Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is the famous novel about nineteenth century Nigerian society and Colonialism’s impact on it. The book was written in 1958, in English.
This short novel follows Okonkwo, an important man in Igbo society. The story covers a swath of Okonkwo’s life. He is wealthy, respected and successful. The tale explores the people that he has relationships with, including his multiple wives, children and friends. When he accidently kills a man he is sent into a seven - year exile to his mother’s home village. During this time European government and missionaries move into the area. The newcomers disrupt the life of the Iocal people. Okonkwo family and friends are divided as some convert to Christianity at the urging of the newcomers. There is violence between the Igbo and the Europeans. At its height, an entire Igbo village is massacred.
This book works on several levels. The author delves into Igbo culture and society. Many pages are devoted to customs and folklore. The story covers such diverse topics as food, religion and marriage, just to name a few.
The philosophy and message of this book is complicated. The story exposes the arrogance and wrongness of Colonialism. The Europeans bring death and chaos to the local society.
There is also something ugly going on among the Igbo. Okonkwo is a brutal man and a murderer. He physically abuses his multiple wives. He devalues woman. Throughout the text, the author seems to be reminding us that within this society there is a streak of brutality, violence, a devaluating of the feminine. We find out that when twins are born they are left in the forest to die. These horrors reach a low point when Okonkwo murders the young boy that he has taken in as son. All of Igbo society is indicted as the killing was ordered by a religious leader.
At one point, Nwoye, who is Okonkwo son, is shown to be enjoying the stories told be his female relatives. But sexism and the glorification of violence leads him to reconsider.
“That was the kind of story that Nwoye loved. But he now knew that they were for foolish women and children, and he knew that his father wanted him to be a man. And so he feigned that he no longer cared for women's stories. And when he did this he saw that his father was pleased, and no longer rebuked him or beat him. So Nwoye and Ikemefuna would listen to Okonkwo stories about tribal wars, or how, years ago, he had stalked his victim, overpowered him and obtained his first human head…”
It seems that the author is criticizing both European and Igbo society and actions. This book contains strong anti - violence and anti – misogynistic themes. The tale accomplishes this by shedding light upon the malignant effects of violence and the harmful affects of degrading women.
There is a lot to recommend this work. In addition to the themes mentioned above, this is a wonderful examination of the positive aspects of Igbo culture. The commentary on Colonialism and religion is also complex and deserves a separate blog post. Okonkwo, despite his flaws, is a brilliantly crafted character. I recommend this book to those who appreciate serious literature as well as anyone who may be interested in learning about the Igbo culture.