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Critical Lens: Politics and Power

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Critical Lens: Politics and power

Cultural Interactions in Things Fall Apart — A Political Perspective

        Throughout the history, different cultures establish in foreign lands and different philosophies flourish in exotic realms. Ideas expand by force, by the appeal of benefits, or by intellectual and social appeal. When examining cultural interactions, political scientists usually seek to explain the causes of cultural conflicts and clarify the efficacy of different means of interactions. From political point of view, it is usually correct to claim that a culture or power usually establishes itself by winning legitimacy, which is defined as “a value whereby something or someone recognizes and accepts as right and proper” (O’Neil 35). Coercion, for example, violates people’s will and thus lacks legitimacy. For example, though a dictatorial regime distrusted by the majority can maintain its rule for some periods, it can hardly stabilize the rule without constant use of force to maintain policies against general will, because, as George R. R. Martin suggests, “power resides in where men believe it resides” (273). Similarly, when a sharply exotic cultural or belief system is to be imposed in another culture with violence, it lacks legitimacy and should face constant challenges. Historically, the expansion of Christianity during the imperialist era provides potent proofs for it. In the novel Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe introduces the spread of Christianity among Igbo society in Nigeria during British colonial rule. Due to its incompatibility with local culture, Christianity sought to establish itself in Igbo society with both physical coercion, which disqualified itself, and intellectual appeal, which legitimized it.

        Firstly, the inherent difference between Christian ethics and Igbo ethics is one of the fundamental causes of the conflicts. In Igbo local religion, nature, instead of men, was exulted. In another word, nature dominates and regulates human society; Christianity, on the other hand, regards humanity as a special creation over nature. The disparity in their views of the proper relationship between nature and humanity elicits conflicts. For example, in public places, Christian missionaries denied the Igbo natural gods’ ability to punish human and they are just “deceivers”, Igbo people reacted with contempts, as the local onlookers “broke into derisive laughter” and thought “how else could they say that Ani and Amdiora were harmless? And Idemili and Ogwugwu too?” (Achebe 56) The mental and nonverbal language of those villagers provide a good proof of Igbo’s highest reverence of nature and their distrust toward Christianity, since natural creations are regarded as incarnations of gods who can regulate Umofia’s fertility and destitute. The reverence sharply contrasts with British’s faith in humanity over nature, which they regard as merely materials. The difference is proven a source of conflict. For example, the outcast who were converted to Christianity showed their hatred toward Igbo society by killing a python, which is respected by Umofian as an emanation of the god of water. Thus, it is exactly the act against nature, instead of humanity, that carries great power to symbolize Christians’ retaliation of Igbo society (Adéẹ̀kọ́ 40). For Christian, merely killing an animal is trivial; for Igbo people, the killing shocks them in fear, since “[N]obody thought that such a thing could ever happen.” Consequently, many Igbo people “spoke at great length and in fury” in the massive convention on this issue. Okonkwo, taking a step further, said “the abominable gang (Christians)” should be chased out of the village” (Achebe 65). From this example, it is clear that the disparity in two traditions’ views of nature is one of the critical factors in triggering conflicts. Besides the different relationships between humanity and nature, Christianity and Igbo religion endorse different social structure: while Christianity endorses equality in Igbo society, the Igbo tradition rejects the outcast, and disrespects women and femininity. As Diana Rhoads suggests, people who initially converted to Christianity are those who cannot effectively integrate into the Igbo society; in another word, the initial converted are people rejected by the society (69). Sometimes, Christianity provides a source of equality for the rejected and inadvertently perpetuates violence as proven by the example of the outcast. However, sometimes, the socially favored are also a source of conflict. As MacKenzie suggests, Okonkwo, for example, a socially favored and highly religious man, rejects religious differences and subverts religious domination with violence. “[E]ven the most powerful paternal feelings of Okonkwo can stand in the way of the expression of religious duty and faith” (128). The result is his devastating downfall in the defense of the “religious duty and faith.” In sum, different religious views about nature and humanity as well as different social ethics foment a strong base for religious collision.

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