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“Mister Johnson” and Things Fall Apart, Essay Example

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Essay

While the main characters in “Mister Johnson” and Things Fall Apart are very different in terms of the cultural practices that they adhere to, they have some similarities as well. The most obvious is that each character ends up dead at the end of the story; along with that, both characters display selfishness and a lack of concern for how their actions affect others. One of them ends up dead because of a criminal penalty, while the other commits suicide. At the end of his life, Johnson has been convicted of murder by the very government he revered so greatly. After his suicide, Okonkwo is rejected by his own people, who will not even touch his corpse; they leave that up to the district commissioner to deal with.

At the conclusion of Things Fall Apart the perspective of the story shifts to the point of view of the district commissioner. He plans to write a book about his experiences in the region, but he has no real sense of the culture of the native people. He sees them all as mere stereotypes, and fails to understand what motivates them or what comprises their civilization. It is interesting to compare the character of Johnson, who is portrayed in somewhat stereotypical fashion, to the characters of Okonkwo and the other native people in Things Fall Apart. The district commissioner can only see them through his own limited perspective, which in a way is similar to how Joyce Cary, who wrote the book Mister Johnson, sees the native people he wrote about.

The concept of “civilization” plays a central role in the film “Mister Johnson.” The film is set in the early 20th century in Nigeria, and centers around the actions of Johnson, a relative newcomer to the village of Fada. Johnson is virtually obsessed with the form of civilization represented by the influence of British culture in the region, and sets himself apart from the villagers of Fada by presenting himself as British citizen, rather than a colonial subject. Johnson often refers to the British using the word “we,” as if he is actually from Britain. The plot of the film is primarily concerned with the efforts of a local British official named Rudbeck to build a road connecting Fada to a main road one hundred miles away. To Rudbeck the road project represents an advance in civilization, and Johnson supports Rudbeck’s vision, though he often does so through illegal or immoral means. In a symbolic sense the road project represents a clash between the traditional civilization of the people of Fada and the civilization being imposed on them by Rudbeck and the British government.

The local imam opposes the road project, concerned that when it is built it will bring “ideas” to the people of Fada that the imam will not like. The reality of the road project will certainly advance the interests of the British colonial government, as it will facilitate trade and transportation between Fada and other parts of the country. The changes brought about by the new road will, however, threaten the traditional ways of life of the people of Fada, which is understandably upsetting to the imam. As a figure of religious importance, the imam has traditionally been in a position of power and influence in the village, so any changes to the way of life in Fada will likely mean that the imam has less power and influence.

At one point in the film Rudbeck’s wife asks him why the road is so important, noting that when it is built it will change the lives of people who she feels were already happy before the British arrived. In a sense, Johnson represents a symbol of how the influence of British civilization is inevitable, but also brings with it many problems. The civilization of the people of Fada would probably have been better off if they had simply been left alone.

The book Things Fall Apart is also about the influence of British colonialism on Nigeria, but takes a different approach than the story told in the film “Mister Johnson.” The focus in “Mister Johnson” was primarily on the actions of the British officials in the region and one native African who is strongly influenced by the British civilization. Things Fall Apart offers much greater insight into the culture and people native to the region, and offers a more well-rounded set of native characters than the buffoonish portrayal of the character of Johnson depicted in the film.

In the film, many of the traditional cultural practices are only seen in terms of how they are affected by or controlled by the British officials. In one scene, for example, a local member of the Fada village discusses what to do about several women accused of prostitution. Such women would, according to village tradition, be publicly flogged for their crimes. Rudbeck declares that this is unacceptable, and suggests they be put in jail instead. The villager balks at this suggestion, asserting that putting them in jail would cause them too much shame. Rudbeck cannot understand this, and vetoes the idea of flogging the women. In the end they are put into a stockade, which seems to be some sort of compromise between the two choices of jail or public flogging.

The main character in Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo, is very different from the character of Johnson. Where Johnson is seen trying to adopt British customs, Okonkwo lives primarily according to the traditional customs of his people. This allows readers to gain some insight into practices such as marriage; Johnson tries to have what he thinks is a traditional British marriage, while Okonkwo takes a bride according to his native customs. In both stories, however the pervasive influence of British civilization is seen as something that will inevitable displace the traditional customs and culture of the region no matter how hard some of the natives might fight against it.

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