About the Book
Things Fall Apart
By chinua achebe.
Chinua Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart' remains the single best piece of literature to come out of Africa.
Written by Israel Njoku
Degree in M.C.M with focus on Literature from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
‘Things Fall Apart ‘ is an immensely important novel that shines not only because of the relevance of its themes but also the poignancy embedded within its simplicity, and the greatness lying behind a seemingly basic plot. It is the work with the greatest reputation in African literature. Here we find out what makes ‘Things Fall Apart’ so worthy of this gigantic reputation.
An Important Novel
Before Achebe wrote ‘Things Fall Apart ,’ students learning about Africa through fiction had to go through works like Joyce Cary’s ‘ Mister Johnson ,’ and Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness .’ These are supposedly serious literary works with a clean reputation that purported to accurately represent the African man. In truth, these works only served to advance the imperialist goals of the European colonizers by representing Africans as passionate simpletons at best or as primitive animals at worst. Joyce Cary’s work typecasted the African within a very limited and specific category- that of the passionate and emotional but simple individual. What ‘Things Fall Apart’ did was to present Africans with a wider range of attributes that marked them as fully human, with typical human strengths and weaknesses. So, we get individuals like Okonkwo and Nwoye occupying worldviews and temperaments that are poles apart. We also have the likes of Obierika, who straddles a middle ground between both character types.
Achebe constructs a Umuofia society with a fairly sophisticated way of life and institutions. The people of Umuofia judged disputes under an overarching need to preserve harmony and cohesion in society. They had elaborate marriage rituals that emphasized a wider sense of familyhood and community. They buried their dead with much respect and fanfare. However, it was also a very patriarchal society that marginalized women, killed off twins, and cast away people with certain debilitating illnesses. Although this is a society that could very much do with the sophistication in medicine and technology the West had to offer, it was by no means the primitive and cannibalistic society full of blood-thirsty savages that the likes of Conrad described in their books. Achebe’s book is important because it offers a truer image of Africa that is far more respectful to Africans, and far more acknowledging of their humanity.
‘Things Fall Apart’ might seem a pretty easy read, with a style that does not appear to fulfill high Western stylistic standards, but it is no less powerful. Through the use of a structure and style that conforms to African oral tradition rather than that of the West, Achebe’s work demonstrates its authenticity and power. The work is structured in a manner that closely mimics traditional African forms. The novel is divided into three unequal parts, with the first part being as large as the second and third parts put together. The first part is only large because much time is spent on events that lay out the culture and traditions of the people of Umuofia, rather than on progressing the plot.
The narrative nostalgically goes over the community’s agricultural practices, religion, marriage, funeral customs, and judicial system, before returning to the plot at the end. This narrative structure is not consistent with Western literary forms but has its roots in the oral traditions of African storytelling. Igbo orators normally skirt around a subject by dwelling on side events before eventually hitting upon it. With the coming of the White man and his religion, the plot progresses at a rapid pace, as if to signal the rapid coming to an end of this Umuofia society that Achebe had spent so long describing.
‘Things Fall Apart’ is known not only for the originality and relevance of its themes but also its style. Achebe’s masterful use of the English language earned him praise from critics. The critic, Obumselu, praised Achebe for maintaining the literal fidelity of the Igbo words and contexts he was translating into English. He thought Achebe succeeded in preserving the local flavor of these words and contexts. His thoughts were echoed by the critic G. Adali Morty, who, writing in 1959, succinctly posited that Achebe’s use of language “has the ring and rhythm of poetry. In the background of the words can be heard the thrumming syncopation of the sound of Africa- the gongs, the drums, the castanets and the horns.”
The novel’s reputation as an authentic work is also helped by its seeming objectivity and freedom from bias and agenda. Achebe’s decision to not go to the other extreme and oppose racist portrayals of African society with idealized portrayals of the same society earned him plaudits from the likes of Gerald Moore. Moore contrasts Achebe’s intellectual honesty and realism with the chauvinistic idealism and African mythologizing, which he seems to detect in works of contemporaries of Achebe like Camara Laye. Moore believes that Achebe’s refusal to “justify, explain or condemn is responsible for a good deal of the book’s success. The novelist presents to us a picture of traditional Igbo life as just as he can make it. The final judgment of that life, as of the life which replaced it, is left to us.”
Another way in which critics have looked at Achebe’s ‘ Things Fall Apart ,’ and indeed most of his other works, was within the lens of the anti-colonial and pan-Africanist demand for African writers to throw away every vestige of western forms in their works. One such form is the use of the language of the colonizers, such as English. For the subscribers of this school of thought, African writers ought to write in indigenous African languages and not in English. These critics believed that the use of English by African writers would limit the ability of writers to do justice to the complexity and originality of the African imagination.
Several anti-colonial writers like Ngugi Wa Thiong’o have criticized Achebe for writing in English. To them, it was impossible to fully convey an authentic African experience while writing about it in a foreign language. But their criticisms ring hollow in the face of Achebe’s masterful use of the English language in such a way that it clearly and effectively transmits this authentic African experience. The original Igbo feeling, humor, and depths behind the dialogues are effectively conveyed.
Critics like Obiajunwa Wali believed that African writers writing in English were subjecting their work to European standards, with their novels being only a continuation of Western literary and philosophical traditions rather than being part of the evolution or maturation of a truly African one. For him, novels like ‘Things Fall Apart’ cannot be entirely African since they borrow from European stylistic and narrative strategies. Achebe’s response to this position was the argument that it is not actually about the language one uses but how one uses such language. In his essay, ‘ The African writer and the English language ,’ written in 1965, Achebe explained that there is nothing inherent about the English language that negatively restricts the originality and authenticity of the African novel. He maintained that the African writer could pass his message accurately and authentically convey the African experience through creative and masterful use of the English language.
