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The Theme of Cultural Clashes in “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart relates the story of Okonkwo, an Igbo leader in Nigeria whose life is rooted in tradition and his people’s cultural beliefs. The novel explores the theme of cultural clashes as beliefs and traditions clash with colonialism and the interference of Western culture in African societies. In this essay, we will delve into the cultural values and beliefs presented in the novel, analyze the nuances and complexities of the cultural clashes, and discuss their impact on the characters.

Key Takeaways

  • Okonkwo’s character embodies the traditional Igbo values and beliefs of masculinity, strength, and power.
  • The arrival of colonialism disrupts the traditional Igbo society and cultural beliefs, causing confusion, conflict, and ultimately the downfall of Okonkwo.
  • The clash between traditional Igbo religion and Christianity highlights the different cultural concepts of spirituality, morality, and social order.
  • The role of women in traditional Igbo society is challenged by the Western influence, particularly the introduction of Christianity and European gender roles.
  • Achebe’s portrayal of cultural clashes in the novel is a commentary on the negative effects of colonialism on indigenous cultures and how it can lead to cultural erasure and loss of identity.
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The Impact of Colonialism on Traditional Igbo Culture

The arrival of Europeans brings about significant changes in the Igbo society in the novel. The introduction of Christianity poses a significant threat to the traditional spiritual concepts of the Igbo people, and the new religion often conflicts with their traditional beliefs, leading to misunderstandings and confusion. For instance, the character of Mr. Kiaga represents the powerful cultural influence of Christianity in the novel, portraying it as a new religion that brings light to the people lost in darkness.

The British colonization of Nigeria also disrupts the Igbo people’s political and economic systems, as it introduces a new order that operates under European principles. The Western-style educational system replaces traditional modes of learning, and the legal system replaces the traditional systems of justice. The disruption of the traditional Igbo society leads to a loss of cultural identity, which can lead to social instability and unrest.

The Role of Religion in Shaping Cultural Identity

The novel’s theme of cultural clashes centers on religion, with a significant emphasis on Igbo traditional religion and Christianity. Okonkwo’s father is portrayed as being weak and effeminate due to his non-belief and involvement in Christianity. On the other hand, Okonkwo represents the traditional Igbo values of masculinity, power, and strength.

Achebe’s portrayal of the Igbo religion highlights the cultural concepts of spirituality, morality, and social order. For instance, the Igbo religious ceremonies and rituals are lengthy affairs that emphasize the community’s importance and social connections. In contrast, the Christian religion introduces a new individualistic order that values personal salvation rather than the salvation of the community. This clash highlights the different ideological foundations of the two religions and the impact they have on traditional Igbo culture.

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The Different Concepts of Masculinity and Femininity Presented in the Novel

Achebe’s portrayal of gender roles in the novel illustrates the complexities of traditional Igbo society and the Western gender roles that influenced it. In traditional Igbo society, men are expected to hold positions of power, and their value is derived from their ability to provide for their families and protect their communities. Women, on the other hand, are expected to fulfill domestic roles and bear children. However, this traditional gender role ideology is challenged by the Western influence, which values gender equality and women’s rights.

For instance, the character of Ekwefi, one of Okonkwo’s wives, is portrayed as a strong-willed woman who defies traditional gender roles by rejecting polygamy and fleeing her abusive husband. This defiance highlights the influence of external factors, such as British colonialism, which brought about change in gender roles and norms.


In conclusion, Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart presents a portrayal of cultural clashes in Nigeria during the colonial period. The novel highlights the impact of Westernization on traditional Igbo culture, including religion, gender roles, and social order. The novel’s theme of cultural clashes emphasizes the complexities and nuances of cultural beliefs and values, which shape identity and influence individual behavior. Achebe’s portrayal is a commentary on the need to preserve indigenous cultures in the face of Westernization and the potentially negative consequences of cultural erasure.


What is Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe?

Things Fall Apart is a novel by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. It was first published in 1958 and is widely regarded as an iconic work of African literature.

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What is the dominant theme in Things Fall Apart?

The dominant theme in Things Fall Apart is the conflict between traditional Igbo society and the Western influence that arrived with colonialism.

How does the theme of masculinity shape the novel’s narrative?

The portrayal of masculinity in the novel highlights the traditional Igbo values of strength, power, and leadership. The character of Okonkwo embodies these values and is presented as an archetype of manliness. However, as the novel progresses, Okonkwo’s inability to adapt to the changing cultural landscape leads to his downfall.

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