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The Death Of A Culture: An Analysis Of The White Man's Influence Over The Igbo Clan

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Autor:   •  December 31, 2010  •  1,274 Words (6 Pages)  •  480 Views

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"We shall not do you any harm," said the District Commissioner to them later, "if only you agree to cooperate with us. We have brought a peaceful administration to you and your people so that you may be happy. If any man ill-treats you we shall come to your rescue. But we will not allow you to ill-treat others. We have a court of law where we judge cases and administer justice just as it is done in my own country under a great queen. I have brought you here because you joined together to molest others, to burn people's houses and their place of worship. That must not happen in the dominion of our queen, the most powerful ruler in the world." (p. 194)

The Death of a Culture:

An Analysis of the White Man's Influence over the Igbo Clan

The District Commissioner in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart tries to put forth the image of himself as a humanitarian, with the best interests of the Igbo at heart. However, his statement reveals that he is actually just an arrogant, hypocritical, power-hungry man. The District Commissioner, along with the other white missionaries, breaks up the community of the clan by damaging everything that held them together. By creating a world vision in which whites are superior, the District Commissioner enables himself and his fellow missionaries to destroy the culture of the Igbo people. Through this, Achebe highlights the flaws of British colonialism and questions the qualifications that make a society civilized.

The District Commissioner's statement reflects the hypocrisy of his actions. He promises the Igbo people that if "any man ill-treats" them, the whites will come to their rescue. The words "any man" here include the white men. However, the white men are personally responsible for the suffering of the Igbo people and without their presence, the Igbo would not be in need of any "rescuing". Instead of bringing the "peaceful administration", as the District Commissioner claims, the white missionaries actually initiate many primitive practices themselves, such as severe beatings, sudden imprisonments, and executions. Rather than being open about their intentions, the District Commissioner says what he wants to be true. It is possible that he even believes it himself, as he seems quite convinced that they are improving the lives of the Igbo by eliminating such practices as "burn[ing] people's houses and their places of worship." He tells the Igbo people that the whites will not do them any harm, but he fails to realize that they have already done a great deal of harm by tearing the clan apart.

The District Commissioner makes his claim with an incredible sense of arrogance. The overall tone of this statement evokes the image of someone threatening to discipline a child, which is, in a sense, how he views the Igbo people. The District Commissioner references his own culture's "great queen", claiming that she is "the most powerful ruler in the world." With these two direct references, the District Commissioner shows his belief that his own culture and way of life are superior to that of any other nation. The District Commissioner is creating a world vision, which includes his image of an ideal leader.

By describing the queen of England as "the most powerful ruler," the District Commissioner makes a position of power something to aspire to. This idea of total control becomes the motivation behind the actions of the white men. This true incentive contradicts what he claims to be their goal--to make the Igbo people happy. The District Commissioner attempts to gain a sense of control over the Igbo by presenting them with a sort of ultimatum--"we shall not do you any harm, if only you agree to cooperate with us." In saying this, he implies that if the Igbo choose not to go along with the new administration, they will suffer. He also warns them that if they ill-treat others, they will be punished. The structure of the entire passage is one in which the District Commissioner seems to be looking down on the clansmen. The District Commissioner has given himself the authority to rule over the entire clan, forcing them to abide by his rules or to pay the consequences.

The District Commissioner's false sense of superiority leads him to believe that it his duty to civilize the Igbo people, ignorant of the fact that the Igbo are already civilized. Although the white missionaries view the Igbo people as primitive and childlike, the presence of community within


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