Although Achebe locates ‘ Things Fall Apart’ within an obviously patriarchal Igbo society, one true to the times, he nevertheless came under fire for his portrayal of women in the novel. Critics like Ifi Amadiume and Florence Stratton argued that Achebe’s portrayal of women displays deep-seated prejudicial sentiments towards them. They argue that Achebe often went beyond what was obtainable in pre-colonial Igbo society to disempower and silence the voice of women. Stratton observed that Igbo women did have considerable influence and power in pre-colonial Igbo society and that Achebe’s failure to capture this sufficiently reveals his bias against women.
In conclusion, it is easy to see why ‘Things Fall Apart’ has sustained the reputation it has so far. It is easy to see why, despite the simplicity of narration and language, it continues to retain the reverence of some of the most prominent writers and critics, as well as readers from around the world. It is an important historical work, an important ammunition against racist literature, a successful representation of the possibilities of utilizing indigenous African forms, as well as a great demonstration of an authentic way to use the English language to accurately convey African thought, sentiments, and events.
Things Fall Apart Review
‘ Things Fall Apart’ is not only an important novel that successfully counters racist portrayals of Africans in Western literature but is also a disarmingly rich work that incorporates traditional African forms in a revolutionary way. The structure might be unusual, but that is only because it is staying true to the African oral tradition, rather than Western standards. ‘ Things Fall Apart ‘ owes a lot of its success and acclaim to the nuance and maturity with which it carries out its task of rehabilitating the butchered image of Africa, refusing to go the other extreme, but to rather present things as they were.
- Quite accessible
- Great depiction of traditional African society
- Revolutionary use of traditional African styles and forms
- Ability to accurately translate the original Igbo contexts into English
- Very influential to subsequent African writers
- Needlessly stripped female characters of power
About Israel Njoku
Israel loves to delve into rigorous analysis of themes with broader implications. As a passionate book lover and reviewer, Israel aims to contribute meaningful insights into broader discussions.
Cite This Page
Njoku, Israel " Things Fall Apart Review ⭐ " Book Analysis , https://bookanalysis.com/chinua-achebe/things-fall-apart/review/ . Accessed 17 February 2024.
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Book Review: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Author: Chinua Achebe
Publisher: William Heinemann Ltd.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Classic, African Literature
First Publication: 1958
Major Characters: Okonkwo, Ikemefuna, Ezinma, Nwoye
Theme: Tradition vs. Change, Fate vs. Free Will, Masculinity, Religion
Setting: Pre-colonial Nigeria, 1890s
Narrator: Third-person omniscient
Book Summary: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Okonkwo is the greatest wrestler and warrior alive, and his fame spreads throughout West Africa like a bush-fire in the harmattan. But when he accidentally kills a clansman, things begin to fall apart. Then Okonkwo returns from exile to find missionaries and colonial governors have arrived in the village. With his world thrown radically off-balance he can only hurtle towards tragedy.
First published in 1958, Chinua Achebe’s stark, coolly ironic novel reshaped both African and world literature, and has sold over ten million copies in forty-five languages. This arresting parable of a proud but powerless man witnessing the ruin of his people begins Achebe’s landmark trilogy of works chronicling the fate of one African community, continued in Arrow of God and No Longer at Ease.
Things Fall Apart is the kind of book that makes reading so enjoyable. Not only did it have a captivating story to tell, it also had a great deal of meaning hidden within its text, giving me plenty of reasons to come back to this book long after finishing it. This is an insightful novel that makes you think about a variety of themes and morals while simultaneously entertaining and captivating readers with its characters and setting. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is one of those books that I will constantly look back on and think about for years to come, for such was its level of quality on both a narrative scale as well as in terms of its rich subtext.
“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”
Things Fall Apart tells two concurrent stories that overlap and counterbalance each other throughout the novel. One of the novel’s focuses centers around the protagonist Okonkwo, a fierce warrior who represents traditional African culture. The other focus is on Okonkwo’s tribe, Umuofia, as it undergoes a drastic change in all areas of life once European missionaries enter the fray. The stark divide in ideologies between Okonkwo and Umuofia becomes the focal point of the story and leads to some very contentious moments in the book.
What is one to do when their home has turned against them, when it has done away with your long-held beliefs and values? What is one to do when they are powerless to stop a seemingly unstoppable force from ravaging their essence? These are the conflicts present in Things Fall Apart as seen through Okonkwo’s battle against his ever-changing tribe in the midst of a European takeover. What follows is an entertaining yet poignant tale that will not soon be forgotten.
“Age was respected among his people, but achievement was revered. As the elders said, if a child washed his hands he could eat with kings.”
Okonkwo’s story was excellent. I felt firmly attached to this character the whole time reading, always anxious to see what happens next in his journey or where he would find himself at its conclusion. Granted, Okonkwo may not be the nicest character in literature, nor would you be necessarily wrong in assessing him as a bad person. He does some pretty rotten things in the novel, but context means everything, and though he may have done wrong by conventional standards, he did these things with good intentions, as deluded as they may have been.
In my view, Okonkwo is a tragic hero whose actions are taken in the best interests of his family and tribe, never out of any selfish or vain reasons that would usually lend themselves to an unlikable or evil character. He is tremendously flawed, but so are a lot of tragic figures in literature, which makes them all the more interesting to follow. More to that point, his flaws were completely relatable and forgivable since everything that happened to Okonkwo was the result of circumstances beyond his control. Okonkwo was one of the strongest, most well-developed, and fascinating literary characters I have come across.
“The world has no end, and what is good among one people is an abomination with others.”
The brilliance of Things Fall Apart is how objective it manages to be while at the same time establishing an intimate feel throughout the entirety of the novel. That is to say, Chinua Achebe was able to shine a light on the culture of the missionaries as well as the Africans and point out their strengths and weaknesses, all the while engaging the readers in a very personal tale of one tribesman’s struggle to come to terms with this newly imposed way of life.
