Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Counter Culture

Igbo culture and the colonizing forces from England are clearly put at odds against one another in terms of religion, society and government by Achebe in his expression of the lives of the Igbo people and their interaction with the colonizers. In particular, by creating the character of Okonkwo to follow; the pure embodiment of radical social and cultural ideals Achebe can effectively contrast the both the less extreme members of his own society and those of the white men.

Achebe also however allows the reader to witness the discussion between the reverend Mr. Brown and Akunna. Akunna seemingly is pushing the soft spoken reverend to understand the similarities between the two religions while Mr. Brown systematically breaks down Akunna's points one by one as they face Christian doctrine. While the similarities are expressed by Akunna between the religion of the Igbo people and the colonizers, both Mr. Brown's counter points and the ever present language barrier seem to serve as an unyielding barrier between the two cultures. Achebe, in a single chapter without violence, hyper-masculinity, or intense cultural presentation quietly establishes the irreconcilable disjunction between the two cultures. Things have already begun to fall apart yet now the reader can be aware in a serene setting that there is no solution; the peoples are set at odds with one another that cannot be understood trough differences in culture, language, and thought.

What constantly surprised me throughout the story was the reasoning behind the Igbo people's acceptance or at least tolerance of the English. While constantly suspicious of the actions the whites have committed in the past and the obvious powerful influence they seem to be having over their own people and culture the tribes either blame themselves for the actions of the white men or in some other way push blame away from them. For example Okonkwo speaks of the massacre at Abame, he calls them cowards. Their culture, as he relays in the folk tale of the goose and the chick, teaches that they were the ones at fault because they should have known better.

Another interesting bit of contradiction in Achebe's story is how Okonkwo's masculinity seemed to be the only means to preserve the Igbo way of life. He is depicted as the last warrior, the last man, the last brute and with his hanging body dies the Igbo way of life. If they had done as he had thought, if they had cut down the white men and burned their buildings they would have survived. Are we to believe that Igbo culture doomed itself in morality, rationality and the preservation of their own culture?

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