Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I thought that the relationship between Okonkwo and his son Nwoye was interesting, because it is a microcosm of what happened to the different Igbo villages. They allowed the culture of the ‘‘white man’’ to invade their geographical, cultural, spiritual and mental spaces. However, I think that Nwoye’s decision to leave his father to join the missionaries is used by the author to criticize the extremism of Okonkwo, which led to another form of extremism.

The tension between Okonkwo and his son Nwoye is sketched by the narrator from the beginning of the story. Nwoye is the opposite of his father : he does not like working, he feigns to love the stories about tribal wars told by his dad. In reality, he prefers the stories told by women. He also questions the traditions of Umuofia. For instance, when his dad comes back home after killing Ikemefuna, he feels a snapping inside him. (Achebe, 61) The same thing happens when he hears twins that have been put in earthen pots and thrown away in the forest. We can read : ‘‘A vague chill had descended on him again and his head had seemed to swell…’’(Achebe, 62) Instead of feeling a natural attraction towards the tradition of his people, Nwoye feels the contrary. He can’t identify to this culture that appears violent, extreme and illogical to him. Because of that, he is rejected by his father who constantly wishes that his daughter, Ezinma, were a boy.

As a consequence, Nwoye grows with a lack of affection and spirituality. His culture does not satisfy him in these areas. When the culture of ‘‘the white man’’ is introduced to him, he is quickly attracted to it because it does not seem to promote violence, extremism and terror from superstition. Interestingly, Nwoye is not attracted to the teachings of the new religion, but rather by ‘‘its poetry.’’ His senses are deeply involved and touched : ‘‘he feels something in the marrow’’, when he passes by the church, he ‘‘hears the voice of singing.’’He also realizes that despite the warning about the Evil Forest, the church is still standing. He does not understand the teaching of the Trinity, or even Jesus’ words quoted by the priest when this one learns that he has decided to attend his school : ‘‘Blessed is he who forsakes his father and his mother for my sake.’’(Achebe, 152) There is a gap between the way Nwoye conceives the religion of the ‘‘white man,’’and the way the priest interprets his actions. Nwoye interprets the priest’s words literally, since we read that ‘‘he was happy to leave his father,’’of course, not for the reasons thought by the priest. The author shows that the conflict of both cultures is also a conflict of words, since the Europeans also travel with words that are interpreted otherwise by the Igbos.

However, the author shows that Nwoye’s decision to leave his family and culture is a two-edged decision, because by doing so, he erases some of the elements that constitute his identity. He is no more called Nwoye, but Isaac. (Achebe, 182) He is no more part of the Igbo community, since he has accepted to bear a biblical name, which is associated with the religion of the ‘‘white man.’’ In a sense, Nwoye is like his father because he does not succeed in finding a middle ground between his culture and the culture of the ‘‘white man.’’His attitude seems extreme, for, at the end, he completely rejects his culture. When Obierika asks him what he does among the missionaries, he replies : ‘‘I’m one of them.’’ (Achebe, 144)

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