Many authors depict differences in African cultural traditions as a result of Western ideologies’ influence. Chinua Achebe replied to this notion in his novel Things Fall Apart by offering a synthesis of the existing pattern of African society and ethos in an African context. Achebe insists that a writer must show his or her audience that civilization did not start with the Europeans and that cultures have a great depth of value, aesthetics, and integrity. These, though, were only missing during the colonial period and can still be recovered. Indeed, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart has remained monumental in terms of international recognition to this day.
Marxism in Things Fall Apart
The storyline in the novel has its setting in Umofia village where the class of a man in the Igbo society has a basis on his success in yam harvesting and the ability to sustain a polygamous family (Azumurana 12). Under such considerations, Unoka stands out as a failure due to low yam yields, laziness and lack of motivation. A man’s social standing in the society is weighed regarding success or failure, and the value of labor has the most significant effect on the economic security. Communities that appreciate the labor theory of value flourish, but the ever-existing risks of class imposition has the potential of overthrowing the ideals of any given society. Ideally, Marxism is concerned with the importance of an individual, and the desire to establish a steady organization without the social stratification aspects (Azumurana 13). Karl Marx created Marxism, and it encompasses other theories like the Labor Theory of Value and Alienation.
The Labor Value Theory asserts that the value of anything is directly related to the duration it takes to produce or make. In the novel, Okoye was a musician but was not classified as a failure since he had a large barn of yams and three wives (Samatar 61). Besides, Age commanded respect even though his achievements were revered (Achebe 12). The egwugu represented mighty men in the society because they were the richest, and had the highest number of wives; in fact, women and children sent up shout outs and ran away as soon as egwugu appeared. The egwugu were also the smartest since they controlled the legal system in the Umuofia village. Women and children had no authority to go close to them or even stare at them, something that shows the extent of their power and the growing distance between people of different social classes as indicated in the Marxist ideologies regarding class polarization (Anyanwu 140).
The narrative starts by emphasizing on the fame that the main character Okonkwo had in the village and beyond. He became famous after throwing Amalinze the Cat (a great wrestler who had fought for over seven years without being challenged) (Achebe 3). The popularity of Okonkwo emerged from the accomplishment of challenging tasks and presenting himself as a hardworking man. The achievements of Okonkwo demonstrates how Umuofia is a capitalist society in which strength, money, and competition are the most valued. Indeed, the issue of gaming is emphasized in the culture by organizing wrestling matches every year. Okonkwo’s story shows how one could transcend from one social class to the next; he moved from a poor village boy to one of the most respected and influential men in Umuofia village. Okonkwo’s destiny was decided by great passion and the drive to be one of the lords in the society (Samatar 64). His father was unsuccessful, so he had to work hard to avoid the challenges that the father had undergone, and he succeeded in doing so. He achieved very high class in the village, and he was successful in battles and wrestling.
Commodification and Ideological Conditioning
In the context of Marxism ideological conditioning is a process whereby “proletariats are conditioned by the bourgeoisie to accept their deplorable circumstances as normative” (Azumurana 14). Therefore, such individuals make little efforts to vary their life situations. On the other hand, commodification is an interpretation of the human relationship as that which is predicted from a socioeconomic gain; hence people are likely to value things that are useful in acquiring other objects with a higher value through exchange.
By beating Amalinze the Cat in a wrestling match, Okwonkwo was able to win the heart of the village queen Ekwefin, besides gaining fame that spread like the bushfire. From this perspective, it is clear that wrestling had a sign-exchange value (Clifford and Schilb 23). Every activity carried out by Okonkwo is predicated by the effect it has on the socio-economic status of the Igbo community. Okonkwo had the desire to become one of the lords of the clan (Achebe 9), and that was the motivation behind participation in the wrestling battles; inter-tribal wars, and even killing of the Ikemefuna. He worked hard to maintain his socio-economic status in the society by preserving prestige and doing the religious duties to Ani.
