Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian post-colonial writer, poet, professor, and critic, whose fame spread beyond the dark continent when he first introduced his compelling, magnum opus novel, “Things Fall Apart”. Written only two years before the British colonial left Nigeria — in 1958 — “Things Fall Apart” is an embodiment of pre- and post-colonial Nigeria. The title of the novel stems from W. B. Yeats’s poem, “The Second Coming”. Chinua Achebe died in 2013 at the age of 82.
The story revolves around Okonkwo, the protagonist of the novel, and his family that’s made up of three wives (His first wife — Nwoye’s mother — is unnamed, his second, Ekwefi, and his third, Ojiugo) and a total of ten children; however, only a few of them stand out as main characters in the novel.
Okonkwo is a self-made, hardworking man whose fame echoed through Umuofia, his native village, when he beat Amalinze the Cat, a famous wrestler. Thenceforth, Okonkwo became revered yet feared in the village. Unlike his father, Unoka, who was loafer (ne’er-do-well) inasmuch he was effeminate, Okonkwo loved to work and sow his lands; as a matter of fact, he hated his father for bringing shame to their name. After his father’s death, he gained the upper hand of his kinship.
Okonkwo is short-tempered and is always wearing an unrelenting severe face — and does not tolerate inertia; his affection or sympathy towards his family is hardly noticed. Still, albeit he is not a man of manners, he hides his emotions for fear that he would be seen unmanly, or would be labelled an effeminate, as his father was. The fear of failure depicted the image of his deceased father in his mind, and thus he thrived for fear of being akin to his father.
Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his little children. Perhaps down in his heart, Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo’s fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father.
Consequently, Okonkwo thoroughly believes that hard work hardens one’s heart; therefore, they become manly enough to succeed their ancestors. His son Nwoye, however, fails him in the same way his father did; he is a carbon copy of his grandfather.
Nwoye’s the son of Okonkwo’s first wife, which is not named throughout the book. He had been beaten by his father several times, and he had grown a repulsive feeling towards him. Okonkwo keeps telling his son that when he was his age, he had already been a successful man whose name terrified the hearts of his enemies. Okonkwo’s daughter, Enizma, were his favourite — for he saw in her the spirit of bravery insofar he wished she was born a man. The arrival of Ikemefuna, a boy sent from another village as a compensation for the wrongful death of a Umuofian woman, deepened his repent for having Nwoye as his son.
I shall not dwell upon each character lest it will be long — as if this isn’t already!
Okonkwo’s reputation in the village precedes him, a man of honour and of great valour. His life, however, grows tumultuous, and problems burden his shoulders; he was then exiled for seven years from his motherland and withdrew to his dead mother’s village where he received a warm welcome.
After the expiry of the seven years, Okonkwo and his family went back to see the uncanny changes their village had undergone. He had heard before his coming that missionaries were sent to Umuofia and that a church was built. The new religion blasphemed the old ways whereupon turmoil occupied the sphere. Then, the colonial government set foot and settled in the village at once.
This section is presented only in the last fifty pages or so. Chinua Achebe introduces the shift from the pre-colonial lifestyle, which was virtually characterised by social ties and coherence, to the post-colonial lifestyle, wherein missionaries had successfully persuaded people to join their wave, and thus the connections and relationships were shattered between those who once were brethren. Having said that, the church paved the way down for the government to walk in under the umbrella of “civilising the uncivilised.”
Likewise, the title of the novel “Things Fall Apart” denotes the cultural heritage that was torn apart by the British colonial powers. What is more, colonialism and the quick shift from the old ways to the new ones created a chasm between the inhabitants of the village, and thus the cultural heritage succumbed to its death.
Okonkwo kept faith in his traditions and stood for it in the face of the outsiders. Alas, his fate walks the very path his culture walked; that is, give in to its annihilation.
Things Fall Apart stands out as one of the most remarkable novels in African Literature; it is regarded as the epitome of the modern African novel.
My name is Youssef Hamdi, and I’m 21 years old. I’m a master student of the department of English-Ibn Tofail University, FLSHK.
I am an aspiring poet, blogger, writer, and a Graphic designer. I believe we need more positive people around the world, and hopefully enough, I want to be one. Spread love and aspire for a better future!
“To complain is to veil one’s mistakes.” – Youssef Hamdi.