Things Fall Apart (1958)
By Chinua Achebe
“Things fall apart in order to fall back into place (or at least, we think?).”
Things Fall Apart is a postcolonial tragedy written by an African writer named, Chinua Achebe, in 1958. The story is set in these Nigerian villages: Umuofia, Iguedo, and Mbanta. It’s centered on the life of Okonkwo, his family, and those around him.
Okonkwo is a well-known warrior in the Umuofia community. He is a self-made man who built his own farm and was on his way to increasing his titles and reputation in the Umuofia villages until he was exiled after he accidentally shot a young boy from the clan. For seven years, he worked and lived in his mother’s homeland, Mbanta. While living at Mbanta, he learned that the white men of England were slowly colonizing many African villages and implementing Christianity onto his people.
Okonkwo, who favors the older generations’ customs and values, has grown to hate Christianity and blames “the white man” for destroying his people’s way of life. He sees that the younger generations have lost their sense of brotherhood and warrior spirit. Instead, these younger generations turn their back on their families and people to appease the white man and join their Christian religion.
Seven years past and Okonkwo returns to the Umuofia community but sees that his people adapted and accepted the white man and their policies. Okonkwo decides to take matters into his own hands and kills one of the white court messengers after an incident that put the Church and the clan against one another. Okonkwo commits suicide after he realizes that no one had any interest in going into war with the white men.
Chinua Achebe writes in a third-person omniscient perspective with an objective and straightforward tone, inviting readers to make their own judgments about the characters. For example, Okonkwo isn’t a favorable character in my eyes. I respect Okonkwo’s passion for continuing the older traditions that he grew up with. He has great pride in being a warrior and following cultural traditions. However, his passion and pride led him to act unreasonably. When his eldest son, Nwoye, decides to join the Christian missionary, Okonkwo immediately disowns him as a son and gives his other children an ultimatum that it is his way of life or get disowned. There was another incident when he beats his wife during a holy celebration, which led to Okonkwo receiving punishment for disrespecting the Goddess of Earth. Throughout this novel, Okonkwo reacts aggressively as opposed to using reason and logic, which leads to his own demise.
One additional note that I would like to talk about with the writing style is that Achebe uses numerous proverbs and symbols to foreshadow future events. For example, there were constant references to the locusts, which is a symbol of the arrival of the white man into Africa. Obierika tells Okonkwo about the Oracle’s prophecy where a white man will be entering the nine villages. The locusts foreshadow the invasion and colonization of the white men in the nine villages of Umuofia.
Furthermore, Achebe makes constant references to the Igbo culture. One of these cultural beliefs is about the ogbanje child, which is a child that dies and returns to its mother’s womb repeatedly. Ogbanje children were usually sent to the Evil Forest and were mutilated or their iyi-uwa is discovered and destroyed to break the curse. An iyi-uwa is a special stone that connects an ogbanje child to the spirit world. Okonkwo’s daughter, Ezinma, was an ogbanje child until a medicine man found her stone and destroyed it. The ogbanje belief occurs again when Mr. Smith, a white male missionary, learned about it. Mr. Smith considers that the people who believe in the ogbanje are disgusting because parents are throwing away and killing innocent children. Achebe emphasizes that culture can be seen in two different perspectives: those who believe and those who don’t. Yet, he makes it a point to readers that even though you don’t believe in certain values and traditions, you shouldn’t disrespect the people who follow those customs.
There are a few cultural clashes that this novel discusses. The first culture clash is the struggle between tradition and modernity and the generational gaps. Okonkwo’s family and community struggle with maintaining their warrior lifestyle and pagan beliefs when many of the younger generations favored Christianity and westernization. The second struggle that this novel explores is what it means to be a man. Okonkwo firmly believes that a true man is one that has a warrior spirit and possesses loyalty to the brotherhood. If a man sheds his warrior spirit, Okonkwo quickly labels them as a “woman” which is considered an insult in his culture. This novel does not give a clear answer as to what it truly means to be a man, but it gives multiple perspectives on what it could mean and the readers can make their own judgments.
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel, and I kind of wished that my English teachers taught this text while I was in high school. Yet, I am glad I picked it up though, better late than never.
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