Sunday, January 25, 2009


In reading the second half of the novel, I was shocked by the amount of hypocrisy displayed by both the people of Umuofia as well as the missionaries. All seemed incapable of realizing the bonds of humanity and solidarity. The first half of the novel ignited the feminist inside of me as women were seen as the “weak”, the obedient, the passive, and the inferior; the second half disgusted me as the culture of men Achebe describes causes an uproar when outsiders treat them just as they have traditionally treated their own families.
Okonkwo does not enjoy the Feast of the New Yam because “he would be very much happier working on his farm,” instead of “sitting around for days waiting for a feast of getting over it” (36). After “walking about aimlessly in his compound in suppressed anger” Okonkwo shouts, “’Who has killed this banana tree?’” (38) Achebe writes, “As a matter of fact the tree was very much alive. Okonkwo’s second wife had merely cut a few leaves off it to wrap some food, and she said so. Without further argument Okonkwo gave her a sound beating and left her and her only daughter weeping. Neither of the other wives dared to interfere beyond an occasional and tentative, ‘It is enough, Okonkwo,’ pleaded from a reasonable distance. His anger thus satisfied, Okonkwo decided to go out hunting.” (38) Women are obviously seen as less than human, which is what allows Okonkwo to use Ekwefi as purely an object, a means to his own end, as well as what allows him to move insensitively from violent destruction and anger to hunting.
The lack of humanity is demonstrated also in Okonkwo’s encounter with Osugo; “Without looking at the man Okonkwo had said: ‘This meeting is for men.’ The man who had contradicted him had no titles. That was why he had called him a woman. Okonkwo knew how to kill a man’s spirit. Everybody at the kindred meeting took sides with Osugo when Okonkwo called him a woman. The oldest man present said sternly that whose palm-kernels were cracked for them should forget to be humble. Okonkwo said he was sorry for what he said, and the meeting continued.” (26) Although Okonkwo does receive some amount of scolding for his condescension, the fact that Okonkwo is considered superior to Osugo is not denied; in fact, the hierarchy is encouraged by the eldest man as he scolds Okonkwo not for a lack of humanity but for a lack of “humility”.
The cultural hierarchy of the Nigerian villages is mirrored in the missionaries’ attitudes and actions and is particularly illustrated within Umuofia’s encounters with Mr. Smith. In Achebe’s introduction of Mr. Smith, he writes, “He believed in slaying the prophets of Baal.” (184) The violence present in Mr. Smith’s actions presents the hypocrisy of Christianity; the same gospel that Smith preaches adheres to nonviolence, love, and forgiveness.
When Okonkwo undergoes his capture and torture by the District Commissioner, his first reaction is similarly violence; he says, “’We should have killed the white man if you had listened to me.’” (195) Okonkwo does not seem to see the hypocrisy in his own actions towards other people: women, children, men, and stranger alike. The refusal to live a life of solidarity and equality present within this culture as well as others creates a dangerous cycle of vengeance, hatred, and death. Instead of recognizing the nature of their own humanity, the village falls, blinded by their own chauvinism and pride. Their mistake is tragically obvious to an outsider, but sadly this constant ranking and judging of races, cultures, sexes, ethnicities, and classes is not only found in the pages of Achebe’s writing. In this way the novel acts as a moral guide or even a warning for all people, all cultures at all times; the fate of the Umuofia village can and will be shared by Achebe’s audience if the world, like Okonkwo, refuses to recognize the bond present within humanity and to focus on “sameness” instead of “otherness”.

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