I am a big fan of African Literature, especially Nigerian Literature. I’ve read quite a number of books in the genre written by phenomenal authors, which I take pleasure in because they’re very relatable.
African Literature often delves into key historical events that readers may or may not be aware of. For example, I wasn’t very familiar with the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) until I read Chimamanda’s Half of a Yellow Sun. The book revealed the gravity of the war, how terrible it was, and its gruesome consequences.
Getting Into Things Fall Apart
Things Fall Apart is another book I’m glad I got to read. Since I was a kid, I had always heard grown-ups talk about Chinua Achebe and his phenomenal book, “Things Fall Apart.” Anyway, I’ve been able to read this great book finally, and I want to share my thoughts on it!
The first thing I’d say I like about Things Fall Apart is the beautiful cover design, which I constantly glanced at while reading.
Things Fall Apart is set in the Eastern part of Nigeria, in a small village called Umuofia. The story is divided into twenty-five chapters, told in three parts.
Part one introduces us to our main character, Okonkwo, and the lifestyle of the people in Umuofia. Then, in part two, different events start to unfold. Okonkwo and his family get banished and have to stay with his mother’s kinsmen; the white Christians come into Umuofia and make an effort to change the way of life of the indigenes.
Finally, in part three, we get to see where “Things Fall Apart”. It is here that Okonkwo and his family return to his village after seven years of exile, and when he does, Umuofia isn’t the way it used to be. To him, there are no more strong men, and Umuofia has become weak due to the influence of the white Christians on the indigenous culture.
Okonkwo and other notable men of Umuofia try to save the people from the white man’s religion, but it doesn’t really work out, and in the end, Okonkwo dies tragically.
Culture in Umuofia
The people of Umuofia were very religious and had a unique way of life. Instead of a king or ultimate ruler, there was a gerontocratic social structure made up of clans and Ummunas.
To me, the way of life of the people in Umuofia seemed pleasant. They were deeply traditional, strong, and brave in battle. They also had charismatic men, one of whom was Okonkwo.
The theme of patriarchy wasn’t far away in this story. The men were agile, able-bodied, and in charge of almost all societal affairs, right down to their homes. In contrast, the women were not taken too seriously. They were seen as weak and reduced to childbirth and homemaking, unable to share their thoughts on societal matters.
I disliked this because women should always have a part to play in contributing to the development of their land and should not be cast aside. But then, that was the dominant practice in precolonial Igbos. Thankfully, women have since become more involved in Igbo society and the country as a whole.
Okonkwo was the main character in Things Fall Apart. He came from a family where his father was a known nonentity who died disgracefully. Okonkwo vowed that he was going to be different from his father and set about achieving his dreams.
A firm believer in hard work, he earned his wealth, married three wives, had eight children, and lived comfortably. He also appeared tough because he felt and feared being soft would make him weak and be like his father.
Okonkwo’s fear made me sorry for him at a point because he didn’t know how to balance toughness with leniency. All he wanted was to be strong and be known for that, and sadly, that was his downfall.
Religion and The White Man
In Things Fall Apart, the people of Umuofia had things going well for them. They prayed to their gods and diligently followed their traditional religious precepts. Then, the white missionaries came into their midst, and their way of life was totally disrupted.
In my opinion, the way in which the missionaries came into their midst to introduce Christianity wasn’t rightly done. The missionaries wanted to forcefully make them accept the new religion, forgetting that these people had their religion and culture and had been following it for centuries before the new religion. The missionaries, in my opinion, would have taken another approach towards introducing the new religion.
The first missionary (Mr Brown) who came into the village of Umuofia was quite gentle, and people accepted the new religion on his account. He also started some new developments in the community, which the Ummunas of Umuofia were okay with. But as a new missionary head (Rev. James Smith) emerged, everything changed. He condemned the religion of the people and caused unpleasant events to unfold in Umuofia.
Things Fall Apart shows the clash of religion between the Igbo traditionalists and the white man’s religion. This not-entirely-fictitious story greatly mirrors what has happened in the past in Nigeria.
The British came to colonize us, made us adapt to their way of life, and abandoned our traditional way of life. Not all the changes they brought were all wrong. But, in adapting their culture, we began to lose our traditional manners and practices, most of which may never be regained. For instance, before we were colonized, we spoke our different native languages. Since then, our adaptation to the English Language has come at the cost of our rich local dialects.
Today, many young Nigerians are unable to speak their local dialect as fluently as they speak English. This was the same case with the people of Umuofia and not just in the aspect of language alone. They wanted to, by all means, preserve their culture and their beliefs and uphold their dignity and strength. However, the white missionaries prevented all that from happening.
That was what broke Okonkwo’s heart so much, as it was hard for him to take it in.
I was impressed at the simplicity of the language used in Things Fall Apart, as it made it easy to read. I also loved the Igbo words and phrases used in the book.
Chinua Achebe is a phenomenal author. The book has this homely feel as you read, and one e also gets to learn about the traditional way of life of the Igbos and their rich language. Things Fall Apart is an enjoyable book and one every Nigerian should read.
P.S.: You can also click here to read a socio-political analysis of Things Fall Apart.