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Elena Kook

Mrs. Sambdman

Honors English 1

24 Oct. 2017

Things Fall Apart Due to Cultural Misunderstanding

Understanding others perspectives is something that is often grazed over when looking

into many life situations. Even so, understanding is one of the most important things to think

about when trying to avoid a troublesome chain of events. In Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things

Fall Apart, many of the characters are forced to face struggles because of the differences among

them and the changes that are taking place around them. Through specific events which occur

throughout the book, Achebe communicates that cultural differences can often lead to conflict,

when misunderstanding is present.

Achebe shows cultural differences can cause conflict due to misunderstandings when he

exemplifies the conflict between the Abame and the white men. This misunderstanding

eventually led to a series of events that went too far. The scene that Achebe highlights this in,

begins with a single white man arriving in Abame. It was said that “[h]e was quite different” and

because he didn’t speak Igbo, the Abame “did not understand him…[as] [h]e seemed to speak

through his nose” (138-9). Because they didn’t understand one another, they feared their

differences and death followed. The Abame killed the white man because their Oracle told them

he “would break their clan and spread destruction among them” (138). This action was the result

of Abame’s fear of the white men’s to retaliation if they saw the bicycle that the Abame had tied

to a tree (139). Had these two groups of people been able to communicate with one another, they

would not have misunderstood each other's intentions. The language barrier between the cultures
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began a war throughout the two groups that resulted in the death of many people. If they had had

someone to translate for them, the bridge between the cultures would have been much stronger

and not rooted in fear.

Achebe also shows that cultural differences can cause conflict when they are

misunderstood, as he develops and tells of the disagreements between the leaders of Umuofia

and the new white missionaries. The two groups of people do not understand each other which

ultimately leads to conflict and destruction among them. When Mr. Smith, one of the said

missionaries, arrives, he tells his interpreter that he “cannot leave the matter in [Ajofia’s] hands,

because he does not understand our customs, just as we do not know his” (191). These people

did not understand what the others were like which made it very difficult for them to get along

and trust one another to lead. As a result of this misunderstanding, the missionaries church was

turned into “a pile of earth and ashes” (191). When the European missionaries and the Umuofia

clan did not grasp what the others were trying to express to them, the tribe decided to jump into

violence and the demolition of the new church. This event occurred because of

miscommunication. Less destruction would have happened, had the two groups been able to

understand, or take the time to understand one another. The men let their cultural differences and

customs dictate the impactful decisions that they made, which ultimately led to the definite

ruining of previously possible relationships.

Finally, if there is misunderstanding, even among family members, about cultural

differences, there is still a chance of conflict. The misunderstandings between Okonkwo and

Nwoye led to the departure of the son and the frustration and anger of the father. When the

missionaries found their way to Nwoye, the boy was convicted and decided to switch his beliefs

to the Christian religion (150). When Okonkwo found out about this, he was angered, so “he left
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hold of Nwoye, who walked away and never returned” (152). As a result of Okonkwo’s

furiousness, he was tempted to go to the church and “wipe out the entire vile and miscreant

gang” (152). That night, as Okonkwo was thinking to himself, he questioned Nwoye, wondering

how he, “Roaring Flame”, could have possibly produced such a “degenerate and effeminate” boy

(153). Okonkwo was upset about Nowye’s change of religion and this forced him to leave. The

disagreements and misunderstandings between the two people’s religions ended with the

separation of the family. In addition, because of Nwoye’s shift in perspective, Okonkwo was

very upset and felt the urge to cause more destruction, which would in turn lead to more conflict

among the people. Although, Nwoye is considered feminine in the eyes of his father, much of

this trouble could have been avoided, had Okonkwo taken the time to understand why his son

was doing what he was doing.

Things are misunderstood, and conflict often follows suit, because of the cultural

differences all around us. Every character was misunderstood at some point in Achebe’s novel.

Whether it be a language barrier, or even racial or religious differences, disagreement and

tension arose because people failed to communicate. In any of the cases previously stated, if one

person had taken the time to try and understand another's perspective in a situation, all trouble

could have been avoided.
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Annotated Bibliography

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Anchor Books, 1994

In the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, there is misunderstanding between

different cultural groups, which in the end causes a string of conflict to rise among them.

Okonkwo, a strong man in the Ibo tribe, is forced to leave his land due to the

consequences for his actions. When he returns, a lot has changed and new people have

begun to arrive in his land. White European missionaries cause a lot of disagreement

between the two groups of people. The actions of all of the men result in many problems

for Okonkwo and his village.