His depiction of the highly civilized cultures and traditions of the Igbo nation were a reply to Conrad's ignorant (but well meaning? (For more on this, like the Achebe essay and commentary on it, see the links section below.)Many critics see Things Fall Apart as a book with two narrators, one that adheres to tradition, and another with more modern views.
In his essay, Wright plays off Neil Mc Ewan's idea of the two narrative voices: the traditional/communal which dominates the first 2/3 of the book, and the individual/ modern which takes over the last third He claims that Okonkwo's stubborn resistance and deep need to wipe out his father's memory " are out of harmony with a society which is renowned for its talent for social compromise and which judges a man according to his own worth , not that of his father." (Wright, 78) Okonkwo resists change so much that he can't even accept it in others.
This would be a reflection of the Umofian society's gradual change and adaptation in order to survive.
"The detached yet tolerant tone of the narrator creates this perspective, and acts as a most effective mediator between the individual and the community, between the present and the past." (Carroll, 33) In fact, Carroll points out that " when the narrator begins to delve into the single mind we anticipate with foreboding an unpleasant turn of events." (Carroll, 34) At his death, Obierika calls Okonkwo " one of the greatest men in Umofia" (Things Fall Apart, 208).
But things start to change when Ikemefuma was killed.
Up until that point, following the traditions of his society has only improved Okonkwo's situation.
In the turbulent time setting, Okonkwo is doomed to lose the traditions he cherishes as his society slowly falls apart."By situating itself in opposition to the depiction of relationships between Africa and Europe in such texts as Heart of Darkness or Mister Johnson, Things Fall Apart opens a complex literary dialogue that challenges not only the content of such texts, but also the fundamental rationalist, individualist and historicist assumption upon which those texts are constructed." (Booker, 76)If you've ever read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, you can see why Achebe calls it racist. (Perhaps it was an overdose of academia...) He describes so many things in terms of black and white, good and bad, and switches them around artfully until by the end of the novella, you can't bear either either adjective.
The surprising thing was that he was one of the first critics to do so. Nearly everything is described in those terms: not a thing escapes Conrad's lack of adjectives. To call something racist just by a lack of descriptive ability, or carrying a metaphor too far would be on shaky grounds.
Booker sees Okonkwo as a visual representation of the standards of success in Ibo life.
He is prosperous, he is one of the egwugwu, no one compared him to his shiftless father; he has everything he wants at first.