and phenomena of nature or to inanimate objects” (Animism, n.d.). Olaoluwa states, “Today there are various forms of research devoted to the reduction of noise in our environment in to mitigate its impact on atmospheric pollution, and it is in this very sense that the epistemic wisdom of Umofia displays a sophisticated form of environmental awareness” (Olaoluwa, p. 202). This indicates that the characters in Achebe’s work take the integrity of the environment seriously, care for it and show “environmental awareness.”
Many Africans believe in animism and in keeping peace with the earth and ecological equality. Olaoluwa included a few examples of when the environment was affected as a result of the disruption. For example, Olaoluwa states that the Week of Peace from Things Fall Apart, is a week-long, sacred event in which utter peace and harmony is required. A disturbance of the Week of Peace was the first aspect that lead to basis of Okonkwo’s unfortunate life (Olaoluwa, p. 203). Finally, Olaoluwa discussed the irreversible disruption that colonialism caused the economy. He stated, “The consequence of the miscarriage of social justice by the emerging colonial power has produced a situation of human death and displacement in the same sense it has resulted in a miscarriage of ecological justice, resulting in the depletion of biodiversity conservation” (Olaoluwa, p. 208). This statement emphasizes the topic that Olaoluwa was presenting about, that the action of social injustices resulting in human death and/or displacement.
Overall, I agree with what Olaoluwa is arguing in their work. There seems to be a correlation between the peace of the people and ecological peace. When the people are at peace, Mother Nature is at peace. However, when people no longer keep the peace, whether it is with anger or aggression, the environment is affected by it. For example, when Okonkwo is exiled to Mbanta he began rebuilding a farm, however, he was not as enthusiastic because he was in a new village and did not have as much power as he did in Umofia. Shortly after starting to rebuild his farm, a hail storm struck, which could be a result of his lack of enthusiasm (Achebe, p. 130). Another example that indicates a correlation was when Okonkwo’s gun accidentally fired and killed the young boy, he had to flee the village in order to keep the peace with gods. “The only course open to Okonkwo was to flee from the clan. It was a crime against the earth goddess to kill a clansman, and a man who committed it must flee from the land” (Achebe, p. 124).
The next argument that Olaoluwa discussed, however, is one that I do not agree with. On page 207, Olaoluwa states, “In other words, while the African construal of sacred spaces enhances biodiversity conservation through forestation, Christian sacralization of space in Mbanta translates into deforestation and biodiversity depletion” (Olaoluwa). In this passage, Olaoluwa implies that the Christians that enter into Mbanta are the sole cause for biodiversity depletion. However, it is not necessarily only the Christians that are entering in, it could be other ways that the natives are living. Previously in his work, Olaoluwa states that disturbing the peace could be a reason for detrimental things happening in nature. This could mean that when the Christians entered Mbanta, the natives became upset, which disturbed the peace, resulting in deforestation and biodiversity depletion.
In conclusion, Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, is a story about a strong warrior named Okonkwo and his life and struggles that he endures. Achebe not only includes aspects regarding Okonkwo, but he wrote about the environment and nature as well. He wrote about the animism that the Africans practiced. He introduced tribal rituals and customs that do or do not incorporate the environment. Senayon Olaoluwa’s article, Ecocriticism beyond Animist Intimations in Things Fall Apart, focuses on deeper ecocriticism than the only animism that is portrayed in Achebe’s novel. For example, he discusses the correlation between the peace of mankind and the peace of the environment. Next, he deeply focusses on the post-colonial ecocriticism that affected the villages. Overall, Olaoluwa’s concepts that he portrayed were agreeable. Based on Achebe’s novel, there does seem to be a correlation between man’s peace and environmental peace. However, Olaoluwa seems to pin a large portion of blame only on the missionaries that are colonizing Africa. Though the missionaries did invade the area, they may not have been the main cause of the devastation of the environment.