Ideological conditioning is a method of promoting and maintaining the socio-economic status of the individual characters in society. It acts as a tool for social control employed by those who occupy a higher social class, to serve an intended purpose. Re-appropriation and appropriation of ideology are used by the top and might to maintain their social level. In the modern capitalist society, it would be expected that the characters like Okonkwo ideologically oppress the less fortunate; however, the novel reveals that they bear the brunt of the cultural suppression. Achebe uses the manipulator device of the gods to demand from Chielo who tells Okonkwo and his wife Ekwefi that Agbala would wish to see their daughter Enzinma. The lady is then forcefully taken to the shrines and returned very early the following morning. The incident herein concurs with the ideas of Terry Eagleton regarding metaphysical materialism which is applied to keep the residents of Umoufia obedient to the perceived powers of the Agbala (Clifford and Schilb 25).
The structure of the system ideologically conditions the characters, more so, the protagonists. Okonkwo exhibits the ideology of ‘rugged individualism’ which prevents the class action. Also, most of the females in the novel subscribe to patriarchal authority. The idea is supported by Eagleton who asserts that men are biologically superior to women and that is why they (females) concede leadership roles to males (Clifford and Schilb 27).
Social Stratification and the Issue of Christianity
The novel is indeed a representation of the Igbo’s culture in various ways. The system has neither a queen nor a king, but the society has groups which are defined by religious and social positions in the community (Wafula and Wanjala 64). Regarding religion, the chief of priests and oracles takes the ruling place. The number of wives and the barns of yams one owns was a measure of wealth. The elders command respect because of experience and knowledge, while successes and privileges provide the titles. Women occupy the bottom position in the Igbo’s culture, and their role is to perform the house chores and being a good housewife (Anyanwu 160). The lowest rank in the social structure is occupied by the village outcasts (osu) who can neither marry, or be married by the free-born member of the society and lived in the particular area near the Great Shrine.
As a result of the social injustice, conflicts arise between the ruling the oppressed classes. The latter takes advantage of Christianity to retaliate. The missionaries arrived in the early 19th Century and used the soft method to convert the society into Christianity and join with them, and hence bridge the gap between the ruling and the oppressed classes.
Okonkwo as a “Problematic Hero”
George Lukasc views the bourgeois form of life as a primacy of ethics of hard work and strength, qualities that are exhibited by Okonkwo throughout the novel. However, in the modern society, a form of life is no longer unproblematically present. According to Lukasc, there exists a kind of art which can express an unproblematic relationship between ‘form’ and life (Wafula and Wanjala 67). Therefore, there is a dilemma in modern art as writers strive harmony between form and life. Many people consider Okonkwo as a villain whose story ends in the destruction of his village due to ‘bigger than life’ character. However, a critical analysis of the book reveals that he is a problematic hero as opposed to a villain.
Through his hard work and motivation, Okonkwo stands out as a village hero whose ambitions are cut short by the arrival of the colonialists. He indeed earned respect in Umuofia village through personal endeavors that at times portrayed him negatively. He was given the responsibility of adopting Ikemefuna who grows to adore Okonkwo due to his zeal for life and his principals about the presence of a real man. Okonkwo gained his fame through violence, but this was aimed at initiating self-liberation and achieving a particular goal of being the lord of the village.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. London: Penguin Books, 2018. Web.
Anyanwu, Chinekpebi. “Critical Reflection on Values in Nigerian Literature: Pathways for Igbo Society.” Africology: The Journal of Pan African Studies 11.4 (2018): 139-165. Web.
Azumurana, Solomon. “Marxism and African Literature: Commodification and Ideological Conditioning in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.” Lagos Papers in English Studies (2010): 12-29. Print.
Clifford, John and John Schilb. “A Perspective on Eagleton’s Revival of Rhetoric.” Rhetoric Review 6.1 (1987): 22-31. Print.
Samatar, Sofia. “Charting the Constellation: Past and Present in Things Fall Apart.” Research in African Literatures 42.2 (2011): 60-71. Print.
Wafula, Richard M., and Chris L. Wanjala. “Narrative Techniques in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.” Journal of Social Sciences 5.1-3 (2017): 62-69. Web.