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Themes in Things Fall Apart

Themes of religion, festivals, sacrifice and justice in Achebe's novel

Theme Elements in Things Fall Apart

Achebe, in the novel Things Fall Apart, conveys a flavor of traditional African culture in the 1800`s. But despite this, it seems the tragedy of okonkwo that embodies the theme of the novel. Many of Achebe`s themes are not limited to the events in his novel, but relate to SITUATIONS, in which traditional values are questioned and people from different cultures meet, the most profound impact being related to the themes of religion and justice.

Like any good religion, the Igbo religion comes with many superstitions. Personal chi is one of the superstitions in the Igbo tribe. Chi can be a personal fragment of the Supreme Being, unique for each individual. It determines much of a person's success and character. "When a man says yes his chi says yes also" (19). But at the same time a man does not challenge his chi. "The evil you have done can ruin the whole clan. The earth goddess whom you have insulted may refuse to give us her increase, and we shall all perish" (22). Ezeani said this to okonkwo in response to his challenge against his chi, by beating his wife during the week of peace. Okonkwo BECAME THE EXAMPLE OF A person challenging his own chi. His desperate desire to succeed his chi, does not let him go any further than failure, destruction and death. Chi is simultaneously a destiny and an internal commitment, WHICH cannot be denied. The Igbo religion has a tendency to symbolize numerous amounts of divine gods. They HAD a god for every different natural phenomenon that occurred. These things of worship were things such as trees, pieces of wood, hills, caves etc. For every symbolic god there was a being in the clan that represented it. Ezeani the priestess, of the goddess of the earth, represented the goddess of earth (Ani). The clan seeks knowledge from the god through the oracle of the hills and caves. Other symbols in the Igbo religion are the sacred silk cotton tree and the evil forest.

The festivals, in the novel contribute to the development of this theme as well. The two festivals "Week of peace" and "The Feast of the New Yam" ARE SYMBOLS OF IMPORTANCE TO the clan and OF THE power WHICH gods have. The week of peace was one of the means of unification FOR the clan and appeasement for the gods in control over the crops. And "the feast of the new yam" signaled the beginning of the New Year and it was the time of festivity and gratitude to Ani, the earth goddess. ANI was the source of all fertility, ultimate judge of moral conduct, and was in close communion with departed fathers. (26)

Sacrifices were another element that made up the Igbo religion. Sacrifice helped to mediate one's relationship with their gods. Sacrifices ranged from animal down to basic fruits from trees. Animals were a symbol of spiritual, as well as the physical, means of sacrifice. The body itself is a part of the living world, but IT initially belongs to the spiritual realm. Sacrifices were also used to cure illness, increase fertility, an even aid in the defeat of a neighboring enemy. The death of Ikemeumafa can IS AN example of sacrifice USED to avoid war over an umofian woman who had been killed in mbiano.

Achbe in his novel does NOT only develop the Igbo religion, but also introduces Christianity. I find this to be an interesting aspect of this theme, since it visualizes the mixture of religions. Achbe is careful WHEN presenting both the negative and positive aspects of Christianity and it's impacts on the Igbo people, FOR EXAMPLE achbe supports Nwoye`s conversion to Christianity. Nwoye`s unhappiness at oknokwo`s anger, outrage over the sacrifice of ikemufa, and his father's role in that murder IS A GOOD INDICATOR OF SUCH SUPPORT. CHRISTIANS believe in the doctrine of the holy trinity and the Igbo religion believes in the ancestral spirits OF the many gods in the religion. This is a major difference and unfortunately the mixture of the two religions ended up in actions causing rage and anger on BOTH sides.

The justice of the Igbo people depends heavily on the decision made by ancestral spirits and the oracle of the hills and caves. The Igbo tribe follows laws that are natural and unwritten, yet understood as parts of the tradition. The court meeting of the Igbo tribe was a masculine communal ceremony which was held in the village ilo. It was the highest court, WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY IT IS to take care of the disputes between the villagers. Although there is the presence of a judge and jury in the court, the jury was made up of nine different spirits and the judge was the evil forest. This shows that the Igbo people depended on their spirits for justice to be served.

The court proceedings seem to be similar to a normal court session, despite the way in which they are carried OUT, FOR EXAMPLE the way in which the members are addressed like bodies and "our father,? and uzowlu touching the ground to salute the judge. I find this court to be more of a civil court rather than a criminal court since it only deals with the disputes between villagers. But on the other hand, at times through the novel, the earth goddess can be seen as a source of justice, since she punishes okonowo for beating his wife during the week of peace and also later exiles him from umofia for SEVEN years for shooting a clan's man accidentally.

Many times throughout the novel, when a person commits a crime the court is disregarded, FOR EXAMPLE when a neighboring village man killed the umofian woman, Umofia called upon the oracle of the hills and caves to seek permission on starting the war. Instead mbiano offered to sacrifice a lad of theirs for their fault. This shows that the problem of a villager was the problem of the whole village.

When the justice system of the Igbo tribe was overtaken by the European justice system, there was still doubt AS TO whether proper justice WOULD be served in the society of umofia. No longer did the court depend on the spirits for a decision. Anyone who went against the white man's law was held prisoner. Although this court system was highly organized, there was no justice. When the eruwugu was unmasked by Enoch there was no action taken by the court, DESPITE IT BEING considering a crime in the Igbo culture. ALSO when the churches were burned down, the district commissioner MADE a sly approach to arrest the men involved in the violence, considering it to be crime. The invasion of the Europeans into umofia deprived the Igbo people of their freedom and religion.

The theme of justice mostly relies on the gods of the Igbo people and their spirits. The theme of religion in the novel does NOT only DISPLAY the Igbo religion and Christianity, but also conveys the message that "The mixture of religions is hardly ever bloodless."

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