Teachers can convert this delicate challenge into an opportunity, however, by stressing how Achebe insists on the complexity and sophisticated values of the Ibo, while also critiquing certain of their practices from within. Students can be asked to catalogue the Ibo’s complex set of holidays, their religion, family structure, rituals, storytelling, and artistic practices. They might also consider the various parallels between Okonkwo’s values of hard work and self-reliance and modern American ones. At the same time, 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). Students might consider whether Achebe is critical of Okonkwo’s violence towards his wives and his macho insistence on anything he disagrees with as “womanly,” or whether the novel supports keeping women and men in separate, clearly defined, and hierarchical roles.
Finally, teachers can encourage students to see how Achebe treats the arrival of Europeans with similar complexity. On the one hand, the Christians gain followers, including Nwoye, because the cruelty of the Ibo towards their own people, especially twins and outcast osu. On the other, particularly at the very end of the novel, the Christian missionaries and colonial authority increasingly interfere with the Ibo’s own democratic self-government, and repressively arrest and execute people at will. Students can also consider how the bleak mutual misunderstanding at the end of the novel might have been avoided if both the Ibo and Christians took each other’s views seriously – as in the brief example of open dialogue between Mr. Brown and Akunna in Chapter 21.