A-Custom and Tradition
struggle to live up to what he perceives as “traditional” standards of
masculinity, and his failure to adapt to a changing world, help point
out the importance of custom and tradition in the novel. The Ibo tribe
defines itself through the age-old traditions it practices in Things
Fall Apart. While some habits mold tribe members' daily lives, other
customs are reserved for special ceremonies. For example, the head of a
household honors any male guest by praying over and sharing a kola nut
with him, offering the guest the privilege of breaking the nut. They
drink palm-wine together, with the oldest person taking the first drink
after the provider has tasted it.
Ceremonial customs are more
elaborate. The Feast of the New Yam provides an illustration. This Feast
gives the tribe an opportunity to thank Ani, the earth goddess and
source of all fertility. Preparations for the Feast include thorough
hut-cleaning and decorating, cooking, body painting, and head shaving.
Relatives come from great distances to partake in the feast and to drink
palm-wine. Then, on the second day of the celebration, the great
wrestling match is held. The entire village meets in the village
playground, or ilo, for the drumming, dancing, and wrestling. The
festival continues through the night until the final round is won.
Because the tribe views winning a match as a great achievement, the
winner earns the tribe's ongoing respect.
Tribal custom dictates
every aspect of members' lives. The tribe determines a man's worth by
the number of titles he holds, the number of wives he acquires, and the
number of yams he grows. The tribe acknowledges a man's very being by
the gods' approval of him. Without custom and tradition, the tribe does
B-Choices and Consequences
Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo makes a choice early in life to overcome his
father's legacy. As a result, Okonkwo gains the tribe's respect through
his constant hard work. The tribe rewards him by recognizing his
achievements and honoring him as a great warrior. Although the tribe
believes that Okonkwo's personal god, or chi, is good (fate has blessed
him), they realize that Okonkwo has worked hard to achieve all that he
has (if a man says yes, his chi says yes). When he breaks the Week of
Peace, however, the tribe believes that Okonkwo has begun to feel too
self-important and has challenged his chi. They fear the consequences
his actions may bring.
The tribe decides to kill Ikemefuna. Even
though Ezeudu warns Okonkwo not to be a part of the plan, Okonkwo
himself kills Ikemefuna. Okonkwo chooses to kill the boy rather than to
When Okonkwo is in exile, he ponders the tribe's view of
his chi. He thinks that maybe they have been wrong—that his chi was not
made for great things. Okonkwo blames his exile on his chi. He refuses
to accept that his actions have led him to this point. He sees no
connections among his breaking the Week of Peace, his killing Ikemefuna,
and his shooting Ezeudu's son. In Okonkwo's eyes, his troubles result
from ill fate and chance.
C-Alienation and Loneliness
exile isolates him from all he has ever known in Things Fall Apart. The
good name he had built for himself with his tribesmen is a thing of the
past. He must start anew. The thought overwhelms him, and Okonkwo feels
nothing but despair. Visits from his good friend, Obierika, do little
to cheer Okonkwo. News of the white man's intrusion and the tribe's
reactions to it disturb him. His distance from the village, and his lack
of connection to it, give him a sense of helplessness. Even worse,
Okonkwo's son, Nwoye, joins the white man's mission efforts.
return to the village does nothing to lessen his feelings of alienation
and loneliness. The tribe he rejoins is not the same tribe he left.
While he does not expect to be received as the respected warrior he once
was, he does think that his arrival will prompt an occasion to be
remembered. When the clan takes no special notice of his return, Okonkwo
realizes that the white man has been too successful in his efforts to
change the tribe's ways. Okonkwo grieves the loss of his tribe and the
life he once knew. He is not able to overcome his sense of complete
Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo feels betrayed by his personal god, or chi,
which has allowed him to produce a son who is effeminate. Nwoye
continually disappoints Okonkwo. As a child, Nwoye prefers his mother's
stories to masculine pursuits. As an adult, Nwoye joins the white
Okonkwo also feels betrayed by his clan. He does not
understand why his fellow tribesmen have not stood up against the white
intruders. When Okonkwo returns from exile, his clan has all but
disintegrated. Many of the tribe's leaders have joined the missionaries'
efforts; tribal beliefs and customs are being ignored. Okonkwo mourns
the death of the strong tribe he once knew and despises the “woman-like”
tribe that has taken its place.
E-Change and Transformation
tribe to which Okonkwo returns has undergone a complete transformation
during his absence in Things Fall Apart. The warlike Ibo once looked to
its elders for guidance, made sacrifices to gods for deliverance, and
solved conflicts though confrontation. Now the Ibo are “woman-like”;
they discuss matters among themselves and pray to a god they can not
see. Rather than immediately declare war on the Christians when Enoch
unmasks the egwugwu, or ancestral spirit, the Ibo only destroy Enoch's
compound. Okonkwo realizes how completely the Christians have changed
his tribe when the tribesmen allow the remaining court messengers to
escape after Okonkwo beheads one of them.
F-Good and Evil
of the tribesmen view the white man as evil in Things Fall Apart.
Tribesmen did not turn their backs on one another before the white man
came. Tribesmen would never have thought to kill their own brothers
before the white man came. The arrival of the white man has forced the
clan to act in ways that its ancestors deplore. Such evil has never
before invaded the clan.
arrival of the white man and his culture heralds the death of the Ibo
culture in Things Fall Apart. The white man does not honor the tribe's
customs and strives to convince tribesmen that the white man's ways are
better. Achieving some success, the white man encourages the tribesmen
who join him, increasing the white man's ranks. As a result, the tribe
is split, pitting brother against brother and father against son. Tribal
practices diminish as the bond that ties tribesmen deteriorates. Death
eventually comes to the weaker of the clashing cultures.