Achebe never once painted Umuofia and its people as being the “good guys,” or the helpless and innocent victims of colonialism. Likewise, he never made the European missionaries out to be the heartless “bad guys” who sought only to inflict damage and pain unto the Africans. Instead, Achebe balanced these two sides out and demonstrated that nothing is ever merely black and white, and that complexity exists everywhere and cannot be stereotyped or callously assumed. That is the magic behind Things Fall Apart – that it is capable of being many things to many people while maintaining an objective ambiguity about it, thus leaving the interpreting up to the readers rather than having its meanings blatantly shoved down our throats. This diversity of perspective and opinion make books like Things Fall Apart all the more worthwhile a reading experience.
“Eneke the bird says that since men have learned to shoot without missing, he has learned to fly without perching.”
Another aspect of Things Fall Apart that made it great was its historical and cultural significance in the field of literature. Though the events of the novel were purely fictitious, they resembled the real-life events which occurred all throughout Africa during a time when the British were colonizing across the globe. This novel gave many readers, such as myself, an accessible means by which to learn about the infringement of these African cultures and the assimilation which took place thereafter by the British. Beforehand, I was not too knowledgeable on African affairs in the early 20th century, nor was I fully aware of the intentions of the Europeans as they colonized new lands.
However, after reading Things Fall Apart, I came away from it learning a lot about the history and culture of the African people and their plights, as well as about the motivations of the missionaries. Although I would not recommend this book as a substitute for a textbook on the subject, I can say that it conveys a good deal of historical context that would satisfy those hoping to get more involved in African literary studies.
This is a relatively short novel, and its chapters fly by so fast that you will be through with it in no time at all, which may be the only bad thing I can say about this book. Though as short a read as it may have been, its impact was anything but fleeting with a memorable story and a plethora of subtext in which to indulge for a long time to come.
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Book Review: Things Fall Apart
This article aims at exploring the causes of the fall of Okonkwo, the protagonist of the Nigerian Novel. Things Fall Apart by the renowned novelist, Chinua Achebe. Though the novel mainly deals with the fall of Igbo Culture where Okonkwo has played the sheet anchor role in the novel, Things Fall Apart at the hands of British establishment in Nigeria, the other vital reasons that make him vulnerable will also
East West Journal of Humanities, Vol. 4
This paper analyzes the resistance of Achebe’s two ‘heroes’ Okonkwo, the protagonist of Things Fall Apart, and Obi Okonkwo, the protagonist of No Longer at Ease. While Okonkwo takes up arms to preserve the culture and tradition in a “things fall apart society”, Obi Okonkwo’s honesty and his love for Clara, remain constant with him and he is “no longer at ease” in the flux of colonial Nigeria. In pre-colonial Nigeria, Okonkwo’s resistance to the white man’s religion, education and technology is defeated and Obi’s desire for a corrupt-free Nigeria fails during British colonial rule. In line with this development, we find Okonkwo’s son converting to Christianity. Eventually, Okonkwo commits suicide realizing that he is going to be defeated. However, the history of resistance does not end here and Okonkwo’s and Obi’s apparent defeat has far-reaching implications for Africa’s subsequent anti-colonial fight.
International Journal of Development and Management Review
This essay is an attempt to a deconstructive interpretation of Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe's " Things Fall Apart ". It begins by reviewing literary comments on Chinua Achebe and later dovetails an explication of the meaning of deconstruction as a way of enabling to grapple with the realities of this post structuralist critical formulation. This essay observes that Okonkwo is not only a brutal cannibal but also a barbarian. This refers to the backdrop of his penchant for killing as shown in the novel. This opinion is buttressed by Okonkwo's ruthless habit of drinking from his first human head, which is a tilled smack of cannibalism. Based on the theory of deconstruction, it concludes that the scientific reading relies only on the text which functions as the real mirror of society which literature is all about.
Suhair Fuaad Hajo
A first reading of the novel reveals the fact that what fall apart in Things fall apart are Igbo’s cultures and traditions. Accordingly a lot of readings have been done on the novel with almost similar disclosures; considering it as a postcolonial novel and as Achebe’s response to the white racism embedded in European literature, which presented Africa as a primitive and socially retrograde nation. Hence, reading Things Fall Apart from a new and distinct perspective with the aid of trances from reader response criticism, this study aims to answer the question of; what really falls apart (in Things Fall Apart) and how? Through a close and transactional reading of the novel this study demonstrates that Igbo’s culture and religion didn’t fall apart but changed and in fact, what falls apart in Things Fall Apart is Okonkwo, the protagonist of the novel. By studying and comparing his conducts, before and after killing Ikemefona it reveals that his mortal sin parts him beyond the limits of his cultural conventions, in the process of gaining his individual purposes, which later leads to his downfall.
Achebe shows the outside influence of the Europeans whose ethnocentric views coupled with the ethnocentric views of the Ibo caused the collapse of the culture itself. Achebe primarily portrays Okonkwo as both the cause and a victim of the collapse of the Ibo culture. Okonkwo accelerates the downward spiral of the Ibo culture, but would not have been forced to do so if the outside influence of the Christian did not infiltrate his tribe.
Haleshappa V V
The novel tells the fable of the Turtle who reached the sky because the birds lent it their feathers. The fable forms a pattern for the whole novel: just as the Turtle reaches the sky with the help of the birds, so Okonkwo reaches one of the foremost positions in his clan with the support of the population. But just as the Turtle plunges to the ground and crushes his shield, so Okonkwo falls from power when he loses the support of the people and the gods. The plot takes place in the fictional Ibo village of Umuofia in Iboland in eastern Nigeria in the late 19th century, just before and after the first white people arrive in the area. The theme is a tradition as opposed to change, the dissolution of traditional African society as it cannot withstand the forces of white civilization. The first part of the novel depicts life in the traditional Ibo society, its social and religious structure, its rites, and customs. It is a society where the individual is to a large extent subordinate to the collective and it is through the collective that the individual reaches his goal and life gets its meaning (Whittaker and Msiska, 2007).
