Should This Book Be Required In School?

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The story of African colonization, though consistently white washed and silenced by the oppressors, is a heart wrenching story of how the beauty, grace, and divine culture of Africa was ripped away from the continent by white colonizers. It is complex and it takes quite an open mind to understand, but once heard, it reveals the ways in which the white population is silently oppressing people of color without even realizing it. Chinua Achebe, a critically acclaimed author, wrote the novel Things Fall Apart to finally tell the story of his motherland from the African point of view. The story takes place during the 1800s within the Ibo tribe in present day Nigeria. The main character Okonkwo, is an accomplished man with many wives and children, who is the face of toxic masculinity. His behavior shows how he was taught to hide emotion and “be a man” because of his father who he deems “weak.” Traditional family roles are brought to life as well as various African traditions within certain tribes, like polygamy, genital mutilation, purity and human sacrifice. 

Relationships also become a huge part of the story, specifically between Okonkwo and his son and daughter. He believes his son is weak because he is more vulnerable. His son eventually falls to the colonizers and becomes a Christian who preaches the gospel. As far as his daughter, he deliberately states that he wishes she was a boy, because she has a brave spirit and is obviously independent. I believe that his son and daughter are symbols for what society is today and are tools used to compare toxic masculinity to current gender roles and values. At some point during the story, colonizers approach Nigeria in hopes to spread Christianity and “civilize” the culture. The novel portrays how the African people thought that the white settlers contained leprosy because of their skin color and gives off the tone of frustration from the African tribes as the white settlers begin to oppress. The story proposes the idea of ethnocentrism, the act of judging one’s culture based on the standards of their own. White settlers thought that following God and other Christian values were the only way to be validated in society, so they chose to attack the African people. For so long, history has been told by the point of view of white people. We have believed, for so long, that what white colonizers did was expansions that benefited foreign relations and the economy, yet we were completely wrong. Now, the microphone is handed to Achebe, where she can finally tell her story. Even in modern culture, the media has consistently labeled Africa as a poor country that is in need of aid from others, yet no one has ever considered the fact that white people may have been the ones who started this path to instability. In regards to the novel, the debate that is presented by the author is if Okonkwo is a villain or a victim of his circumstances.

Personally, I do not believe that he was a villain and was a product of his culture. He was taught everything he knew, which eventually led to his tragic ending, in which he takes his own life. During our class discussion last year when I read the novel for the second time, I remember people saying that Okonkwo was a coward for killing himself and an “incel” male. Yes, his actions were horrible, but that was what he thought was right. At the end of the day, I pity him and his character. He simply could not handle the pressures of being a toxic male. This novel is single handedly responsible for my love of African literature and the beauty and pain it holds. I must warn everyone though, the novel is not written for entertainment. It is boring and not exactly eventful, but it is worth the read. The African story is one that is misunderstood, so next time you hear a person of color talk about cultural appropriation, police brutality, or any other issue that affects their marginalized group, think about the teachings of Chinua Achebe before you speak.

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