Things fall apart themes

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Things fall apart themes

  1. 1. Things Fall Apart Theme of Gender<br />Much of the traditional Igbo life presented in this novel revolves around structured gender roles. Essentially all of Igbo life is gendered, from the crops that men and women grow, to characterization of crimes. In Igbo culture, women are the weaker sex, but are also endowed with qualities that make them worthy of worship, like the ability to bear children. The dominant role for women is: first, to make a pure bride for an honorable man, second, to be a submissive wife, and third, to bear many children. The ideal man provides for his family materially and has prowess on the battlefield. The protagonist in the novel is extremely concerned with being hyper-masculine and devalues everything feminine, leaving him rather unbalanced. Much of the gender theme in the book centers around the idea of balance between masculine and feminine forces – body and mind/soul, emotionality and rationality, mother and father. If one is in imbalance, it makes the whole system haywire. <br />Things Fall Apart Theme of Religion<br />The Igbo gods are mostly manifestations of nature and its elements, which makes sense because they are an agricultural society that depends on the regularity of seasons and natural phenomena to survive. They worship the goddess of the earth and are always careful to avoid committing sins against her for fear of vengeance that might wipe out an entire generation. The Igbo ancestors also take on a divine nature to some extent. Family plays such a central role in Igbo life that the spirits of their ancestors are consulted for almost every decision and even serve as judges in legal trials (in the form of masked elders). The Igbo emphasis on numerous gods associated with nature and also on ancestors and somewhat divine contrasts sharply with the single God of Christianity which seems far less directly relevant to the Igbo lifestyle. <br />Things Fall Apart Theme of Respect and Reputation<br />Reputation is extremely important to the men in the novel. Personal reputation is publicly denoted by the ankle bracelets men wear, which signify the number of “titles” they have earned. Reputation is based on merit – men gain reputation through bravery in battle, skill at wrestling, and hard work as seen through the size of their yam harvest. Reputation earns men positions of power and influence in the community as well as numerous wives. Okonkwo, the novel’s protagonist, is extremely concerned with reputation because he grew up with a father who was shameful and lazy. Okonkwo overcompensates by working tirelessly on his farm and taking every opportunity available to prove his bravery and strength. <br />Things Fall Apart Theme of Family<br />For the Igbo, there are a few key ideas that form the basis of an ideal family: mutual respect for each other, a reverence for all past fathers, and unity. The father is not only the provider for the family, but defender of its honor and teacher of his sons. The mother’s main duty is to add to the family line by bearing healthy children and also to please her husband. Children are the inheritors of the future and are raised to continue the values of the older generation. This family unit is the most fundamental unit of society and its structure can be expanded to fit a whole community or even a pantheon of gods. <br />Things Fall Apart Theme of Fear<br />Many of the characters suffer from fear of some sort. Okonkwo fears becoming like his lazy, shameful father, Ekwefi fears losing her daughter, and Nwoye fears his father’s wrath. While most characters fear events that are outside of their control, Okonkwo is consumed by a terrible internal worry about himself and his identity. Rather than mastering his fear, he allows it to dominate him and drive his actions. Fear leads him to lash out in some pretty nasty ways: beating his wives, abusing and alienating his oldest son, partaking in the murder of his adoptive son, etc. Overall, fear in this novel leads characters to behave in negative ways that can bring the wrath of the gods, guilt, and the community disapproval upon them. <br />Things Fall Apart Theme of Traditions and Customs<br />Igbo lifestyle is highly stylized, from its ritual speech to the actions performed for certain ceremonies. Most of these formalized interactions occur in an attempt to show respect to some external being – another man, an ancestral spirit, or a god. Respect and knowledge of one’s role in society is very important in determining such customs. Another institution that rituals address and honor is the family unit. Stylized language, in particular, seeks to hold the family together by means of promises. <br />

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