Md. M A H B U B U L Alam
Chinua Achebe's magnum opus Things Fall Apart reflects authentic presentation of the Igbo society. Various social, political, economic, religious, psychological and personal issues of the Igbo people have been put forward by the author in this ethnographic novel. Achebe has depicted these issues from the perspective of both an observer and a critic. The ethnographic depiction of the Igbo life indicates that Chinua Achebe has tried to maintain his objective stance in the novel. He is not biased at all. It is evident in his contrastive presentation of the culture and beliefs of the Igbo; in one hand, he presents the constructive and rational side of the Igbo, on the other hand, he highlights their follies and irrational beliefs too. Achebe as an original Igbo expectedly presents the riches and potentialities of the Igbo society. But at the same time he is not uncritical of the limitations of his society where he belongs to. The present study has dealt with Achebe's audacious attempt to present the limitations and follies of Igbo life in Things Fall Apart. Abstract-Chinua Achebe's magnum opus Things Fall Apart reflects authentic presentation of the Igbo society. Various social, political, economic, religious, psychological and personal issues of the Igbo people have been put forward by the author in this ethnographic novel. Achebe has depicted these issues from the perspective of both an observer and a critic. The ethnographic depiction of the Igbo life indicates that Chinua Achebe has tried to maintain his objective stance in the novel. He is not biased at all. It is evident in his contrastive presentation of the culture and beliefs of the Igbo; in one hand, he presents the constructive and rational side of the Igbo, on the other hand, he highlights their follies and irrational beliefs too. Achebe as an original Igbo expectedly presents the riches and potentialities of the Igbo society. But at the same time he is not uncritical of the limitations of his society where he belongs to. The present study has dealt with Achebe's audacious attempt to present the limitations and follies of Igbo life in Things Fall Apart.
In Chinua Achebe's masterpiece of the destructive forces of colonial conquest in Africa, "Things Fall Apart", Okonkwo is driven to control his family and achieve power through fear and violence; using his masculinity to destroy any signs of femininity in his sons. Ironically, in the end, Okonkwo is reduced to a feminine status by the British colonizers that overthrow his power with fear and violence as well, leaving him stripped of power and his masculinity - transformed into what he feared most: of becoming effeminate and powerless like a woman and like his father -who he resented and was ashamed of.
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Things Fall Apart
Chinua achebe, everything you need for every book you read..
Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart . Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.
Things Fall Apart: Introduction
Things fall apart: plot summary, things fall apart: detailed summary & analysis, things fall apart: themes, things fall apart: quotes, things fall apart: characters, things fall apart: symbols, things fall apart: theme wheel, brief biography of chinua achebe.
Historical Context of Things Fall Apart
Other books related to things fall apart.
- Full Title: Things Fall Apart
- When Written: 1957
- Where Written: Nigeria
- When Published: 1958
- Literary Period: Post-colonialism
- Genre: Novel / Tragedy
- Setting: Pre-colonial Nigeria, 1890s
- Climax: Okonkwo's murder of a court messenger
- Antagonist: Missionaries and White Government Officials (Reverend Smith and the District Commissioner)
- Point of View: Third person omniscient
Extra Credit for Things Fall Apart
Joseph Conrad: “A Bloody Racist”. Chinua Achebe delivered a lecture and critique on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness , calling Conrad “a bloody racist” and provoking controversy among critics and readers. However, Achebe's criticism of Conrad has become a mainstream perspective on Conrad's work and was even included in the 1988 Norton critical edition of Heart of Darkness .
Achebe as Politician. Achebe expressed his political views often in writing, but he also involved himself actively in Nigerian politics when he became the People's Redemption Party's deputy national vice-president in the early 1980's. However, he soon resigned himself in frustration with the corruption he witnessed during the elections.
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- Book review: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Roxanne de Bruyn
Before you read further - there is the occasional spoiler in this review .
Things Fall Apart is a simple story. It tells of a family in an Igbo village in Niger. It tells of a boy, who dies and the man, his surrogate father, who kills him. Most of all, it tells the story of a community which is lost in the changes of a new way of life. It begins with a warning, preparing the readers for tragedy, and there is always a sense that terrible things happen and that is part of life.
Chinua Achebe tells the story beautifully, using rich descriptions of the society and its people. The structure is reminiscent of Greek tragedy, simultaneously reflecting the similarities between Western and Igbo cultures and also creating a conflict between the style and content. While he writes in English, Achebe uses Igbo words and descriptions, giving the story the music of the language, and making it accessible to a larger audience.
He is descriptive, painting images of food, work, clothes, and of the myths and legends women tell their children when the men are not around. Doing this, he manages to tie together the cultures that never quite meet in the story.
The book is centred on a man called Okonkow and his family. Eager to differentiate himself from his unsuccessful father, Okonkwo works hard to prove himself as a man and quickly rises to be a leader in his village. However, his desire to show his masculinity and strength continues, which results in him being harsh and sometimes violent. The story follows his Okonkwo’s life through tragedy and the arrival of Christianity and colonisers to his world.
The village and its people are described carefully, slowly built through different scenes, beginning when two men sit together and the host breaks the kola nut to welcome guests. This is an act which is repeated through the novel, giving a sense of ritual and importance. Any event involves crowds, music, food. When the egwugwu wear their masks, there is an auxiliary ritual where the women and children run away, apparently afraid, but sidle back again to watch.
Throughout, women remain on the outskirts, in the background, and seldom have a voice. It is a polygamous, patriarchal society and there are examples of women being seen as belonging to men. Violence towards women is also accepted; when Okonkwo is punished for beating his wife during the Week of Peace, it is the timing, rather than the act itself, which is taboo.
There are small exceptions: Okonkwo’s second wife left her husband to be with him, the oracle is a woman and women play their part in upholding the societal structures, even when they are discriminately. Even Okonkwo feels a greater connection to his daughter, rather than his sons, although he does wish that she were a boy.
