Book Review: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Posted on February 26, 2010

Anushri Mondal:

Published in 1958, the very sound of the name of the book and the writer might make an aspiring reader keep the book in the shelf without making an attempt to read the lucidity of the first few pages. This is what Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” generally have on the perception of those, not very well versed with the literature and literary works outside the sphere of the genre named ‘English literature’. This new literature in English that has emerged over the last few decades is somehng to be intensely perused and relished for its charm and innovation.

Things Fall Apart is one such book that narrates the tale of the African city in the precolonial days, that is, before the coming of the White Europeans in their attempt to Christianize them followed by their mission of colonizing their mind and body in an equal measure. One can find a parallel to the conditions of India as it also went through the years of colonial rule under the same white rule. The protagonist of the story is Okonkwo, the hero of his village and his clan, an able wrestler and a man defined by his courage, confidence and labour. Idleness or indolence are opposed to his character and are particularities of women, according to Okonkwo. He is a man of action and a man who carries the name of the clan to heights of appreciation.

The book is divided into three parts, the first part deals with the Igbo society, the society to which Oknokwo and his entire clan belong. It is a typical African society with its traditional beliefs, peculiar customs and exclusive socio political systems of government. The society did not have any monarchical authority but was led on the advise of the village elder.In such a society, age was respected but actions were revered. Hence, Okonkwo was one of the figures of admiration and reverence in the eyes of the villagers.The second part brings us,the episode of Okonkwo’s expulsion from the village of Umuofia, as a punishment on account of an inadvertent crime committed on his part.The third part deals with his entrance to his mother’s village , Mbanta and his subsequent settlement over there for a period of seven years before he could step onto his own village Umuofian. This part brings us face to face with the initial episodes of colonization when the white Europeans had first stepped on African soil with their inclination of changing the savage brutes into civilized creatures.The novel gives minute details as to how these Christian missionaries went about preaching their religion with the successful establishment on the African soil. Not that their attnept did not meet with any opposition. The Europeans had to fight for their cause to a large extent,. there were africans who regarded these new immigrants as insane and strange in their ways of the world.But at the same time, the religion they professed had sound character specification, that ultimately succeeded in winning the support of the Blacks in tens and hundreds with the passage of time.

This book is an attempt on the part of Achebe to bring a coalesce in his life, as it has emerged from the folds of his forefathers and his literary meritocracy.For instance, it was Achebe’s great grandfather who saw the oncoming of the missionaries in his village of Ogidi, which is replaced by Umuofia in the novel. Similarly, just as Okonkwo’s eldest son, Nwoye is portrayed as a character who comes under the influence of Christianity and leaves his clan and tribe,in the same manner, Okonkwo’s father was one of the early Christian converts who served for many years in the Christian Missionary Society as an evangelist and a teacher.

The book is a revelation of the pagan attributes of early tribes of Africa,their faiths in heathen Gods of stone and wood, their superstitious beliefs of throwing a man suffering from an intense disease into the Evil forest unattended and uncared,their customs of making human and animal sacrifices in order to appease the Gods, their customs of marriage and burial.It is these paganisms pracitised by the African tribes, that ultimately fell apart as a consequence to the civilizing attempt of the Whites.It is perhaps from this distintegration of family, culture, societies , clan and finally the village subsequent to the European expedition, on the continent of Africa ,that the novel’s title took its germination in the mind of the writer.