“Chike’s School Days” is a portrait of a Nigerian Igbo community as they navigate the influence of the British in the early stages of colonialism. Building on his examination of the ways in which this Western dominance affects religion, education, and language in Chike’s village, Achebe also looks specifically at how these changes affect people on an intimate, relational level. The introduction of Western and Christian values severely alters the ways in which Chike’s community is structured, starting at the family level and spreading to disrupt the network of the entire village.
Because Amos, Chike’s father, converted to Christianity, his new values allowed him to marry Chike’s mother, Sarah, who was born an Osu, meaning she is from a lower, marginalized class. This, in turn, isolates Amos from his own mother. When Amos resolves to marry Sarah, an Osu, the narrator observes that “the new religion had gone to his head […] like palm wine.” Although Amos’s mother, Elizabeth, had already converted to Christianity when Amos announced his engagement, she was so disappointed by this news that she “went to the diviner.” This moment is interesting, because it raises the stakes for what it means to convert to Christianity: Elizabeth was okay with the new faith as long as she was also able to maintain the views of class structure traditional to the village. However, when her son’s Christian values come into direct conflict with her own traditional ones, she initially tries to stop him by returning to “the faith of her people,” or the diviner. The diviner’s spells don’t work on Amos, but nonetheless Elizabeth resolves to continue to practice traditional Igbo spirituality. In this way, the introduction of Christianity into village life challenges ancestral understandings of class and the structure of society, and therefore is capable of turning family members against one another.
In part due to his parents’ nontraditional marriage, Chike is raised in ways that break with the village traditions of raising children. Because Sarah and Amos are Christians, Sarah tells her children “not to eat in their neighbors’ houses because ‘they [offer] their food to idols.’” In this way, Sarah “set[s] herself against the age-old custom which regarded children as the common responsibility of all.” In doing this, Sarah, perhaps unwittingly, participates in restricting the way in which the Igbo village will conceptualize the family unit. Previously, all families seem to have been united by a collective raising of the children—irrespective of social class, as evidenced by the fact that the neighbors were even willing to offer food to Chike, an Osu child. Now, however, Sarah’s newfound religious beliefs have caused her to isolate her children from this community, thereby falling into the traditional Western standard of a nuclear family unit. When Chike is offered food from a neighbor in the story and refuses, the neighbor is offended, muttering that “even an Osu [is] full of pride nowadays, thanks to the white man.” Here, the anger Chike’s neighbor feels toward him demonstrates that she, too, wishes to distance herself from Chike and his family—it's not just a one-way aversion. Like Elizabeth, the neighbor dislikes the subversion of traditional social hierarchy, and feels upset about Chike’s family because they espouse just that.
Achebe portrays colonialism’s breaking up of family and community structures with great complexity. Because he shows both the violent enforcing of British beliefs and the exclusionary nature of the traditional class system, he doesn’t specifically endorse one way of living over another. However, he does effectively show the ways in which breaking apart communities is a tool of British colonialism. Considering the themes present in both Achebe’s work and postcolonial literature in general, it is important to recognize that this strategy—separating communities and even families, specifically by granting lower classes power they have never had before—is a signature strategy employed by social groups that seek to dominate and or colonize others.
Family and Community ThemeTracker
Family and Community Quotes in Chike’s School Days
Sarah taught her children not to eat in their neighbors’ houses because “they offered their food to idols.” And thus she set herself against the age-old custom which regarded children as the common responsibility of all […]
The neighbor was full of rage, but she controlled herself and only muttered under her breath that even an Osu was full of pride nowadays, thanks to the white man.
It was unheard of for a man to make himself Osu in that way, with his eyes wide open. But then Amos was nothing if not mad. The new religion had gone to his head. It was like palm-wine.
The only person who supported Amos in his mad marriage venture was Mr. Brown, the white missionary, who lived in a thatch-roofed, red-earth-walled parsonage and was highly respected by the people, not because of his sermons, but because of a dispensary he ran in one of his rooms.
A few days later he told his widowed mother, who had recently been converted to Christianity and had taken the name of Elizabeth. The shock nearly killed her. When she recovered, she went down on her knees and begged Amos not to do this thing. But he would not hear; his ears had been nailed up.
Old Elizabeth performed the rites, but her son remained insane and married an Osu girl whose name was Sarah. Old Elizabeth renounced her new religion and returned to the faith of her people.