Immovable and Fragile Objects in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart

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Murderlands

The most significant similarity between the Igbo and Filipino culture is that they are both either dead or a parody of what they once were before.

Of course there are striking similarities such as the commodification of women which people often mistaken for respect, women are only valued for their function in society in both cultures (or perhaps I am exaggerating). Masculinity is affirmed in the rituals and invoked, as if resembling manly features automatically makes an act right.

In both cultures, spirituality is part of nature, and both human societies organize their ranks in imitating nature and the will of their ancestors who are one with it.

But the similarities are not only present in the pre-colonial past. In their depictions in contemporary, post-colonial times, they are portrayed by Westerners, and sometimes by the people themselves who can no longer identify with their old culture as parodies, exaggerations and overplay their eccentricities and exoticism.

Thus is the reality of pre-colonial culture in post-colonial times. And it is through this lens that we may say that the culture has died. The original essence has gone, though some finer details resemble them. The ends are different: what was once done in respect for tradition is now done for the sake of profit. Tourism, rather than the preservation of heritage, is the end.

In this sense, it may be said that the colonizers have altered the culture of their colonies beyond repair. As the poem goes, things have fallen apart. And like a mirror, even if the people of the now put them back together, they can never reflect the light of the ages as it did before culture fell apart.

In all this however, we see a significant character which shows us what happens amidst the falling apart of things, when some refuse to be moved by change. This character is Okonkwo.

Because of his eccenticities and atrocities, we are inclined to ask whether Okonkwo was the story’s hero or villain. The most obvious answer, of course, is that he is a hero. He is made known to the reader from the beginning of the novel. And while he has attitudes and beliefs which make him hard to sympathize with (thus, making him more accurately an antihero), he is the character whom we watch developing (or not developing) throughout the story.

But arguments can be made from the other side as well. Firstly, rather than “saving the cat,” a trope wherein the antihero does an act deemed “good” to make him more sympathizing, he literally wrestles a cat, Amalinze. This probably is supposed to signify the differences in culture between the Western colonizers and the Umuofians, wherein one can see an act admirable while another can’t.
It holds however that Okonkwo remains the main character of the story. And thus, if we so humbly allow ourselves to be, mirror who we are in reality.

Okonkwo  was never a representative of his culture, or at least, not deliberately from his part. He has time and again been seen as manipulating the interpretation of their traditions and practice to forward his own agenda, which most of the time involves reaffirming his masculinity. He is not, then, that much of an original character. Most of us are guilty of only subjecting ourselves to tradition when it suits our fancy. And this, I think, is Okonkwo’s strength and fatal flaw.

Okonkwo is more realistically a representative of the hubris and pride fostered by being a privileged member of society. In his fear of societal disregard built from his experience with his father, he has engaged in acts of valor and bravery, and has thus earned his due. All his life he has lived for that and that alone. And so, when society finally turned its back on the values he has fought so hard to emanate, his proud heart refuses to give in and start from scratch. He saw suicide as the only cop out: who cares if it was deemed feminine? Masculinity was never the issue. The issue was acceptance and reverence, and since he has been estranged from his society, like a lost falcon estranged from its falconer, what he does means nothing now.

The tragic hero of the novel is the realization of what happens when an unstoppable change meets an immovable object: one of them falls apart. In this case, unfortunately for Okonkwo, the unstoppable force won.

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