What do you think about the idea of progress as reflected in the plot of the narrative?
First, let’s think about the “idea of progress”. Wikipedia defines it as:
“Idea of Progress is the theory that advances in technology, science, and social organization inevitably produce an improvement in the human condition. That is, people can become happier in terms of quality of life (social progress) through economic development (modernization), and the application of science and technology (scientific progress). The assumption is that the process will happen once people apply their reason and skills, for it is not divinely foreordained. The role of the expert is to identify hindrances that slow or neutralize progress.”
This notion derives from enlightenment discourse in Western Europe.
Progress is of course the mantra and the creed of colonialism, and was used to justify the actions of white European nations as they invaded and disrupted traditional cultures and structures as occurs in this novel. Progress is therefore something that is the overt excuse behind the behaviour of the white missionaries and the district commissioner. Certainly progress, in the sense of intentionally improving the lives of some Africans, can be seen in the way that Christianity challenged some of the social heirarchy of Okonkwo’s tribe.
Okonkwo can fight with the best of them – indeed his place in his community stems from his physical prowess and his victory in an important wrestling contest when he was still comparatively young – but he can’t prevent ‘progress’. What he knows is that Europeans and their impudent monotheism, hubristic imperiousness, their racism and ultimately the sheer violence of their culture and its justice is not in any way ‘progress’ at all. Achebe shows us Okonkwo’s (and Africa’s) dilemma: the progress to a capitalist future is no future; the rural isolation and ignorance of his tribe is no longer even a viable present.
Over the years, Things Fall Apart has been examined by a wide variety of critical schools. Although certain types of criticism have dominated discussions of the novel during different periods, they have also been interlaced with studies from a variety of other critical perspectives–such as Marxist, reader-response, psychoanalytic, historical, feminist, and cultural-studies approaches. Still, throughout the 1990s the dominant trend was postcolonialism, which at times also draws on Marxist and poststructuralist theories. Postcolonialist criticism focuses its critiques on the literature of countries that were once colonies of other countries. It arose during the 1980s, as many African countries were in political and economic crisis and theorists reexamined ideas about progress and development.
As Simon Gikandi explains, “Instead of seeing colonialism as the imposition of cultural practices by the colonizer over the colonized, postcolonial theorists argued that the colonized had themselves been active agents in the making and remaking of the idea of culture itself“.