Change and Tradition Clash: 'Things Fall Apart'

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • The Strength of Tradition
  • The Disruption of Change
  • Individuals Caught in Transition
  • Conclusion


Chinua Achebe's novel "Things Fall Apart" delves into the clash between change and tradition within the Igbo society of Nigeria during the late 19th century. As colonial forces encroach upon the Igbo way of life, the characters grapple with the tension between preserving their cultural traditions and adapting to the inevitable changes brought by colonization. This essay explores how the conflict between change and tradition shapes the narrative and characters in the novel.

The Strength of Tradition

The Igbo society is deeply rooted in rich traditions, rituals, and customs that provide a sense of identity and belonging. The protagonist, Okonkwo, embodies the traditional values of strength, honor, and masculinity. His unwavering adherence to tradition stems from a desire to distance himself from his father's perceived weaknesses and to establish himself as a respected figure within the community.

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The clan's rituals and practices serve as a unifying force, connecting individuals to their ancestors and providing a framework for communal life. The annual Feast of the New Yam, the Oracle of the Hills and Caves, and the Week of Peace all exemplify the significance of tradition in maintaining social cohesion.

The Disruption of Change

The arrival of European colonists brings radical change that challenges the Igbo way of life. The introduction of Christianity, Western education, and a new economic system undermines the traditional structures of power and belief. The missionaries' influence is most evident in the conversion of Nwoye, Okonkwo's son, who seeks solace in the Christian faith as a means of escaping his father's oppressive masculinity and the harsh customs of the Igbo society.

The clash between the new and the old becomes symbolized by the destruction of the village's sacred shrine. The dismantling of the shrine, once a spiritual anchor, mirrors the erosion of the Igbo people's cultural foundation in the face of colonialism.

Individuals Caught in Transition

The characters in the novel grapple with the conflict between embracing change and clinging to tradition. Okonkwo, struggling to maintain his status and values, resists change vehemently, ultimately leading to his tragic downfall. His resistance to change blinds him to the evolving reality, rendering him unable to adapt and thus sealing his fate.

On the other hand, characters like Obierika and Ekwefi recognize the importance of balancing tradition with pragmatism. Obierika's open-mindedness allows him to question certain customs, while Ekwefi's willingness to challenge traditional gender roles to save her daughter underscores the complexity of the characters' relationships with tradition.


"Things Fall Apart" intricately weaves the themes of change and tradition, illuminating the multifaceted nature of societies in transition. The clash between the two forces drives the characters' decisions and actions, ultimately shaping the trajectory of their lives and the fate of their community.

The novel serves as a powerful reminder that change and tradition are not dichotomous but rather interconnected aspects of human experience. Achebe's portrayal of the Igbo society's struggle underscores the universal challenge of navigating societal transformation while preserving cultural identity. "Things Fall Apart" invites readers to reflect on the complex interplay between change and tradition in their own lives and societies, fostering a deeper understanding of the dynamic nature of human history and cultural evolution.

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