Things Fall Apart
Things Fall Apart is a classic piece of African Literature that has captured the hearts of many readers. It is in fact a staple book in many African schools and is regarded as one of the first African novels written in English to receive global acclaim. One interesting point about the book is the derivation of the title from W.B Yeats poem, “The Second Coming”. The text aptly portrays the culture and traditions of the Igbo Society as well as the effect of the emergence of British colonialism and Christian missionaries on the traditional African society.
The background of the novel is set in the pre-colonial Nigeria 19th century and follows the life of a man named Okonkwo. Achebe portrays Okonkwo as a determined and self-motivated person whose inherent goal in life is to be better than his father, Unoka, whom he regards as lazy and wasteful. Okonkwo strives to be wealthy, influential and powerful and succeeds in that regard.
Okonkwo as the protagonist of the novel is given to shows of fame and power. It is apparent that his greatest fear is being considered weak. It is for this reason that despite the apparent admiration and love he had for Ikemefuna, he discards the advice of Ezeudu and is the first one to strike Ikemefuna with his machete.
It appears that from that moment, things begin to go downhill for Okonkwo, thus introducing the element of karma. As the book progresses, we see that during Ezeudu’s burial, the unexpected happens and Okonkwo’s gun goes off, killing one of Ezeudu’s son. At this point, Achebe exposes us to the traditional Igbo justice system which banishes Okonkwo from the tribe, for a period of seven years, despite being a man of repute and influence. In spite of this, Okonkwo is resilient and determined to keep up the good fight. He is able to maintain his wealth with the assistance of his good friend, Obierika who helps him maintain his farm and his house in Umofia.
As the novel progresses, we realize that despite Okonkwo’s resilience and determination, change begins to sweep through the villages including his exiled home, Umofia. Achebe introduces us to the white men missionaries whose views and customs are radically at variance with that of the Igbo tradition. We also see that a number of Igbo indigenes convert to the white man’s religion – Christianity. In fact, to Okonkwo’s utter dissatisfaction and disdain, his effeminate son, Nwoye is among such converts.
With the myriad of challenges faced by Okonkwo, one would think that Achebe would spare his protagonist further trials. This is however not the case as things go from bad to worse even as Okonkwo completes the duration of his exile and returns home to Umofia.
Sadly, Umofia is not as Okonkwo left it, the white man has gained a measure of control over the village. As such, when the leaders of Umofia, including Okonkwo, decide to pay the District Commissioner a visit, they are held captive and have their heads shaved and are only released upon payment of the sum of two hundred cowries. This is clearly a humiliating experience for Okonkwo whose bitterness and disdain for the white man is fuelled.
In the last chapter of the book, we see that the people of Umofia call for a meeting to agree on the way forward in addressing the presence of the white men in the village but are stopped by five Court messengers. Okonkwo, filled with rage and ready for battle, does not hesitate in beheading one of the messengers. He expects his people to follow suite and pronounce war against the white man, but alas, Okonkwo realizes that he is alone in the fight and walks away in anger.
That turns out to be the last we see of Okonkwo, as we realise that, Okonkwo, the wealthy, influential and powerful leader of Umofia, seeing that all that he held dear fell apart, took his life to avoid being tried by the white man.
Essentially, Things Fall Apart is a classic piece of literature. One point of particular interest is Achebe’s generous use of anecdotes and Igbo proverbs. One of such proverbs that resonates in my mind is thus – “At the most one could say that his chi or … personal god was good. But the Ibo people have a proverb that when a man says yes his chi says yes also. Okonkwo said yes very strongly; so his chi agreed”.
Indeed, Things Fall Apart is a timeless classic worth reading more than once…