In Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the internal conflicts and external issues surrounding Umuofia lead to Okonkwos downfall. Although external conflicts are catalysts that accelerate Umuofias gradual loss of unique culture and Okonkwos inevitable downfall, the underlying internal conflicts are more important in triggering the decline of the Ibo tribe.
Umuofias internal conflicts lead to its loss of culture and traditions, as the controversial killing of Okonkwos surrogate son reinforces this idea. To avoid being viewed as weak, Okonkwo brutally murders his surrogate son Ikemefuna even after clansmen disprove of the idea. Okonkwos idea of masculinity focuses on anger and violence, and by murdering Ikemefuna, Okonkwo is more focused on fulfilling the qualities of masculinity than listening to the advice of the noble clansmen. Traditionally, the advice and words of the Oracle would be taken as truth and placed into action, but Okonkwos focus on masculinity and trying to be the opposite of his father illustrate how traditions of the tribe are gradually disappearing. The Oracle tells Okonkwo to not take part in the killing of Ikemefuna: They will take him outside Umuofia as is the custom, and kill him there. But I want you to have nothing to do with it. He calls you his father (57).
Turning against the Oracle, Okonkwo forgets about the consequences of disobeying higher powers, and decides to uphold his image of strength and masculinity: Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak (61). As Okonkwo begins to turn against the customs of the Umuofia culture, the internal issue becomes more prominent. Okonkwos friend, Obierika, explains how Okonkwos actions are in defiance of the goddess wishes: What you have done will not please the Earth. It is the kind of action for which the goddess wipes out whole families (67). The defiance of the Oracle and Okonkwos obsession with masculinity illustrate a larger problem apparent in Umuofia.
Not only does Okonkwos defiance of the Oracle reflect the internal problems of Umuofia, but the questioning of sacrifice and twin killing further exemplifies the disintegrating traditions of the Ibo tribe. Okonkwo accidentally kills a sixteen-year-old boy when his gun explodes and pierces the boys heart. Obierika is confused by the sentence that Okonkwo faces, and how he is banished from the clan for seven years: Why should a man suffer so grievously for an offense he had committed inadvertently? (125). Obierika does not understand this As more and more clansmen begin to question these traditions and customs that the Ibo tribe has had in place for several generations, the strength and unity of Umuofia begins to crumble from the inside out.
As Umuofias unity begins to break apart due to internal conflicts, the addition of Christian missionaries in the area is the catalyst that accelerates the downfall of the Ibo tribe. Although the Christian missionaries do not push conversion from native African religions, mainly polytheistic religions, to Christianity, their influence in the region is apparent. The situation that arises in the local community of Abame, demonstrates the missionaries impact on the Ibo tribe. Obierika describes the mass murder that takes place in Abame, a situation that arose from the murder of a single white man. Obierika fears that the white mans influence and power could infiltrate Umuofia: We have heard stories about white men who made the powerful guns and the strong drinks and took slaves away across the seas, but no one thought the stories were true (140). It is clear that the Africans have underestimated the power of the white man, and the increasingly strong hold Europe has on the region. Furthermore, the concerns of Obierika reflect the sentiment of the entire tribe, as Okonkwo and others also fear that the Christian missionaries are more dangerous and more detrimental to their society than they may appear.
More importantly than Okonkwo and Obierikas ideas about the white mans presence, are the ideas of many of the other citizens in Umuofia who are confused by the appearance of Christian missionaries in the region and their reason for being there. Uchendu is one of them: We have albinos among us. Do you not think that they came to our clan by mistake, that they have strayed from their way to a land where everybody is like them? (141). Uchendus questions are ironic as the outside perspective understands the reason for the Christian missionaries presence, and how their offer of change to the clansmen further destroys the culture of Umuofia and the unity of the Ibo tribe. As Africans begin to convert to Christianity, traditional African values begin to disappear, and a drastic change is imminent. Although the Christian missionaries are partly responsible for the Ibo tribes downfall, the downfall is actually a result of ongoing internal conflicts that are highlighted by the infiltration of Christian missionaries.
Okonkwos downfall more clearly illustrates the idea that Christian missionaries are not to blame for Umuofias loss of unity and the Ibo tribes downfall, as Okonkwos downfall stems from the internal conflicts within the tribe. With the loss of traditions, the questioning of customs such as sacrifice and forced killings, and the decreasing influence of the goddesses and the Oracle, the collapse of the Ibo tribe is more dependent on the internal issues of the tribe than the external issues presented by the Christian missionaries and the white mans presence. Okonkwo does not commit suicide because of the white mans presence. His death is motivated by the gradual disappearance of traditions and masculinity within the tribe, as well as the inability of many of the clansmen to recognize these flaws. The internal tribal conflicts are the major factors that influence the Ibo tribes downfall, and the addition of Christian missionaries into the region is the catalyst that destroys the native peoples traditions and society.