There is a huge feeling of the fragility of life. Life is dependent on agriculture; on the yams growing, on favourable weather, so everything is tied to the land, and yams are therefore the main sign of wealth and of masculinity. Even so, wealth can be taken away quickly by circumstance. There is a high child mortality rate, and religion and beliefs have evolved to explain and give meaning to these tragedies. Egwugwu (masked village leaders embodying the gods) have both spiritual and governance roles.
Underlying everything, there seems to be the idea that even if someone happens to be successful now, it is easy for them to fall. Honour and respect is important, but there appears to be an underlying feeling that it is important to obey the natural order of things.
It is this natural order which is challenged by the arrival of Christianity. The missionaries arrive slowly, insidiously, and the villagers do not take them seriously. That the reader knows how this must finally end only adds to the tension. As Christianity spread, local people convert to the new religion. And when issues arise, as they inevitably must, the problem is that some of the “enemy” are also family and nothing is easy anymore. And when the newcomers are threatened or attacked, their retribution far exceeds the violence of Okonkwo.
The book seems to give an answer to the problem of clashing cultures – taking the time to understand, respecting beliefs, sharing knowledge. Without this respect and flexibility, there is only death and violence. A church is burnt, Okonkwo, a great warrior, dies. Those who cannot see, or learn, bring disaster.
Okonkwo is a powerful protagonist. He embodies the importance of masculinity in the Igbo society, and the emphasis on heritage and ancestors. He also shows that it is possible to prove himself and be more than his father was, no matter how hard that may be. On the other hand, his character also shows that masculinity is not everything. By trying so hard to prove himself and his strength, Okonkwo ultimately goes against the values of his community and its gods, and eventually finds himself surrounded by people who do not understand him. Even in death, Okonkwo disregards the beliefs of his people, and has is almost as disrespectful to his heritage as the Christians are. In some ways, Okonkwo is an embodiment of a true Igbo warrior but, in another, he is no longer part of his tribe.
It is a book which grows in significance on reflection. The story tells of people’s lives, their dreams, their hopes, their families, their lands… and at the end, all their colonisers see is a sentence or two in a book about their pacification. And that is the real tragedy.
Things Fall Apart is a beautiful book about change, death and life. Ultimately, there is only loss, as the world that we had come to understand and care about is no more. But it is also a warm, amusing, lyrical story, which allows the reader to fall into a different perspective. A must for anyone who wants an intelligent, thoughtful story with beautiful imagery and a different perspective.
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Author - Roxanne de Bruyn
Roxanne is the founder and editor of Faraway Worlds. She is a freelance writer and guidebook author and has written for several travel publications, including Lonely Planet and The Culture Trip. With a background in communications, she has studied ancient history, comparative religion and international development, and has a particular interest in sustainable tourism.
Originally from South Africa, Roxanne has travelled widely and loves learning the stories of the places she visits. She enjoys cooking, dance and yoga, and usually travels with her husband and young son. She is based in New Zealand.
Last Updated 16 May 2022
The Novel “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe Essay (Book Review)
Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart vividly depicts Africa before the arrival of the colonizers, as well as the way of life, and traditions of the Ibo people. A short novel, which became the debut for Chinua Achebe, dwells on the author’s tribe because he is a native of Ibo, although he was born in a family that has long been converted to Christianity. The main theme of the Things Fall Apart is the confrontation of the old and the new world, and the eternal struggle of traditions with innovations, in which there are no winners.
First of all, the confrontation is expressed between the young and old generations. Okonkwo is the father who embodies the old world and adherence to traditions, while his eldest son Nwoye symbolizes the new world and the enlightenment that the colonizers bring (Achebe 20). The author shows that the traditions of Ibo are cruel and terrible: twins cannot be left alive, they must be thrown into the Forest immediately after birth (Achebe 23). A captive child can be made practically an adopted son and then killed, because the great god wished so (Achebe 26). However, at the same time, the new world is no less cruel than the customs of Ibo.
The lively and very atmospheric novel Things Fall Apart shows the culture and uniqueness of the Ibo people, as well as their destruction by greedy white people. Since civilization came to their land using barbaric methods, punishments and whips, it was no less harsh than the traditions of the indigenous population. Therefore, there is nothing more humane in the struggle between the old and the new world, they are both equally cruel.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Penguin Publishing Group , 1994.
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- My Preferences
- My Reading List
- Things Fall Apart
- Literature Notes
- Book Summary
- About Things Fall Apart
- Character List
- Summary and Analysis
- Part 1: Chapter 1
- Part 1: Chapter 2
- Part 1: Chapter 3
- Part 1: Chapter 4
- Part 1: Chapter 5
- Part 1: Chapter 6
- Part 1: Chapter 7
- Part 1: Chapter 8
- Part 1: Chapter 9
- Part 1: Chapter 10
- Part 1: Chapter 11
- Part 1: Chapter 12
- Part 1: Chapter 13
- Part 2: Chapter 14
- Part 2: Chapter 15
- Part 2: Chapter 16
- Part 2: Chapter 17
- Part 2: Chapter 18
- Part 2: Chapter 19
- Part 3: Chapter 20
- Part 3: Chapter 21
- Part 3: Chapter 22
- Part 3: Chapter 23
- Part 3: Chapter 24
- Part 3: Chapter 25
- Character Analysis
- Reverend James Smith
- Character Map
- Chinua Achebe Biography
- Critical Essays
- Major Themes in Things Fall Apart
- Use of Language in Things Fall Apart
- Full Glossary for Things Fall Apart
- Essay Questions
- Cite this Literature Note
Things Fall Apart is about the tragic fall of the protagonist, Okonkwo, and the Igbo culture. Okonkwo is a respected and influential leader within the Igbo community of Umuofia in eastern Nigeria. He first earns personal fame and distinction, and brings honor to his village, when he defeats Amalinze the Cat in a wrestling contest. Okonkwo determines to gain titles for himself and become a powerful and wealthy man in spite of his father's weaknesses.
