Change is the Only Constant | Teen Ink

Change is the Only Constant

March 11, 2020
By aryavbothra BRONZE, Aurora, Illinois
aryavbothra BRONZE, Aurora, Illinois
4 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Seemingly plagued with disease, violence, and underdevelopment, Western views on the African reality have started to define the image of a whole continent. Over a billion people are wrongfully judged on a daily basis from how they are portrayed on modern media. Determined to override these stereotypes and bring the rich cultures of Africa into the global spotlight, Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, follows the journey of a small Igbo tribe in Nigeria and their clash with Christianity. The novel amplifies the dying voice of tribes in Africa as modern religion proves to be too powerful and showcases that when faced with change, human nature is the same, regardless of where it is. Obierika, in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, tries to view the diffusion of Christian ideology into his tribe objectively or with caution, but, simultaneously, finds his identity obscured, plagued by a sense of ambiguity. His eventual revelation that the Igbo culture is on the brink of extinction and that Okonkwo’s death is an effort to keep his culture alive in a changing world, accentuates the work’s theme that change is the only constant and it stops for no one. 

In an immediate response to the inflow of Christian ideals, Obierika takes a very passive approach to dealing with the outsiders, but, nonetheless, is stripped of his identity. Seen as a level-headed and insightful member of society, he is not immediately thrown into a frenzy upon the arrival of white men. While telling the story of how Abame becomes a victim of their own decision to attack the white man, Obierika makes it clear that they “paid for their foolishness,” but have the right to be afraid (Achebe 140). Obierika blatantly discerns the fact that tension will result from the arrival of the white men, but refuses to resist their presence. Instead, he open-mindedly views the world around him, in an effort to understand the delicate balance between human nature and the nature of change. He also believes that he is comfortable enough with his masculinity and position in society, to allow the white men to possibly alter the social and cultural fabric of his tribe. The cycle of change is able to proceed freely, seemingly because Obierika does not resist it, but, it is really due to his oblivion to the disassembling of his culture.  It soon, however, becomes easy for him to perceive that the impact of the white men is widespread, actually putting a whole culture in jeopardy, and it becomes difficult to take a stand for or against it. In the backdrop of hasty modifications to the Igbo government and daily life, Obierika finds himself pondering the reason behind the missionaries/converts criticizing his religion and “how…[to] fight when our own brothers have turned against us?” (Achebe 176). Obierika is plagued by a sense of internal conflict, being torn apart by two different world, two different cultures. In fact, he becomes aware of the fact that he is stuck in a changing world and whether he moves with it or tries to stop it, is completely up to him. And with this revelation, the last piece of Obierika’s old life, which he is desperately holding onto, is shattered, with no hope of putting it back together again; it is irreversible. His sense of identity frays before completely falling apart at the hands of the British, at the hands of change, and, ultimately, at the hands of fate. The wheels of change are turning and with them, they are degrading the identities of individuals, groups of people, and whole cultures. Overall, Obierika's initial vigilance towards the missionaries does not spare his identity from ambiguity, as it’s part of the cycle of fate, further leading to a shift in his response and identity. 

Tension between the Igbo and British catalyze Obierika’s eventual response of resistance to Christianity, solidifying his identity as a definite part of the Igbo tribe. He is made aware of how little involvement he has in his fate, and what a small role he plays in the future if he merely observes the changes around him. The turning point where Obierika finally renders the diffusion of Christianity as an outside force, occurs when he stares at Okonkwo’s lifeless body and recognizes that the British “drove [Okonkwo] to kill himself, and now he will be buried like a dog” (Achebe 208). It takes the death of a close friend to bring the devastating toll of colonization into the light for Obierika. The power that Okonkwo’s death has on Obierika, is far greater than any impact he had on him when he was alive. He shows Obierika that it is inevitable for things to fall apart, and that it’s impossible to resist it in hopes of preserving the life that he lived before. Instead, he should resist the change to keep his old life and culture alive within him, capturing a moment in time and externalizing it for generations to come. This idea of resisting change, not to stop the world from evolving, but to stop himself, further carries over into a dramatic shift in Obierika’s identity. The newfound sense of defiance towards the Western ideology brings Obierika to the realization that Okonkwo “was one of the greatest men in Umuofia” and his legacy deserves to be carried on by a true Igbo (Achebe 208). Emerging from the midst of self-doubt and uncertainty, Obierika has found his purpose and it’s clear that he will remain an Igbo through the perils of clashing cultures. His journey is actually a classic example of a quest, which many literature professors like Thomas Foster, who wrote How to Read Literature Like a Professor, cite to involve an “inexperienced, immature, [and] sheltered” protagonist (Foster 3). Obierika finally ties the motif of fate to the rapidly-changing events of life and himself, embodying the very essence of change. His identity, among those of others, being a victim of life, shows that fate has the power to make things fall apart, but also to make new things out of the broken parts. Often, the two go hand in hand and complete the cycle of life, what Achebe holds to be as the highest power. Obierika’s eventual resistance and self-discovery that he is truly part of the Igbo tribe, lends itself naturally to accentuate the novel’s meaning as whole. 

Although taking great vigilance with the missionaries, Obierika is unable to fight the feeling of constant obscurity, like he doesn’t know where he belongs. Once the true plan of some of the missionaries unfolds, it is clear to Obierika who he is -- and the fact that change is the only constant and it stops for no one. The drastic difference in his immediate and eventual response displays a clear shift in identity, from ambiguous to definite. Obierika accepted the fact that he did not have the power to stop the world from changing because,  ultimately, that cycle of certain things dying and new things being created, is part of nature. And in that way, the title of the novel is quite misleading, because things falling apart is only half of the picture.

The author's comments:

Things Fall Apart is one of the most important and prominent pieces of African literature in existence today. It offers a raw and unobstructed look into the tumultuous history of colonization in Africa. The universal themes presented by Chinua Achebe need to be brought to the eyes of the younger generation to foster cultural understanding and appreciation. In a world as divided and hatred-plagued as ours currently, books like this one are the true stitches holding us together over our tearing seams.

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