Theme Of Exile In Things Fall Apart

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Edward Said once wrote that the concept of exile is “the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place.” While his general claim is that exile “can never be surmounted,” Said adds that it can potentially be an “enriching” ordeal. In the African tragedy, Things Fall Apart, author Chinua Achebe presents the impact of such a detrimental experience through his protagonist, Okonkwo. Throughout the novel, Okonkwo’s struggle to gain respect and improve his social status eventually consumes him when he is challenged by the cultural differences and the conflicting beliefs of masculinity. When Okonkwo endures the physical exile bestowed upon him in his motherland, Mbanta, he is also mentally exiled from the other tribe members. Because …show more content…
When Okonkwo is forced to uproot his life and family from their Umuofia compound and relocate to his motherland, Mbanta, he struggles to identify and understand the ways of the local tribe. After Okonkwo is cast out of the village he called home, the narrator claims, “he had been cast out of his clan like a fish onto a dry, sandy beach” (131). This analogy comparing Okonkwo’s exile to a fish gasping for breath on dry land captures how his relocation is like being forced to survive in unfamiliar territory. While he could’ve used his time away from Umuofia to reflect on and ponder his choices, Okonkwo, instead, focuses on and repeatedly reminds himself that the people of Mbanta aren’t as fierce, and therefore respectable, as those of his fatherland. When the white missionaries arrive in Mbanta and begin to establish their presence, Okonkwo is disgusted by the clan’s compliance and apprehension towards the new settlers. He claims that “this was a womanly clan…such a thing could never happen in his fatherland” (159). After constantly comparing the two clans’ cultures, Okonkwo’s choice to holdfast to his beliefs signifies his refusal to alter his ways and adapt to the changes in Mbanta. This decision further drowns him when he returns to Umuofia. Like Mbanta, Umuofia has also been influenced by the arrival of the missionaries. Okonkwo goes back and sees how his beloved tribe’s cultural traditions and beliefs were falling apart. He “mourned for the warlike men of Umuofia, who had so unaccountably become soft like women” (183). As the only man who still feels as though the clans should rebel and drive out the missionaries, Okonkwo sets himself apart from the clan he once identified with by refusing to modify his principles when more

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