In “Things Fall Apart,” Chinua Achebe incorporates the theme of marginalization. The focus is on the tribe Umuofia in Africa: The arrival of the white man in the latter part of the novel turns the traditional setting in Umuofia into an archetypal colonial situation that reveals a classic conflict of cultures. The old, order is upset, and overridden by forces from outside that replace the value system of Umuofia with strange new ideas and ways (Peters, 98).
In the beginning, the novel shows how dependent the tribe is upon the cooperation and dedication of the members of the tribe, but once the tribe loses these qualities, then that is when things fall apart: For the Ibo culture, the coming of British colonization, as well as the culturally anarchy ,which it forebodes, is marked by a breakdown in communication (Wasserman, 78). Achebe creates Umuofia as the center of Things Fall Apart through many techniques. He incorporates actual terms used by the tribe, to show the importance of the tribe: author’s extensive use of the Ibo terminology and vocabulary (Wasserman, 77). By using the terminology of the Ibo culture, the novel genuinely succeeds in presenting tribal life from the inside, while patterns of feeling and attitudes of mind appear clothed in a distinctive African imagery, written neither up nor down and the literary method of the author is apparently simple, but a vivid imagination illuminates every page. By using all of these elements, Achebe creates a nontraditional marginality that is not seen in many texts. Marginalization is a very important aspect in “Things Fall Apart.” The reader gets the perspective of the colonized society. Since Chinua Achebe focuses on the Ibo culture, he creates a dichotomy within the novel. By creating the marginalization that Achebe does, he alters traditional concepts of marginalization. This type of rewriting demonstrates that texts can be written about other cultures too. The dichotomy that Achebe presents is the Ibo culture as having the power instead of the traditional dichotomy where the Europeans have all of the power. Achebe clearly defines the tribe of Umuofia as a very powerful and even feared tribe in Africa. This tribe relied heavily upon tradition and customs, which is where they drew their power. As long as the tribe remained united, they were very strong, unfortunately, that would not last forever. In the beginning, the people of Umuofia seem to have all of the power, until the arrival of the white man. Once the Europeans make their way into Africa, a power struggle begins between two cultures: When the presence of the white men becomes an established fact, the difference in language is offered by Obierka, one of the clan elders, as the reason for the white mans violation of Ibo custom. (Wasserman, 77) Unfortunately, this power struggle does not last too long, because once the Europeans brought religion to Africa, divisions occurred within the clan: This religion, with its emphasis on the individual salvation and love responded to a need deeply felt by certain people in Umuofia, but never openly expressed. “The religious values of the Igbo emphasize the shared benefits of peaceful, harmonious relations. The Igbo always consult the Oracle before declaring war; for they fear punishment from their gods should they declare war without just cause. Their religion also emphasizes the individual’s obligation to the community” (Sparknotes, 2002). Once the Europeans gained some power, they needed to demonstrate the power they had: First, through a combination of treachery and naked show of power he arrests the six leaders of the people (Taiwo, 122) “Things Fall Apart” is very unique because only for a short time, Achebe gives power to the Ibo culture. The dichotomy that Achebe creates proves that dichotomy does not always mean Europeans having all of the power. It also creates the possibility where non-European societies can be more powerful than European countries. To create the marginality and dichotomy in “Things Fall Apart,” Chinua Achebe relies on hegemony. Achebe uses his experience with the Ibo culture to enlighten readers about African culture: Achebe had a consciously educational motive in mind when he wrote “Things Fall Apart.” He first wanted to evoke the pattern of life in a traditional African setting, notably its order, harmony, poetry, and beauty for the benefit of the younger generation. To make the picture objective in the novel, he balances this portrait with accounts that reveal shortcomings in the society. “Achebe presents the faults of the culture, whereas in traditional texts the European cultures are shown as being perfect. Not only does Achebe rely on words from the Ibo culture, he incorporates many other cultural aspects” (Eldred, 1970).
Along with its wealth of proverbial material, “Things Fall Apart” also contains “the relationship between the study of African languages and African folk life” (Eldred, 1970). By using hegemony, Achebe allows the reader to see colonization from the point of view of the people colonized. The Europeans who believed that colonization is good for everyone, but “Things Fall Apart” shows that not everyone, especially the Ibo culture, did not want to be colonized. It is important to note that Achebe does not try to make the Ibo culture seem perfect, but instead he shows the weaknesses of the culture as well as its strengths. By doing this, Achebe is showing that no culture is perfect; however, it does not mean that it is a bad culture. By relying on hegemony, Achebe’s audience may be able to identify with some of the ideals and customs of the Ibo culture, and show that the Ibo culture is very similar to every other culture. This fact is very important because if the audience can identify with the subject, then the work will be significant. Achebe is successful in drawing the audience in to the Ibo culture that is not that different from their own. This use of hegemony by Achebe is very different from the typical hegemony. Hegemony consists of European and American ideals; Achebe uses the ideals and customs of an African tribe. By doing this, he is giving the African tribe, as well as all Africans, power. This power is not often seen outside of the white man hands. The technique that Achebe uses hegemony is amazing for it gives the world a glimpse as to what the Ibo culture is truly about.
One can imagine the thoughts of many contemporary critics of the late 1950’s, faced with a novel such as “Things Fall apart,” when experiencing more than a little difficulty in accepting the worth of a story written about the trials and tribulations of a group of African tribesmen and women. Marginality, dichotomy, and hegemony are all very important concepts used; Chinua Achebe creates nontraditional displays of these three concepts in his book “Things Fall Apart.” Achebe is able to take the traditional concepts and re-work them so the Europeans are not the most important people in the novel. The Ibo culture has power, importance, and their own culture at least for a time in “Things Fall Apart.” Since the Ibo culture is giving power, even if is just for a little while, then the Europeans do not have the power. Achebe creates unconventional uses of traditional concepts to show that the European culture is not the only one in the world, and to show that not everyone wants to be part of the European culture, even if that is what the Europeans think is best for them.