Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart follows one Nigerian villager’s clash with European colonization in 1890’s Africa. This historical clash greatly contributed to Africa’s modern day struggles.
What it’s about
Things Fall Apart focuses on Okonkwo, hero of his Nigerian village. A very successful man, Okonkwo has three wives and many children because he gains social status based on his bravery and other warlike skills. Unfortunately, Okonkwo is obsessed with showing no sign of weakness or emotion, a tragic flaw that will eventually cause him continuous problems.
The reader soon starts to realize that while Okonkwo’s Umuofia clan is very different from the Western world, it is not without structure. There are clear procedures for marriage, the justice system, and religion. For instance, when Okonkwo accidentally kills a boy when his gun misfires, he and his family are sentenced into exile for seven years.
Despite a clear system of governing by a council of elders, there is no king or sole leader of the tribes. This makes the society susceptible to invasion. British colonizers soon flood the area first with missionaries and then eventually with men determined to establish a European-led government. As both the British and the Nigerians view their way of life to be superior and do not allow for the blending of cultures, great tensions ensue.
Violent conflicts eventually lead to Okonkwo to be arrested by the British colonial government. Okonkwo’s great desire to never show weakness is eventually his downfall, and he hangs himself before colonial authorities can take him away as prisoner.
Your favorite part will be…
Amidst all of the tensions between the Nigerians and the British, Mr. Brown at least shows some form of tolerance and understanding. The missionary encourages his converts not to act aggressively with the other villagers, and besides religion, the man doesn’t necessarily denounce African customs. While most British characters make no effort to harmonize with the villagers, Mr. Brown continually shows his effort to respect another culture.
The cause-y angles
Colonization stopped African society from evolving naturally. The constant suppression and then abandonment by Europeans influenced the conditions that Nigerians and other African countries face today.
To settle a dispute with a neighboring village, Okonkwo’s village wins two children from the enemy. The tribe gives the boy, Ikemefuna, to Okonkwo to do with as he pleases. Eventually, the leaders of the village decide to kill the boy.
Okonkwo is obsessed with him and his family appearing strong, and often beats his wife and children as a means of forcing them to act as he pleases.
The novel’s Nigerians have an overwhelming infant mortality rate; Okonwho’s uncle Uchendu has lost five wives and twenty-two children. Most of these deaths are due to conditions that would’ve been treated with Western medicine and care.