Okonkwo's father, Unoka, was a lazy and wasteful man. He often borrowed money and then squandered it on palm-wine and merrymaking with friends. Consequently, his wife and children often went hungry. Within the community, Unoka was considered a failure and a laughingstock. He was referred to as agbala , one who resembles the weakness of a woman and has no property. Unoka died a shameful death and left numerous debts.
Okonkwo despises and resents his father's gentle and idle ways. He resolves to overcome the shame that he feels as a result of his father's weaknesses by being what he considers to be "manly"; therefore, he dominates his wives and children by being insensitive and controlling.
Because Okonkwo is a leader of his community, he is asked to care for a young boy named Ikemefuna, who is given to the village as a peace offering by neighboring Mbaino to avoid war with Umuofia. Ikemefuna befriends Okonkwo's son, Nwoye, and Okonkwo becomes inwardly fond of the boy.
Over the years, Okonkwo becomes an extremely volatile man; he is apt to explode at the slightest provocation. He violates the Week of Peace when he beats his youngest wife, Ojiugo, because she went to braid her hair at a friend's house and forgot to prepare the afternoon meal and feed her children. Later, he severely beats and shoots a gun at his second wife, Ekwefi, because she took leaves from his banana plant to wrap food for the Feast of the New Yam.
After the coming of the locusts, Ogbuefi Ezeuder, the oldest man in the village, relays to Okonkwo a message from the Oracle. The Oracle says that Ikemefuna must be killed as part of the retribution for the Umuofian woman killed three years earlier in Mbaino. He tells Okonkwo not to partake in the murder, but Okonkwo doesn't listen. He feels that not participating would be a sign of weakness. Consequently, Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna with his machete. Nwoye realizes that his father has murdered Ikemefuna and begins to distance himself from his father and the clansmen.
Okonkwo becomes depressed after killing Ikemefuna, so he visits his best friend, Obierika, who disapproves of his role in Ikemefuna's killing. Obierika says that Okonkwo's act will upset the Earth and the earth goddess will seek revenge. After discussing Ikemefuna's death with Obierika, Okonkwo is finally able to sleep restfully, but he is awakened by his wife Ekwefi. Their daughter Ezinma, whom Okonkwo is fond of, is dying. Okonkwo gathers grasses, barks, and leaves to prepare medicine for Ezinma.
A public trial is held on the village commons. Nine clan leaders, including Okonkwo, represent the spirits of their ancestors. The nine clan leaders, or egwugwu , also represent the nine villages of Umuofia. Okonkwo does not sit among the other eight leaders, or elders, while they listen to a dispute between an estranged husband and wife. The wife, Mgbafo, had been severely beaten by her husband. Her brother took her back to their family's village, but her husband wanted her back home. The egwugwu tell the husband to take wine to his in-laws and beg his wife to come home. One elder wonders why such a trivial dispute would come before the egwugwu.
In her role as priestess, Chielo tells Ekwefi (Okonkwo's second wife) that Agbala (the Oracle of the Hills and Caves) needs to see Ezinma. Although Okonkwo and Ekwefi protest, Chielo takes a terrified Ezinma on her back and forbids anyone to follow. Chielo carries Ezinma to all nine villages and then enters the Oracle's cave. Ekwefi follows secretly, in spite of Chielo's admonitions, and waits at the entrance of the Oracle. Okonkwo surprises Ekwefi by arriving at the cave, and he also waits with her. The next morning, Chielo takes Ezinma to Ekwefi's hut and puts her to bed.
When Ogbuefi Ezeudu dies, Okonkwo worries because the last time that Ezeudu visited him was when he warned Okonkwo against participating in the killing of Ikemefuna. Ezeudu was an important leader in the village and achieved three titles of the clan's four, a rare accomplishment. During the large funeral, Okonkwo's gun goes off, and Ezeudu's sixteen-year-old son is killed accidentally.
Because the accidental killing of a clansman is a crime against the earth goddess, Okonkwo and his family must be exiled from Umuofia for seven years. The family moves to Okonkwo's mother's native village, Mbanta. After they depart Umuofia, a group of village men destroy Okonkwo's compound and kill his animals to cleanse the village of Okonkwo's sin. Obierika stores Okonkwo's yams in his barn and wonders about the old traditions of the Igbo culture.
Okonkwo is welcomed to Mbanta by his maternal uncle, Uchendu, a village elder. He gives Okonkwo a plot of land on which to farm and build a compound for his family. But Okonkwo is depressed, and he blames his chi (or personal spirit) for his failure to achieve lasting greatness.
During Okonkwo's second year in exile, he receives a visit from his best friend, Obierika, who recounts sad news about the village of Abame: After a white man rode into the village on a bicycle, the elders of Abame consulted their Oracle, which told them that the white man would destroy their clan and other clans. Consequently, the villagers killed the white man. But weeks later, a large group of men slaughtered the villagers in retribution. The village of Abame is now deserted.
Okonkwo and Uchendu agree that the villagers were foolish to kill a man whom they knew nothing about. Later, Obierika gives Okonkwo money that he received from selling Okonkwo's yams and seed-yams, and he promises to do so until Okonkwo returns to Umuofia.
Six missionaries, including one white man, arrive in Mbanta. The white man speaks to the people about Christianity. Okonkwo believes that the man speaks nonsense, but his son, Nwoye, is captivated and becomes a convert of Christianity.
The Christian missionaries build a church on land given to them by the village leaders. However, the land is a part of the Evil Forest, and according to tradition, the villagers believe that the missionaries will die because they built their church on cursed land. But when nothing happens to the missionaries, the people of Mbanta conclude that the missionaries possess extraordinary power and magic. The first recruits of the missionaries are efulefu , the weak and worthless men of the village. Other villagers, including a woman, soon convert to Christianity. The missionaries then go to Umuofia and start a school. Nwoye leaves his father's hut and moves to Umuofia so he can attend the school.
