Cultural conflict and masculinity in Things Fall Apart


The author of Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe has comprehended the differences, problems and the solution of the problems of the society and put down all this in a simple manner to make the readers understand. The differences that the African people have in their beliefs, thought patterns, interaction ways, and manners have led to the formation of their culture and their way of living. The culture, politics, and the religion of Africans changed after the coming of the European powers in their land (Fraser-Sampson 59). The interaction between the Europeans and the Africans led to a clash of clans as the behavior and actions of the two differed. The clash between the two resulted in all forms of conflict on the ground of religion, social, ideologies, and culture. This paper, therefore, aims at the presentation of the masculinity and cultural conflicts in the society as explained by Chinua Achebe.

Okonkwo who is seen as the main character has believed that many would see, as feminism is not related to his culture. They can be termed as personal beliefs that most of the successful men have in that they rarely share some issues that face the society. In the incidents where they were agitated to wage war with a white missionary and the women being hurt by way of beatings, which even killed Ikemefuna, one of them, are some of the times men did not support Okonkwo. He says that the wisdom of the old men has been washed away by colonization and they have no place in society.

The religion and the culture of the white men had turned them to weaklings as Okonkwo says. “The greatest obstacle in Umuofia Okonkwo thought bitterly, is that coward, Egonwanne. His sweet tongue can change fire into cold ash. When he speaks, he moves our men to impotence. If they had ignored his womanly wisdom five years ago, we would not have come to this. If they listen to him, I shall leave them and plan my revenge.” (Chinua 141) He points to some of the old men who had been assimilated by the whites and said that their wisdom is not needed anymore, as it would lead a man to impotence. The author wants to show the reader how the old men betrayed their people to get favors from the whites, which had a great change to their culture. Okonkwo is comparing the form of cowardice that is displayed with women though is a symbol of masculinity as he considers all women as a coward.

Due to lack of a common background, the language difference between the two also results in crisis as the Ibo would prefer to speak about respect and traditional values. There is a conflict that is brought about directly by nature that is used by the western culture, and Okonkwo speaks with his friend about this. “Does the white man understand our customs about land? How can he do that when he does not even speak our tongue?” (Chinua 176). The difference of the language brings a barrier between the two cultures and the fact that the Europeans have an interest in teaching the Africans their language does not please the leaders. By doing this, the Africans will lose their cultural values and origins, and it is a sign of lack of continuity, which should be seen in the future generations.

The cultural values that were done in traditional society like offering sacrifices to their gods, marrying many wives and beating up women which were a symbol of masculinity were not in line with the western people’s culture. The western people did not believe in bloodshed because they argued that Jesus shed blood for us all nor did they encourage polygamy (Samatar 43). Assimilation would, therefore, mean that the African stop carrying out bloodshed sacrifices to peace with their gods or even cleanse. Therefore, there was a conflict between both cultures because they all believed in the traditions although the Europeans thought that theirs was best. Okwonkwo, however, cannot condone this because he does not want their culture to be carried away by the white man who always wanted to take advantage over the Africans.

The book also has a suggestion that the traditional forms of leadership were under looked in that the traditional rulers were appointed to carry out messengers roles, and recruit labor. On the other hand, young men who were considered as feeble by the Africans were appointed as chiefs; this was a sign of disrespect to the idea of masculinity (Chua 13). When the white man arrived, things that were prohibited in Africans culture now began to happen; the elders were not seen as Christians anymore, norms were broken like killing pythons, which were a sign of power and peace, and disrespecting of the elders challenged the masculinity factor in Africa. Many Africans betrayed their culture and tradition, and they enrolled for the western education as they wanted to be westernized, and this changed the whole face of Africa.

The introduction of the western education, culture, and social practices eroded African values. “One of the greatest crimes a man could commit was to unmask an egwugwu in public or to say anything, which might reduce its immortal prestige in the eyes of the uninitiated. And this was what Enochvi did (Chinua 131)”. On the occasion when the spirit was unmasked and led to a church burn, elders were invited for questioning and instead of being listened; they were detained by the district commissioner who was a sign of humiliation to the African leadership. These events were a major source of conflicts between the Africans and the Europeans although the Africans fought a war of despair due to the military superiority of the whites. Africans lost their independence, morals, and cultural values due to the invasion by the whites, African rules were not applicable, and the leaders had no power.

The review of this novel shows that there was religion, social and political clashes between the Africans and the Europeans. The disagreement between the two societies leads to significant loss to Africans as they cannot agree on the cultural, social and gender views of the Europeans. The major conflict is about the beliefs about masculinity and cultural ideas. The community loses most of the strong, able men who disagree with the western culture, which is a great impact to their society. Many people convert to the new religion, abandon the farm for schools and the traditional sacrifices are kicked out of the law (Chua 23). The elderly in the society are not respected anymore by the young generation as the colonizers dominated the beliefs and people. Masculinity and feminism, however, vary from place to place and the ideology differences between people. The way Africans view culture and masculinity is not parallel with the Europeans, which is because of the difference in the behaviors and actions of men in each society.

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  1. Chinua, Achebe. “Things fall apart.” (1958).
  2. Fraser-Sampson, Guy. “Things fall apart.” The Pillars of Finance. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2014. 134-149.
  3. Samatar, Sofia. “Charting the Constellation: Past and Present in Things Fall Apart.” 60-71.
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