Things Fall Apart
William James once said, “A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and life is after all a chain.” In the novel Things Fall Apart the author Chinua Achebe embraces this same principle; the same way a chain breaks because of its weakest link, a community breaks because of its weak members. During the 1890’s the African communities that existed through unity faced the dilemma of whether to give in to Western cultural imperialism, or to continue practicing their beliefs that have been passed down from generation to generation. Ultimately the Westerners succeed in penetrating the African communities and gaining control over them; first by persuading the weak of the villages to convert faiths and second by enforcing their power with British authority. Achebe reveals this transition in the African communities through the life of the protagonist Oknokwo. Oknokwo comes from a poor family but grows into a wealthy farmer, and holds the title of a great warrior in his village and the nine surrounding villages (Achebe 8). Oknokwo’s sole purpose in life is to be the man his father wasn’t, he plans on doing this by trying to earn the highest title in his village (Achebe 13). However, he is unsuccessful in doing this because he accidently kills a clansman so he is forced into exile for seven years to his mother’s birth village (Achebe 124). During these seven years of exile, Oknokwo witnesses his fellow communities fall apart due to the Western cultural imperialism. The Westerners or “white men” as the locals of the communities call them, begin to enter the communities during Oknokwo’s first two years of exile. They come in two stages; the first is lead by a man named Mr. Brown who is followed by Christian missionaries. They don’t reach Oknokwo’s mother village until four years into his exile (Achebe 143). Mr. Brown is a man who stood firm in his beliefs and drew inspiration and confidence through his faith; a man named Mr. Kiaga follows him who also shares the same characteristics as Mr. Brown and teaches the converts the ways of Christianity (Achebe 157). Together they convert multitudes of Africans through their prophecies and non-violent interactions.
The first to convert faiths was the efulefu and the osus, also known as worthless men and the outcasts of the villages (Achebe 154). It is simple to convert them because they gain no benefits from the villages, so they have every reason to seek refuge in a group that treats them as equals and with respect. Some people in the villages won’t convert because the land the Christians are on is cursed by their gods and anyone who lives on the area will die; however, the day comes that the Christians are supposed to die but none of them do (Achebe 150). The Christians gain more followers through this because it proves to the people that their gods are nothing.
The next to follow are the youth of the villages and the women who give birth to twins because twins are mutilated when born. Not every young person or woman converts over to the new faith, but the ones who don’t agree with the customs of the village or no longer want to be with their families leave their households and join Mr. Kiaga in the Christian schools. A prime example of this situation is Oknokwo’s son Nwoye who converts into a Christian because he was always confused by the traditions of the villages, and didn’t agree with the way his father treated the family (Achebe 152). These people convert faiths and follow the Christians because they are not satisfied with their way of life, or how they’re living their lives. They don’t understand the ways of their ancestors, so it is easier to believe in something new that benefits them in a better manner. These are the “weak links” of the villages because they no longer have faith in what they’ve been taught their whole lives. By breaking down those people, Mr. Brown also starts to break the unity that holds the…