Okonkwo's exile is over, so his family arranges to return to Umuofia. Before leaving Mbanta, they prepare a huge feast for Okonkwo's mother's kinsmen in appreciation of their gratitude during Okonkwo's seven years of exile.
When Okonkwo returns to Umuofia, he discovers that the village has changed during his absence. Many men have renounced their titles and have converted to Christianity. The white men have built a prison; they have established a government court of law, where people are tried for breaking the white man's laws; and they also employ natives of Umuofia. Okonkwo wonders why the Umuofians have not incited violence to rid the village of the white man's church and oppressive government.
Some members of the Igbo clan like the changes in Umuofia. Mr. Brown, the white missionary, respects the Igbo traditions. He makes an effort to learn about the Igbo culture and becomes friendly with some of the clan leaders. He also encourages Igbo people of all ages to get an education. Mr. Brown tells Okonkwo that Nwoye, who has taken the name Isaac, is attending a teaching college. Nevertheless, Okonkwo is unhappy about the changes in Umuofia.
After Mr. Brown becomes ill and is forced to return to his homeland, Reverend James Smith becomes the new head of the Christian church. But Reverend Smith is nothing like Mr. Brown; he is intolerant of clan customs and is very strict.
Violence arises after Enoch, an overzealous convert to Christianity, unmasks an egwugwu. In retaliation, the egwugwu burn Enoch's compound and then destroy the Christian church because the missionaries have caused the Igbo people many problems.
When the District Commissioner returns to Umuofia, he learns about the destruction of the church and asks six leaders of the village, including Okonkwo, to meet with him. The men are jailed until they pay a fine of two hundred and fifty bags of cowries. The people of Umuofia collect the money and pay the fine, and the men are set free.
The next day at a meeting for clansmen, five court messengers who intend to stop the gathering approach the group. Suddenly, Okonkwo jumps forward and beheads the man in charge of the messengers with his machete. When none of the other clansmen attempt to stop the messengers who escape, Okonkwo realizes that they will never go to war and that Umuofia will surrender. Everything has fallen apart for Okonkwo; he commits suicide by hanging himself.
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Essays on Things Fall Apart
Things fall apart essay topics and outline examples, essay title 1: the cultural clash in "things fall apart".
Thesis Statement: Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" explores the collision of Igbo traditional culture and European colonialism, illustrating the devastating consequences of cultural disintegration.
- Igbo Traditional Culture and Values
- The Arrival of European Colonists
- Conflicts and Changes in Igbo Society
- The Tragic Consequences of Cultural Clash
Essay Title 2: Character Analysis of Okonkwo in "Things Fall Apart"
Thesis Statement: Okonkwo, the protagonist of "Things Fall Apart," embodies both admirable and tragic qualities, making him a complex character whose fate reflects larger themes of the novel.
- Okonkwo's Early Life and Ambitions
- Strengths and Flaws of Okonkwo's Character
- Okonkwo's Struggles and Downfall
- Okonkwo's Role in the Novel's Themes
Essay Title 3: Gender Roles and Women's Power in "Things Fall Apart"
Thesis Statement: Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" challenges traditional gender roles within the Igbo society by portraying the strength, resilience, and influence of women, particularly through the character of Ezinma.
- Igbo Gender Roles and Expectations
- Ezinma as a Symbol of Female Empowerment
- Other Strong Female Characters in the Novel
- The Evolution of Gender Dynamics
Human Right Infringement in Things Fall Apart
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1958, Chinua Achebe
Novel; Allegorical, historical fiction
Ezinma, Nwoye, Ikemefuna, Okonkwo, Mr. Brown
The European invasion and earlier colonial accounts of African history.
Colonialism, culture, family, friendship, life, struggle, politics, a cultural clash, Igbo society
While the African culture is often ignored, this particular book speaks directly about life in the Igbo society. It also tells an insider story of the African experience that becomes clear for those people who are not directly involved. It tells about the spiritual history of African people and makes a cultural aspect that is often ignored even through the lens of colonial background.
This complex, yet profound novel tells us a story of Okonkwo, a wrestling champion belonging to the Igbo community. The novel takes place among the fictional clan where we learn about family life, history of the main character, custom, society, and the usual challenges. The third part of the book deals with the Christian missionaries and the European colonialism.
The title of the book has been taken from a poem called "The Second Coming", which has been penned by W.B. Yeats. Achebe's goal has been to let the readers learn more about the African society that has been dynamic and vivid, yet completely different from the Western society. The book shows Africa as a modern and well-developed society. The "Things Fall Apart" manuscript has been lost for months until it has finally been found for publishing. Achebe has been influenced by the style of Charles Dickens. The book has given a start for the African literature all over the world. Achebe's work has helped to break down numerous stereotypes about the African society and the tribes.
“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.” “A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.” “If you don't like my story, write your own” “Then listen to me,' he said and cleared his throat. 'It's true that a child belongs to its father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother's hut. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why we say that mother is supreme. Is it right that you, Okonkwo, should bring your mother a heavy face and refuse to be comforted? Be careful or you may displease the dead. Your duty is to comfort your wives and children and take them back to your fatherland after seven years. But if you allow sorrow to weigh you down and kill you, they will all die in exile.” “Age was respected among his people, but achievement was revered. As the elders said, if a child washed his hands he could eat with kings.”
The most important lesson that this book brings and a reason why it is essential for us is the socio-cultural clash that takes place as the colonial times arrive. We are given an opportunity to compare the things that were usual for Igbo community and the changes that immediately took place, mostly against a person's will.
It is an important topic that helps us to write about the culture, society, our background, history, and the changes that we have to endure when the new changes come. The book is a great example of how the old friendships and tradition vs change instantly become broken when the cultural pressure comes up. It is also a great novel that tells us about our faith and the rule of power.
Okonkwo is an element or a symbol of peripeteia or a dramatic reversal. We can follow Okonkwo's path from being a man of respect to becoming an outcast in his tribe (clan). The tragedy of his death (suicide) is what represents the downfall.
