No community, or person, is perfect. In fact, that is why the search for paradise is ubiquitous in both literature and real life. So, when the British colonize and destabilize the inevitably flawed village of Umuofia in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, two camps form: those who defy the changes, and those who embrace them. To Okonkwo, the rise in “acolytes”—or followers—of the new religion brought by the colonizers is on par with apocalypse. In this presentation, we first detail the novel’s context, including a history of colonization in Nigeria and the life of Chinua Achebe. Next, we examine Okonkwo’s motives before and after colonization. Furthermore, Okonkwo’s complex character represents the struggle to find one’s individual paradise amid the opposing forces of tradition and colonization. Lastly, we outline the definitions of heroism in several cultures, in order to examine the perspectives and biases that shape one’s understanding of heroes. Thereby, one can fully understand Okonkwo’s flaws, mistakes, and redeeming qualities.
Additionally, the temporal context of this presentation undoubtedly shapes its portrayal of paradise and heroism. At the time of this presentation’s completion, the world has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic for more than two years. However, during these strenuous times, one can achieve a greater understanding of good, evil, and humankind itself. As mentioned later in the presentation, both heroes and charlatans arise in tough times; great art and literature can arise as well. Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is one strong example, a complex portrayal of colonized peoples’ struggles written just before Nigeria gained independence. There will always exist another struggle for humankind to overcome, and perhaps this presentation can serve as a warning—and source of hope—to future generations. Paradise and heroism have a multitude of definitions, not all of them correct. Ultimately, the individual must determine what both of these concepts mean to them, while trying to ameliorate the issues that trouble society.
Kales, Zoë and Marunde, Ethan, "From Acolyte to Apocalypse: Defiance vs. Conformity in Things Fall Apart" (2022). Student Research. 44, Scholarly and Creative Work from DePauw University.
Presentation from Dr. Leslie R. James' HONR-102 Vision of Paradise Inc. course. Spring, 2022.