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Sean Lacy

Ms. Hoover

Honors English 11

29 April 2018

A Divergence at Change

Progress implies change; however, change does not imply progress. A successful society

is constantly trying to better itself so as to become a more perfect institution. In order to be

progressive, people must be willing to allow their society and accompanying culture to change.

However, this does not mean that a certain aspect needs to be changed, or that a given change

will improve that aspect. In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, this relationship between

progress and change is quite pronounced. Achebe uses a struggle between two cultures to show

both the development and destruction that can arise from such changes. As progress is necessary

in the evolution of a society, so is change; therefore, a culture is always faced with outstanding

odds as it advances further into the future.

Many claiming to offer a helping hand often take a rigid grasp and become controlling.

The Ibo people quickly find themselves the targets of a western societal invasion. All around

churches are being built and villagers are being converted. Achebe writes, “The young church in

Mbanta had a few crises in its early life. At first the clan had assumed that it would not survive.

But it had gone on living and gradually becoming stronger” (154). The villagers first reject the

new church and religion as it does not fit into their culture, but they find the brute persistence of

the missionaries overwhelming. Most often, missionaries are sent to foreign countries to provide

basic relief to those in need and promote their religion rather than force it upon the people. This

is not the duty carried out by the missionaries in Mbanta. Overstepping their boundaries, the
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missionaries tear down the Ibo culture and rebuild it in the image they find superior: their own.

Assistance is for the benefit of those being assisted, as an excess of intervention leads to the

pacification of those being helped.

The correctness of a culture’s customs cannot be determined, but its benefit toward

humanity can be validated. Many of the Ibo’s traditions and customs would be found taboo by

most modern cultures, though they still should be respected as they are important to those who

honor them. While a particular custom can’t necessarily be labeled right or wrong, the humane or

inhumane nature of it is apparent. One custom of the Ibo people exemplifies this “catch-22”

situation. The villagers believe that twins are bad omens and will bring devastation, so they are

left in the forest as infants to die. Achebe writes, “The Earth had decreed that they were an

offense on the land and must be destroyed” (125). This killing is inarguably cruel and inhumane,

but it demands the respect of outside cultures as it derives directly from their religious beliefs.

This begs the question as to whether or not the humanity of an act supersedes its cultural value. It

is disrespectful to cast aside the religious beliefs of the Ibo, while at the same time callous to

validate the murder of an infant on the basis of it being a twin. People should respect the cultures

of others and at the same time work toward a more humane global society.

The development of a culture is progress while the pacification of a culture is the

slaughter of a people’s individuality. The missionaries make little to no attempt to understand the

culture of the Ibo. Rather, they force it to mirror the outside world and western culture. They

state that ‘“Only the word of our God is true”’ (157). The changes made by the missionaries lead

to no true advances or progress. They simply morph the Ibo society into one the missionaries

find more suitable and “correct”. As more villagers are converted to the Christian faith and
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Mbanta is suffocated by colonialism, the Ibo customs and way of life disappear. A society can be

exposed to the outside world without needing to strictly conform to the outside world.

On the path toward progress, the past need not be forgotten, but the future must not be

ignored. It is only humane to help those who are struggling before putting oneself further ahead.

People are of equal value; however, they are sadly not given equal opportunity. As societies

progress, they must form a more global community in order to promote equality. Though, along

the way people must answer the question as to whether culture needs to be left behind. In his

novel, Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe emphasizes that those in control will seek to press their

own views upon those who are in a more volatile position. In a time when some individuals

believe themselves to be of greater value than others, it is of utmost importance that all societies

come together to develop a new culture; a culture woven of equality that at the same time does

not forget the diversity of individuals.