Of course, Achebe’s novel is all about developing tensions within the Ibo culture and their conflict with the arrival of European missionaries and later colonial authorities. But some violent aspects of Ibo culture depicted in the novel—particularly the killing of Ikemefuna, of twin infants, and the frequent beatings of wives and children—might lead your students to judge this culture harshly, or reinforce Eurocentric assumptions of African primitivism or savagery.
You can convert this delicate challenge into an opportunity, by stressing how Achebe insists on the complexity and sophisticated values of the Ibo, while also critiquing certain of their practices from within. You can ask your students to catalogue the Ibo’s complex set of holidays, their religion, family structure, rituals, storytelling, and artistic practices. You can also have them consider the various parallels between Okonkwo’s values of hard work and self-reliance and modern American ones.
In addition, Nwoye’s (and to some extent Okonkwo’s own repressed) reaction to the killing of Ikemefuna can be discussed as a way Achebe critiques some of the Ibo’s violent practices. Similarly, there are moments when we glimpse the plight of women in the novel through Ekwefi and Ezinma (see especially Chapter 9).