In Things Fall Apart, Achebe is careful to show the various positives and negatives of colonialism and the different tensions that arise on both sides with the intrusion of the missionaries upon tribal life. The missionaries and their works are illuminated under a contemptuous, negative light throughout the book — especially with the introduction of Reverend Smith. The culture, religion, and lifestyle of Umoufia and its surrounding clans are destroyed in favor of the the religion and lifestyle of the missionaries — what they see as better, more humane, more right. However, Achebe is careful to point out that not everything about the establishment of the missionaries is necessarily a negative.

Near the middle of Part I, Okonkwo returns home after having killed Ikemefuna. His son, Nwoye, “knew that Ikemefuna had been killed, and something seemed to give way inside him, like the snapping of a tightened bow” (61). Nwoye felt a “snapping” and that “something had given way inside him” — just as he had felt when he heard the twins crying in the forest (61-62). This suggests that Nwoye feels that some of the traditions and customs of his clan are wrong in some way. Perhaps he does not know how to rationalize such feelings, but he is definitely emoting fear, anguish and heartache in the face of these violent customs. His heart has “snapped” like a broken bow string –a heartache that suggests painful reverberation. Something inside of him is breaking, or has been broken by his experience with violence. When Nwoye hears the songs of the missionaries, “the hymn about brothers who sat in darkness and in fear seemed to answer a vague and persistent question that haunted his young soul– the question of the twins crying in the brush and the question of Ikemefuna who was killed. He felt relief within as the hymn poured into his parched soul” (147). Nwoye felt a darkness and fear inside him before the missionaries were ever present, and their new presence offered him a sort of peace. Perhaps no longer throwing babies in the woods and murdering innocent young men at the behest of gods is a good thing — I cannot help but think of it as such. The missionaries had no right to invade the cultural and religious practices of this clan and there is certainly an outrage and a bitterness present in the text that reflects this. However, there is also simultaneously a sort of relief present in this new alternative to such violent, disparaging, and heartbreaking acts as throwing infants away in the forrest or murdering a newly beloved family member. The missionaries offered a healing environment for the “parched souls” of the clans —  the Nwoyes, the outcasts (osu), and the mothers pregnant with twins. I’m not necessarily saying this offering is a good thing — the missionaries certainly used the status and emotions of the downtrodden to their advantage — even though it seems like one, but rather that both sides have some amount of validity. If anything is certain, it is that this novel is incredibly tense and complicated.


About erinwp89

I'm a senior literature major/ philosophy minor at American University. I'm from Chicago. I love being outside and going for walks with my dog Flip!

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