Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things Fall Apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
-W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”
A detailed insight into pre and post colonial life in late 19th century Nigeria, “Things Fall Apart” is Chinua Achebe’s first and most widely read novel in African literature.
Okonkwo, an Igbo leader and a local wrestling champion in the fictional village of Umuofia, isn’t a very likeable character. He is abusive, violent, overbearing and power-hungry. His domineering attitude is what he believes it is to be ”manly”. He is also strong, willful and influential, unlike his wasteful father, Unoka. This nature of Okonkwo is the perfect recipe for self-destruction and is sure to lead to his downfall. The influence of British colonialism and Christian missionaries on their community is introduced simultaneously which lead to chaos and ultimately the fall of the Igbo culture. This is a story of not only Okonkwo’s tragedy but also the destruction of a culture that is so beautifully described.
Later in the novel, we begin to pity Okonkwo despite his misogynistic nature. His extreme desire to be on the top is accompanied by an equally strong fear of failure.
“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 the forest, and of the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo’s fear was greater than these. It was not extrovert, but lay deep within himself. “
The main theme of the novel is the clash between the Igbo and Christian missionaries, a juxtaposition of Christian faith over native beliefs. An insight into the Igbo culture as described in this book reveals the complexity of their society, their beliefs, social and family rituals, superstitions and marginalisation of some of their people.
The prime reason for their fall was the lack of a proper centre of authority. Without a unifying self-image and no balance, the British managed to encroach on their land effortlessly. They claimed that the local laws are baseless but ironically, the British laws prove to be hypocritical eventually.
Achebe brings out his message without altering the language to the extent that its value is lost. He very innovatively introduces Igbo language, proverbs and metaphors, giving it an authentic African voice.
“Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.”
There is very less character building in “Things Fall Apart”, unlike western novels. On the other hand the intricate description of daily life and rituals gives us the feeling of actually experiencing it along with them.
Chinua Achebe writes for a social purpose to recreate their national culture. He says,
“ African people did not hear of a culture for the first time from the Europeans… their societies were not mindless, but frequently had a philosophy of great depth and value and beauty… they had poetry, and above all, they had dignity. It is this dignity that African people all but lost during the colonial period, and it is this that they must now regain again.”
By the end of the book, the reader is sure to be left with a mixture of emotions – anger at the arrogance of the British, frustration at the ignorance of the Igbo people, shock at some of their superstitions, admiration at their justice system and honesty, and surprisingly sympathy towards Okonkwo.
My rating for this book – 3.5/5