The Role of Culture in Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Indian Horse

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About this sample


Words: 967 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Mar 1, 2019

Words: 967|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Mar 1, 2019

Culture plays a huge role in both Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Both novels feature specific sets of culture that contribute to the characterization of the protagonist. Things Fall Apart and Indian Horse both feature acts of assimilation committed by the colonialist referred to as “the white man”. The protagonists within each novel are pressured to conform to a new ideology where they risk the loss of their old way of life. This ultimatum of new against old beliefs creates a dilemma for both characters and alters their personalities.

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The prominence of culture and its connection to the protagonists is present at the beginning of both novels. The source of Saul's Ojibway culture is his grandmother who he shares a close bond with. As his parents were plagued by the loss of their children, Saul was able to form an intimate relationship with his grandmother as she transferred knowledge of his tradition through things such as “Stories of the old days” (Wagamese 12). Similarly, Okonkwo is deeply connected with his culture and it is a way of life for him. One of these traditions is wrestling, where Okonkwo sparked his Fame in his fight with “Amalinze the cat” which was “one of the fiercest since the founder of their Town engaged a spirit of the Wild” (Achebe 1). Okonkwo is presented as honourable - a key characteristic evident within the village - through the cultural practice of wrestling.

The characters in the Indian Horse and Things Fall Apart are introduced to the “Zhaunagush”(Wagamese 1) or the white man. These white men bring along threats of assimilation to both the distinct cultures in the book and specifically the protagonists. Although the 2 settings in the book are distinctly different, the threat to culture follows the narrative of the white man speaking of peace but turning hostile. As Saul recalls his name's origin he calls the white men the “treaty people”(Wagamese 7). This implies that these men were coming to preach peace, yet, they still show aggression to the Ojibway people. Likewise in Things Fall Apart, the colonialists plan for dominance was them preaching peace and religion, yet turning violent. When they came to Mbante and Umuofia, the white man “came quietly and peaceably with his religion,” the clanspeople were “amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay”(Achebe 176). The novels feature both main characters experiencing betrayal caused by the white man. Saul’s parents, who had been converted to Christianity, scorned his Ojibway ways and abandoned him as a child. Okonkwo, in turn, was betrayed by his firstborn son who defected to Christianity. “Nyowe has been attracted to the new faith from the very first day,”(Achebe 149) and his defection brought great shame to Okonkwo. Imprisonment is a repeated motif in both the books too where it puts the main character’s cultures in peril. Residential schools were like prisons and would become the centre of cultural genocide for children including Saul in Indian Horse. “Just speaking a word in Ojibway could get you beaten and banished to the box in the basement”(Wagamese 148).

The children were left with the choice of Conformity or suffering that led to “ bodies hung from the rafters on thin ropes” and “slashed wrists”(Wagamese 55). Okonkwo experiences similar imprisonment in his capture by the district commissioner which made him seem weak and undignified. His honour which played a large role in how he was perceived within his culture, is taken away and his fear of being “found to resemble his father”(Achebe 13) had become a reality. In the prison, Okonkwo had become an “efulefu.” As the both the protagonist’s cultures are threatened, it affects them personally. They both encounter hope, despair and rebirth especially through the idea of the “motherland”(Achebe 134). Hockey is a new hope for Saul after the school and the vision he used to spiritually connect with his ancestors has been repurposed as a talent in the sport.

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Unfortunately, this hope fails him, as he starts facing white team's he experiences so endless racism. The constant torment had made him a “savage” and was the “end of any semblance of joy in the game”(Wagamese 165) of hockey. This racism was institutionalized through the residential schools and strips Saul of his values and morals. Saul fell into depression and his vision that linked him to his culture was gone. Saul found “an antidote to exile”(180) in alcohol and broke off all his relationships with anyone. As with Saul, Okonkwo seemed to get a surge of hope in the form of a chance that Umuofia could fight the colonialists. The hope came when an “egwugwu” or ancestral spirit was killed by a Christian which should’ve angered all the clansmen. Yet no one did anything and Okonkwo “knew that Umuofia would not go to war”( Achebe 205). This sealed the fate of his culture to be assimilated by the white man. Near the end of Indian Horse, Saul visits God’s lake where the presence of his ancestral spirits brings rehabilitation and healing to his broken spirit. This relates to the idea of the “motherland” in Things Fall Apart where when a man faces “sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland”(Achebe 134). The ends of the novels diverge as they show two different endings to the protagonist's struggle through acculturation. Okonkwo realizes that his strive to become successful would not amount to anything and as he kills himself he becomes as worthless as his father was. Saul on the other hand, through all his losses, is able to start fresh. Under pressure to conform or suffer by the white men, Saul sees that those aren’t his only options. He comes to terms that although he can’t be his old self, he can become a new man, a better man.


  1. Rhoads, D. A. (1993). Culture in Chinua Achebe's Things fall apart. African Studies Review, 36(2), 61-72. (
  2. Irele, F. A. (2000). The crisis of cultural memory in Chinua Achebe’s things fall apart. African Studies Quarterly, 4(3), 1-40. (
  3. Alam, M. (2014). Reading Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart from the Postcolonial Perspective. Research on Humanities and Social Sciences. (
  4. El-Dessouky, M. F. (2010). The Cultural Impact upon Human Struggle for Social Existence in Chinua Achebe's" Things Fall Apart". English Language Teaching, 3(3), 98-106. (
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The Role Of Culture In Achebe’s Things Fall Apart And Indian Horse. (2023, March 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 10, 2023, from
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