1. Rhoads, D. A. (1993). Culture in Chinua Achebe's Things fall apart. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/african-studies-review/article/abs/culture-in-chinua-achebes-things-fall-apart/D123B160B650B9BE84E6E85ACF032B9A African Studies Review, 36(2), 61-72. 2. Caldwell, R. (2005). Things fall apart? Discourses on agency and change in organizations. Human relations, 58(1), 83-114. (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0018726705050937?journalCode=huma) 3. Ikuenobe, P. (2006). The idea of personhood in Chinua Achebe’s Things fall apart. Philosophia Africana, 9(2), 117-131. (https://www.pdcnet.org/philafricana/content/philafricana_2006_0009_0002_0117_0131) 4. Parmentier, M. A., & Fischer, E. (2015). Things fall apart: The dynamics of brand audience dissipation. Journal of Consumer Research, 41(5), 1228-1251. (https://academic.oup.com/jcr/article/41/5/1228/2962093) 5. Nnoromele, P. C. (2000). The Plight of a Hero in Achebe s" Things Fall Apart". College Literature, 27(2), 146-156. (https://www.jstor.org/stable/25112519) 6. Shiner, M., Scourfield, J., Fincham, B., & Langer, S. (2009). When things fall apart: Gender and suicide across the life-course. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0277953609003670 Social Science & Medicine, 69(5), 738-746. 7. Ten Kortenaar, N. (1991). How the centre is made to hold in Things Fall Apart. ESC: English Studies in Canada, 17(3), 319-336. (https://muse.jhu.edu/article/694908) 8. McCormick, G. H., Horton, S. B., & Harrison, L. A. (2007). Things Fall Apart: the endgame dynamics of internal wars. Third World Quarterly, 28(2), 321-367. (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01436590601153721)
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By Dwight Garner
- March 22, 2013
“If you don’t like someone’s story,” Chinua Achebe told The Paris Review in 1994, “write your own.”
In his first novel and masterpiece, “Things Fall Apart” (1958), Mr. Achebe, who died on Thursday at 82, did exactly that. In calm and exacting prose, he examined a tribal society fracturing under the abuses of colonialism. The novel has been assigned to generations of American high school and college students — my college dispatched a copy to me before my freshman year.
In many respects “Things Fall Apart” is the “To Kill A Mockingbird” of African literature: accessible but stinging, its layers peeling over the course of multiple readings.
“Things Fall Apart,” its title taken from William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming,” has sold more than 10 million copies and been translated into some 45 languages. Time magazine placed it on its list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005.
The novel tells the story of Okonkwo, a stoic clan leader and former wrestling hero who returns to his village after seven years in exile. (He’d been sent away after his role in an accidental death.) The changes that Christian missionaries and other white men have brought are intolerable to him. “Things Fall Apart” rolls toward a bleak denouement.
What sticks with you about the novel is its sensitive investigation, often through folk tales, of how culture functions and what it means. Mr. Achebe (his name is pronounced CHIN-you-ah Ah-CHAY-bay) had plenty to say about notions of traditional masculinity, as well, not to mention his braided observations about nature, religion, myth, gender and history.
The novelist grabbed the subject of colonialism “so firmly and fairly,” John Updike wrote in The New Yorker in the 1970s, “that the book’s tragedy, like Greek tragedy, felt tonic; a space had been cleared, an understanding had been achieved, a new beginning was implied.”
Growing up in Nigeria, Mr. Achebe attended schools that were modeled upon British public schools. In his recent book of essays, “The Education of a British-Protected Child” (2009), he was eloquent about what it felt like as a young man to read classic English novels. They provided a cognitive dissonance he had to work through.
“I did not see myself as an African in those books,” he wrote. “I took sides with the white men against the savages.” He continued: “The white man was good and reasonable and smart and courageous. The savages arrayed against him were sinister and stupid, never anything higher than cunning. I hated their guts.”
Mr. Achebe grew up, and grew wiser: “These writers had pulled a fast one on me! I was not on Marlowe’s boat steaming up the Congo in ‘Heart of Darkness’; rather, I was one of those unattractive beings jumping up and down on the riverbank, making horrid faces.”
Mr. Achebe was a poet, professor, short-story writer and critic in addition to being a novelist. His more than 30 other books include the novels “No Longer At Ease” (1960) and “Anthills of the Savannah” (1987). He published several children’s books. He was also the author, controversially, of an essay called “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness.’ ”
While many critics defended Conrad, Mr. Achebe didn’t back down from his assertion that the racism in Conrad was not merely the norm for its time. In a book of essays he quoted earlier writers who, he said, were less backward.
Mr. Achebe was a mentor and role model to a generation of African writers — he’s often referred to as the father of modern African writing. But like many novelists who find success with an early book, Mr. Achebe found himself almost solely defined by “Things Fall Apart.” He spent the last two decades in the United States, teaching at Bard College and then Brown University.
It’s been more than 50 years since the publication of Mr. Achebe’s pioneering and canonical novel; it no longer seems to stand, to a Western audience at any rate, for African writing as a whole. His talent and success have helped spawn an array of postcolonial writing from across the continent. Among the talented young Nigerian writers alone who cite him as an influence are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and Lola Shoneyin.
In 1990 Mr. Achebe was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident in Nigeria. The following year he gave an interview to Bradford Morrow in Conjunctions magazine.
Mr. Morrow asked him about the accident, and Mr. Achebe spoke about it with stoicism and good humor. “Children are born deformed,” he said. “What crime did they commit? I’ve been very lucky. I walked for 60 years. So what does it matter that I can’t for my last few years. There are people who never walked at all.”
“Things Fall Apart” is, at base, about the strength that human beings find in community. His car accident offered him similar lessons. “It is an opportunity,” Mr. Achebe told Mr. Morrow. “It’s a lesson. It’s so much. It is an enrichment. I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned how much we depend on each other.”
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