Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
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Things Fall Apart Signed. McDowell, Obolensky, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, and critic, widely regarded as one of Africa’s most influential literary figures.

Born on November 16, 1930, in Ogidi, Nigeria, Achebe gained international acclaim for his debut novel, “Things Fall Apart,” published in 1958. The novel is considered a classic of African literature and one of the most important works in postcolonial literature.

Achebe’s writing often explored the effects of colonialism on African societies and the clash between traditional African values and those imposed by European colonial powers. Besides “Things Fall Apart,” some of his other notable works include “No Longer at Ease,” “Arrow of God,” and “Anthills of the Savannah.”

In addition to his career as a novelist, Achebe was an outspoken critic and essayist, addressing issues related to African literature, culture, and politics. He also worked as a professor, teaching at various universities, including the University of Nigeria, Bard College, and Brown University.

Chinua Achebe’s contributions to literature and his advocacy for African voices have left a lasting impact, making him a significant figure in the global literary landscape.

In this article, we shall discuss his most iconic literary work, Things Fall Apart, with the help of a few questions.

What is Things Fall Apart?

“Things Fall Apart” is a novel written by Chinua Achebe. Published in 1958, it is one of the most widely read and studied works in African literature. The novel is the first in Achebe’s African Trilogy, which also includes “No Longer at Ease” and “Arrow of God.”

“Things Fall Apart” is set in pre-colonial Nigeria and tells the story of Okonkwo, a proud and ambitious Igbo warrior, as he navigates the challenges of his society undergoing profound changes due to the arrival of European colonialism. The novel explores the clash between traditional Igbo values and the disruptive forces of colonialism, examining the impact on individuals and communities.

The title “Things Fall Apart” is taken from a line in W.B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming.” Achebe uses the phrase to capture the essence of the social and cultural upheaval experienced by the Igbo people as they confront the encroachment of European influence.

The novel is praised for its portrayal of African culture and its nuanced examination of the effects of colonialism. Achebe’s work has been significant in challenging Western stereotypes and providing a counter-narrative to the Eurocentric perspectives often found in literature. “Things Fall Apart” remains a seminal work in postcolonial literature and is widely taught in schools and universities around the world.

What inspired Achebe to write the novel?

Chinua Achebe was inspired to write “Things Fall Apart” in response to what he perceived as misrepresentations of Africa and its people in Western literature. He sought to provide a more authentic and nuanced portrayal of African culture, challenging the stereotypes and colonial perspectives prevalent in literature at the time.

Achebe was particularly influenced by works like Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” which he criticized for its portrayal of Africa and its people as a dark and primitive “other.” Achebe wanted to present a counter-narrative that showcased the complexity and richness of African societies before the arrival of European colonizers.

Additionally, Achebe drew inspiration from his own Igbo heritage and upbringing in Nigeria. The novel reflects his deep understanding of Igbo customs, traditions, and oral storytelling traditions. By weaving these elements into the narrative, Achebe aimed to give a voice to the African experience and present a more authentic depiction of the cultural and social dynamics in pre-colonial Nigeria.

In “Things Fall Apart,” Achebe not only tells a compelling story but also engages in a cultural and historical critique, contributing to the broader discourse on postcolonial literature and challenging Eurocentric perspectives on African societies.

Who are the primary characters in the novel?

“Things Fall Apart” features a cast of characters that bring to life the social, cultural, and historical dynamics of pre-colonial Igbo society. Some of the primary characters include:

  1. Okonkwo: The central character of the novel, Okonkwo is a proud and ambitious warrior who is determined to maintain the traditional values of his community. He struggles with the fear of weakness, inherited from his father, and is determined to be a strong and respected leader.
  2. Unoka: Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, is depicted as a gentle and unsuccessful man who is considered weak by Okonkwo. Unoka is a talented musician but is unsuccessful in material pursuits, which causes tension between him and his son.
  3. Nwoye: Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye, is a sensitive and thoughtful individual who struggles with his father’s harsh expectations. He eventually undergoes personal transformations as the story unfolds.
  4. Ezinma: Okonkwo’s daughter, Ezinma, is his favorite child and is portrayed as intelligent and resourceful. She shares a close bond with her father and is a key character in the narrative.
  5. Ikemefuna: A young boy from a neighboring village who is taken hostage by the Igbo community to settle a dispute. Ikemefuna becomes a member of Okonkwo’s family and plays a crucial role in the novel.
  6. Obierika: Okonkwo’s close friend, Obierika, serves as a foil to Okonkwo’s character. He is a more reflective and pragmatic individual, providing insights into the changing dynamics of Igbo society.
  7. Mr. Brown: The first Christian missionary in the Igbo community, Mr. Brown is portrayed as a more understanding and sympathetic figure compared to his successor, Reverend Smith.
  8. Reverend James Smith: Mr. Brown’s successor, Reverend Smith, is depicted as more rigid and intolerant. His approach accelerates the clash between the traditional Igbo beliefs and Christianity.

These characters, among others, contribute to the complex and multi-layered narrative of “Things Fall Apart,” offering perspectives on the challenges and transformations experienced by the Igbo people during a time of significant cultural and social upheaval.

What are the themes explored in the novel?

