Title: Things Fall Apart
Author: Chinua Achebe
Genre: Fiction novel
First publication: 23rd January 1958
Where to buy: Amazon, bookshops, & street book vendors.
It was my favorite book which I frequently borrowed for my English Literature classes during high school. In fact, every student and several other people I interacted with over the book said they relished it just like I did. Despite my affection for it, I couldn’t take the book home although some time ago I bought mine from a local bookstore and spent a good time perusing it once more.
About the book…
Things Fall Apart is an African fiction novel book authored by the renowned Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe. The events in the novel seem to have happened towards the end of the 19th century and in the early part of the 20th century – a period when the British colonialists established their imperialism over the Igbo community of Umuofia, Okonkwo the main character’s home village.
In this book, Achebe depicts a catastrophic apocalypse in which the world collapses into an obstinate anarchy because of an internal flaw within humanity by presenting the tales of what transpired in the Igbo society at a time when the British established a colony over the indigenous tribe. Due to the internal flaws and weaknesses within the native structure and the divided nature of this community, Umuofia is unable to withstand the powerful alien religion, commerce, technology, and administration upheld by the white man’s powerful artillery.
Things Fall Apart tells two intertwining accounts both centered on Okonkwo the main character as a powerful and courageous man who can not adjust to the profound changes brought in his community by the white colonialists. The first, a powerful tale of the primeval conflict between the self – Okonkwo – and his society from where we trace his fall from grace with the tribal world (committing murder) where he was once viewed as the local hero. The second as modern as the first is ancient and concerns the clash of both the old and new cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world marked by the arrival of the invading and uninvited European colonialists.
The book paints a gloomy image of Okonkwo as the villain hero of his village in Umuofia and a very successful man with three wives and uncountable children. He was generally admired due especially because of his unmatched bravery and other war-like skills. Okonkwo is also portrayed as someone who doesn’t exhibit signs of weakness/sentimentality, a tragic flaw that eventually caused him constant troubles.
After his seven-year exile in a distant village (he shot and killed a tribemate’s son), he returns to Umuofia only to find that white missionaries and colonial governors had established dominion over his village and he got incensed. He was agitated by the fact that they had imposed foreign laws as well as their religious doctrines over his subjective people. Humiliated by the white man’s strange activities and his tribesmen’s unwillingness to go to war, the villain suddenly feels strengthless. Literary, his world falls apart.
Achebe’s idea in this historical novel is to present a complex but dynamic society to a western audience who perceived the African society as being primitive and backward. Unless Africans could tell their own story, Achebe believed that the African experience would be best told from an African perspective which he feared that it would be mistold even by the westerners who have lived in Africa or other European writers who have twistedly portrayed the continent as a dark place, inhabited by people with savage minds.
Achebe’s book exemplifies the European perception of Africa in particular with two outstanding characters: Rev. James Smith and the unnamed district commissioner. The Reverend simply sees no need for compromising on unquestionable western religious beliefs/practices and he simply doesn’t realize any benefit in letting Africans retain their cultural and spiritual endowments. On the other hand, the commissioner prides himself in being a student of archaic customs and sees himself as a benevolent leader who has only the best intentions for assuaging the primitive tribes and being capable of bringing them to the white man’s modern era.
The anti-Christ tone in Okonkwo emerges due to the invasive religious presence backed by the insensitive colonial government which altogether caused the traditional Umuofian world to fall apart! Achebe also stereotypes the white colonialists as being rigid, with imperialist intentions, whereas Igbo’s were represented as being highly inquisitive but defensive; many of them open to the white man’s new ideologies. Achebe draws some negatives as well as the positive elements of the Igbo people and their culture and he is sometimes critical of his own people as he is to the colonialists.
The book is, therefore, written in an unconventional setting and style. It also concentrates on the socio-political aspects including the fractious relationship amongst the top members of the Igbo community in their bid to confront the intrusive and overpowering presence of westerners and their beliefs in Umuofia.
Achebe writes about the African society from an African point of view, the story and the circumstances surrounding the colonialism of the Igbo that tends to annihilate the misconception that African culture had been backward and primitive. He also describes the Igbo society in a sympathetic mood to allow the reader examine the implications of European colonialism on African societies from an African aspect.
The successes of Things Fall Apart sets the forefront for young and budding African novelists and those who are still doubtful of where to begin from – the unusual happenings within their communities can draw incentives for a good start-up. With credits to this book, thousands of novelists after Achebe have found an eloquent and compelling mode of expression about the particular social, historical and cultural spheres of the contemporary Africa.
Things Fall Apart is simplistic, candid, unbiased, and critical. It also has the most compelling conclusion to any book I have ever read. I expected to dig deeper into how life used to be for Africans in the face of aggression from the white man’s colonial rule and surely, I wasn’t disappointed to a considerable extent. In today’s world of clashing and recalcitrant cultures, this is the perfect book that showcases real historical dilemma from which all could learn, young and old.