Things Fall Apart is a real masterpiece by Chinua Achebe about devotion to traditions and culture, about non-avertable changes, about religion, and about people attitude to novelties and their abilities to defend their own interests.
Written in 1958, this novel by Nigerian author touches so many readers and makes them look at this world in many different ways. In order to create such a wonderful story about life and death, Chinua Achebe evaluated the work by Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness, analyzed what made African culture so unique, and got the necessary education to present his ideas in a clear and captivating way. Such characters like Okonkwo, Ikemefuna, and Mr. Brown help to comprehend how it is difficult to go with times, be ready to face challenges, and not forget about own interests and values. Things Fall Apart is a literary work that represents the development of several different ideas like the importance of religion, significance of culture, and power that leads to conflicts of different types; Chinua Achebe made a wonderful attempt to introduce a fiction that characterizes real life problems and challenges, and people’s abilities to cope with them or be defeated by them. Achebe introduced Things Fall Apart for the first time in 1959. By then, he was already known as the founder of Nigerian literary movements, which were aimed to raise the significance of African culture and traditions.
At college, Achebe was interested in theology and history, this is why his work is full of numerous historical facts and grounds. The point is that when Achebe comprehended how serious the struggle between religions was, he made a choice and stood by his Nigerian roots. Not every reader knows that his real Christian name was Albert, but he rejected this name and chose Chinua, his indigenous name.
Taking into consideration all these facts about Achebe’s real life, it is not that difficult to predict what his work can be about. With time, Achebe became a critic of his own works and admitted that Things Fall Apart may be regarded as “an act of atonement with my past, the ritual return and homage of a prodigal son” (Gikandi, 25). Desire to prove that African culture was still of great importance, Achebe’s abilities to introduce captivating stories in clear and simple words, and necessity to encourage people for great actions and ideas – this is what motivated Achebe to start writing Things Fall Apart. One more interesting point about the creation of Things Fall Apart is its polemics to one more work about the Africans and their traditions. Heart of Darkness is a genius work by Joseph Conrad, who made an attempt to represent African people as the nation, bereft of language and dignity, the nation that cannot stop all those cries and try to find a way to cope with challenges. Achebe wanted to say something in response to Conrad and prove that African people have enough powers to resist this constantly changing world, and they are not too weak, and their customs and culture should be respected by other nations. Such an approach does not cause some negative attitude, on the contrary, lots of people were eager to look at this nation from another perspective, when people are ready to fight and have lots of ideas to share. The novel under consideration presents a story of Okonkwo, a wealthy warrior from the Nigerian tribe, Umuofia.
His father created not very respectable reputation, living so many debts. This is why it was crucially important for Okonkwo to win other people confidence and trust in order to provide his family with safe and successful future. So, Okonkwo became a famous warrior, clansman, and father of the family. “Proud and fierce, Okonkwo embodies many of the qualities most highly regarded by his tribe” (Mallison, 124). However, with time, certain challenges took place on his way to success and prosperity, lots of things started falling apart, and Okonkwo could not find enough powers to cope with situations and act in good faith.
The reasons of why all those things in Okonkwo’s life felt apart have rather different roots: history, traditions, people’s values, and interests. Things Fall Apart, as many other literary works, has several themes, which become fundamental ideas to represent, analyze, and develop. Achebe chooses several themes to touch upon simultaneously: he focuses on the struggle that takes place between traditions and changes, caused by society’s development; he also tells about men’s role in society and their duties and values; and, finally, he does not forget to underline that religion remains to be a crucial factor while making decisions. Every person, as an equal part of this world, has to perform certain duties and be able to help the others to cope with challenges. Okonkwo truly believes that his father is a weak and lazy person, who cannot even try to do something in order to achieve success, this is why Okonkwo’s purpose is to become better and more successful. He realizes that now he has certain duties and responsibilities, and sometimes, these duties are rather serious and contradict personal interests and desires. When little Ikemefuna becomes an integral part of Okonkwo’s life, Okonkwo believes that he has found one more son, who should certain justify all Okonkwo’s hopes. However, the news that Ikemefuna has to be killed breaks Okonkwo and makes him take terrible actions.
The reason that Achebe presents in order to justify Okonkwo’s actions is quite simple – “he was afraid of being thought weak” (Achebe, 43). In spite of the fact that Okonkwo does not want to kill and realizes that this murder could change his life considerably, he still agrees to participate in killing in order to prove his courage and devotion to traditions. However, it is not the only thing that falls apart. With time, Okonkwo has to leave his tribe for a couple of years in order to pray for forgiveness and think over his actions. When he returns, new government comes to his tribe, and lots of people have already changed their values and traditions.
The white man becomes the leader of their society, and new culture begins to develop. Achebe wants to underline that people are not always sure about their decisions, but still, they may follow the crowd in order not to be different. Okonkwo does not want to follow those instincts and tries to fight and prove the significance of their old traditions. However, cultural revolution is already happening, and Okonkwo has two ways – to be against and to lose this battle and to join the others. When new government comes to society, the changes in other spheres take place as well. The old religion is under a threat to lose its hold as well, because people do not want to continue believing the same things.
These people consider that even some changes in religion will be encouraged. Achebe does not appreciate the choice of people, and he makes an attempt to rebel by means of Okonkwo. However, the death of Okonkwo is the brightest example that one person cannot fight against the others. Nowadays, people have fewer troubles with religious preferences: people of different religion can be the best friends and be able to appreciate each other’s choice. The historical significance of Things Fall Apart is closely connected to Achebe’s ability to use more new forms to express the ideas and bring out narrative procedures with the help of colonial language (Gikandi, 4). Of course, as Things Fall Apart is considered to be a fiction only, it is impossible to interpret this novel as a reliable historical or political piece of writing.
But still, the description of conflicts and ideas of how to solve some of them, the desire to have more powers and abilities to control other people, and other inherent to people characteristics are perfectly introduced in the work and has a significant influence on many readers. People need the works, which can inspire them and make them take very significant actions. After reading Things Fall Apart is impossible of course to start a new business or make a new invention, however, it is quite possible to start self-evaluation in order to improve own life and understand that this life is not that easy and creates more and more challenges for people. And like the main character of the story, Okonkwo, people should, at least, try to demonstrate their intentions and desire to save traditions and respect the past. In general, Things Fall Apart is a great story about life, changes, and challenges. The variety of characters allows to analyze the work from different perspectives and to get a clear picture about the life in 1890s.
The description of religious aspects of life makes the novel really strong. The role of gods in people’s life, men’s duties in society, importance of traditions, and family support – this is what Chinua Achebe concentrates on in his work. He did a really great job and made his masterpiece available for many people, writing Things Fall Apart in clear English.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Oxford: Heinemann, 1996.
Gikandi, Simon. Reading Chinua Achebe: Language & Ideology in Fiction. Oxford: James Currey Publishers, 1991. Mallison, Jane.
Book Smart: Your Essential Reading List for Becoming a Literary Genius in 365 Days. United States: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2007.