Postcolonial responses to the missionaries: Things Fall Apart
(Citations are from the Picador edition, entitled The African Trilogy.)
Gerald Moore has stated in Seven African Writers that Achebe's goal in writing Things Fall Apart was to recapture ''the life of his tribe before the first touch of the white man sent it reeling from its delicate equilibrium'' (58). This is central to an understanding of the novel. Right from the tribes' first encounter with the whites, the reader observes it being unchangeably altered.
It is the coming of the missionaries which brings the disruption. After thousands of years of unviolated and untouched tribal existence, Okonkwo returns after just seven years of exile to find his village almost unrecognisable. Similarly, his fellow clan members seem unwilling to recognise him. Instead, ''the new religion and government and trading stores were very much in the people's eyes and minds ... they talked and thought about little else, and certainly not about Okonkwo's return'' (149). The Europeans have been active in Nigeria for just seven years and already the pre-colonial Nigeria has been lost. This presents a clear picture of the sheer rapidity of the colonial project. It seems inevitable that much indigenous tradition and heritage will be swept away, resulting in feelings of profound cultural dislocation, and loss of identity.
Yet despite these hardships, the reader cannot escape the feeling the Achebe is not as narrow-minded and bitter as he first appears. He clearly does not object to the discovery of and learning about new religions and cultures. He presents a strong argument in favour of discussion as a path towards understanding. In Things Fall Apart, the missionary Mr Brown and Akunna, one of the tribal elders, often spend long hours in discussion, and although ''Neither of them succeeded in converting the other ... they learnt more about their different beliefs'' (147). This demonstrates a mutual relationship, in which both...