A sense of identity is often acquired and developed by everyone as they mature, but it is always changing as culture changes. The novel, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, follows the development of several characters in response to a cultural shock caused by the westernization of the Ibo tribe in Nigeria. The protagonist of the book, Okonkwo, is a strong, diligent leader and supercilious warrior of the tribe who obsesses over his masculine image. However, Okonkwo’s eldest son, Nwoye, tries to shadow and please his father, but ultimately fails for he has a soft side. Especially when it comes to religion, Nwoye’s believes, morals, and interests often diverse from his fathers. The introduction of Christianity to the Ibo tribe results in the changing of Nwoye’s sense of identity, in a positive way, which contribute to the theme of change in Things Fall Apart.
Before the Ibo tribe experiences a cultural collision, Nwoye’s personal identity is incoherent since it is masked by Okonkwo’s expectations. Since he is the eldest son of Okonkwo, Nwoye is expected by his father to become a strong man with profound masculine traits. However, Nwoye struggles to please his father. As stated in Things Fall Apart, “Okonkwo’s first son, Nwoye, was then twelve years old, but was already causing his father great anxiety for his incipient laziness” (Achebe 13). The sensitive and sympathetic side of Nwoye contradicts Okonkwo’s hopes for his son, and makes Nwoye seem more indolent than he actually was. Nwoye reminds Okonkwo of his father, a disappointment to the clan, causing a tense relationship between the two because of their conflicting personalities. Okonkwo’s demands and expectations restrain Nwoye from developing a personal sense of identity, until the arrival of Ikemefuna, a fifteen-year-old boy taken from a neighboring clan.
Soon after his arrival, Nwoye begins to look up to Ikemefuna. The author reveals that “Okonkwo was inwardly pleased at his son’s development and he knew it was due to Ikemefuna” (52). With the influence of Ikemefuna, Nwoye begins to develop in a more masculine manner, much to his father’s delight.
However, in several years, Ikemefuna is ordered to be killed, and none other than Okonkwo kills him for fear of being perceived as weak. Subsequently, tensions between Okonkwo and Nwoye exacerbate as Nwoye loses trust and respect for his father. Nwoye quickly loses all his masculinity and reverts to his old self much to the disappointment of Okonkwo. Until the introduction of Christianity, Nwoye doesn’t start to develop a personal sense of identity. The Ibo tribe began to experience several different paramount cultural changes with the introduction of Christianity, and Nwoye’s own village was no exception. Missionaries poured into the village, preaching about Christianity, to the discomfort of most of the clan.
Even from the beginning, Nwoye is intrigued by the new culture and religion. As described by the book, “but there was a young lad who had been captivated. His name was Nwoye, Okonkwo’s first son.
..the hymn about brothers who sat in darkness and fear seemed to answer a vague and persistent question that haunted his young soul- the question of the twins crying in the bush and the question of Ikemefuna who was killed” (147). This shows Nwoye’s attraction to the Christian religion from when it was first introduced. Additionally, Christianity provided an answer to several unanswered questions about Nwoye’s old Ibo religion and culture.
For the first time in his life, Nwoye desires something other than pleasing his father- Christianity. As described on page 150, “Nwoye passed and repassed the little red-earth and thatch building without summoning the courage to enter. He heard the voice of singing and although it came from a handful of men it was loud and confident”. At this point, Nwoye considers joining the church. Soon after, Nwoye joins the church and converts to Christianity. Although Nwoye’s own personal cultural identity was hidden for fear of Okonkwo, Nwoye eventually becomes more independent and begins to escape from the Ibo cultural norms. The cultural collision impacts Nwoye positively since he is finally able to discover his true cultural identity after joining the Christian missionaries. Christianity turned Nwoye’s life around.
He broke apart from the orthodox Ibo cultural norms and became a part of a religion with morals, believes he agrees with. When Obierika confronted Nwoye about why he was with the missionaries, Nwoye replies: “I am one of them” (144), showing that his perspective on religion has changed for the better, based on his own morals, and not the clan’s or his fathers. Furthermore, Nwoye is able to get educated in a college with the help of the English missionaries. Because Nwoye undermines his fathers religion, Okonkwo abhors and doesn’t support Nwoye’s choice. Everything Nwoye thought was morally right contradicts his fathers beliefs, so Okonkwo disowns his son and cuts all ties after attempting to kill him.
As a result, Nwoye moves in with the Christians and is able to escape his father’s abuse and controlling attitude. Consequently, the initiation of Christianity engendered Nwoye to become a stronger man as he had the courage to leave behind his abusive father and join a religion that satisfies his morals. Even though much of the indigenous Ibo population reacted negatively to the forced Westernization of Nigeria, a number of people, such as Nwoye, accepted and benefited from the new religion. Nwoye’s development throughout Things Fall Apart in response to the cultural collision and the introduction of a new religion contributes to the profound theme of change. The westernization and introduction of Christianity change the Ibo tribe greatly, presenting the tribe a dilemma of accepting or rejecting new cultural norms. As culture changes, things fall apart for some individuals who are not willing to accept the change.
However, sometimes a change in culture can provide new options with positive outcomes for people, exemplified by Nwoye’s story. In conclusion, life leads us in different directs and sometimes takes unexpected turns. With these unexpected turns, we learn more about ourselves and our cultural identity.