“Things Fall Apart” explores several themes that provide insight into the complexities of pre-colonial Igbo society, the impact of colonialism, and the broader human experience. Some of the key themes in the novel include:

  1. Colonialism and Its Effects: The novel examines the destructive consequences of European colonialism on traditional African societies. It explores the clash between the Igbo way of life and the encroachment of Western values, institutions, and religion.
  2. Cultural Clash: Achebe portrays the tension and conflicts that arise when traditional Igbo values come into contact with European colonial values. This theme is evident in the clash between the Igbo people and the Christian missionaries.
  3. The Complexity of Tradition: The novel highlights the richness and complexity of Igbo traditions, customs, and social structures. It explores how these traditions shape individuals and communities and how they respond to external pressures.
  4. Individual vs. Society: The protagonist, Okonkwo, grapples with the expectations of his society and his desire for personal success. The tension between individual aspirations and societal norms is a central theme in the novel.
  5. The Role of Gender: Achebe explores the traditional roles of men and women in Igbo society and how these roles are challenged or reinforced. The novel depicts the challenges faced by women and the expectations placed on men.
  6. The Power of Myth and Storytelling: Igbo culture places a significant emphasis on storytelling and mythology. Achebe incorporates these elements into the narrative to explore the power of storytelling in shaping identity, values, and the collective memory of a community.
  7. Change and Adaptation: The novel reflects on how societies cope with change and adapt to new circumstances. It explores the tensions between the old and the new and the challenges of navigating cultural transformation.
  8. Fate and Tragedy: The narrative incorporates elements of tragedy as characters face their destinies. Okonkwo’s personal tragedy and the larger tragedy of the Igbo society serve as poignant reflections on the human experience.

These themes contribute to the novel’s enduring relevance and significance in discussions about postcolonial literature, cultural identity, and the impact of external forces on indigenous societies.

What is the style in which the novel is written?

“Things Fall Apart” is written in a straightforward and accessible style, characteristic of Chinua Achebe’s narrative approach. Achebe employs a third-person omniscient point of view, allowing readers insight into the thoughts and perspectives of various characters. The language used in the novel is clear and descriptive, avoiding excessive ornamentation or complex linguistic structures.

Achebe incorporates elements of Igbo language and culture into the text, enhancing the authenticity of the narrative. He includes proverbs, folktales, and traditional ceremonies that provide a rich cultural backdrop and contribute to the overall texture of the story. This use of indigenous language and cultural references is a notable aspect of Achebe’s style, as it reflects his commitment to representing African voices and challenging Western literary traditions.

The novel is structured chronologically, following the life of the central character, Okonkwo, and his community from the pre-colonial period to the early stages of colonialism. The narrative is divided into three parts, each marking a significant phase in the unfolding events.

Achebe’s writing style in “Things Fall Apart” is often described as both engaging and thought-provoking. Through his narrative choices, he effectively conveys the cultural nuances, social dynamics, and the impact of external forces on the Igbo society he depicts. The simplicity of style allows for a broader readership and facilitates a deeper exploration of the complex themes within the novel.

What is the significance and legacy of the novel?

“Things Fall Apart” holds immense significance and has left a lasting legacy in various literary, cultural, and academic domains:

  1. Pioneering African Literature: As one of the first African novels to receive international acclaim, “Things Fall Apart” played a crucial role in establishing African literature on the global stage. Chinua Achebe’s work opened doors for other African writers to share their perspectives and stories.
  2. Challenge to Eurocentrism: Achebe’s novel challenged Eurocentric depictions of Africa by providing a nuanced and authentic portrayal of pre-colonial Igbo society. It countered prevailing stereotypes and presented a complex narrative that showcased the richness of African cultures.
  3. Exploration of Colonial Impact: The novel serves as a powerful exploration of the impact of European colonialism on African societies. It examines the cultural, social, and psychological repercussions of the clash between traditional values and external influences.
  4. Cultural Representation: “Things Fall Apart” is celebrated for its portrayal of Igbo culture, traditions, and storytelling. It contributes to the preservation and appreciation of African cultural heritage by presenting a vivid and respectful depiction of the Igbo people.
  5. Educational Importance: The novel is widely taught in schools and universities around the world, making it an integral part of literature curricula. It is studied for its themes, narrative techniques, and its role in fostering cross-cultural understanding.
  6. Critical Acclaim: Achebe’s work has received critical acclaim for its literary merit, and “Things Fall Apart” is often considered a classic of world literature. It has been translated into numerous languages and continues to be read and analyzed in diverse academic and cultural contexts.
  7. Inspiration for Writers: Many contemporary African writers and authors cite Achebe and “Things Fall Apart” as a source of inspiration. The novel has influenced subsequent generations of writers who seek to tell their own stories and challenge dominant narratives.
  8. Impact on Postcolonial Studies: The novel is a seminal text in postcolonial studies, contributing to discussions on identity, power, and the legacy of colonialism. Achebe’s insights into the complexities of cultural encounters and transformations have influenced academic discourse in various disciplines.

“Things Fall Apart” is a literary landmark that has had a profound impact on the representation of Africa in literature, the understanding of colonial legacies, and the promotion of diverse voices in the global literary landscape. Its enduring legacy is reflected in its continued relevance and influence across different cultural and academic spheres.

Interested in learning about other iconic works of literature?

Check out the following articles:

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  2. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
  3. Ulysses by James Joyce
  4. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens