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THINGS FALL APART - Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe was a novelist, poet, professor at Brown University and critic. He is
best known for his first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), which is the most widely read
book in modern African literature. Achebe's novels focus on the traditions of Igbo
society, the effect of Christian influences, and the clash of values during and after
the colonial era. His style relies heavily on the Igbo oral tradition, and combines
straightforward narration with representations of folk stories, proverbs, and oratory.
Things Fall Apart (1958) was his first novel, and remains his best-known work. It has
been translated into at least forty-five languages, and has sold eight million copies
worldwide.
Background
Things Fall Apart is set in the 1890s and portrays the clash between Nigerias white
colonial government and the traditional culture of the indigenous Igbo people.
Achebes novel shatters the stereotypical European portraits of native Africans. As a
story about a culture on the verge of change, Things Fall Apart deals with how the
prospect and reality of change affect various characters. The tension about whether
change should be privileged over tradition often involves questions of personal
status. In part, the novel is a response and antidote to a large tradition of European
literature in which Africans are depicted as primitive and mindless savages.
Major Themes
Memory/Documentary
Digression is one of Achebe's main tools. The novel is the story of Okonkwo's
tragedy, but it is also a record of Igbo life before the coming of the white man. The
novel documents what the white man destroyed. The reader learns much about Igbo
customs and traditions; depicting this world is a central part of the novel.
Social disintegration
Towards the end of the novel, we witness the events by which Igbo society begins to
fall apart. Religion is threatened, Umuofia loses its self-determination, and the very
centers of tribal life are threatened. These events are all the more painful for the
reader because so much time has been spent in sympathetic description of Igbo life;
the reader realizes that he has been learning about a way of life that no longer
exists.
Greatness and ambition
Okonkwo is determined to be a lord of his clan. He rises from humble beginnings to
a position of leadership, and he is a wealthy man. He is driven and determined, but
his greatness comes from the same traits that are the source of his weaknesses. He
is often too harsh with his family, and he is haunted by a fear of failure.
Fate and free will
There is an Igbo saying that when a man says yes, his chi, or spirit, says yes also.
The belief that he controls his own destiny is of central importance to Okonkwo.
Later, several events occur to undermine this belief, and Okonkwo is embittered by
the experience. As often happens with tragedy, the catastrophe comes through a
complex mix of external forces and the character's choices.
Masculinity
Masculinity is one of Okonkwo's obsessions, and he defines masculinity quite
narrowly. For him, any kind of tenderness is a sign of weakness and effeminacy.
Male power lies in authority and brute force. But throughout the novel, we are shown
men with more sophisticated understanding of masculinity. Okonkwo's harshness
drives Nwoye away from the family and into the arms of the new religion.

Analysis of Major Characters

Okonkwo
Okonkwo, the son of the effeminate and lazy Unoka, strives to make his way in a
world that seems to value manliness. In so doing, he rejects everything for which he
believes his father stood. Unoka was idle, poor, profligate, cowardly, gentle, and
interested in music and conversation. Okonkwo consciously adopts opposite ideals
and becomes productive, wealthy, thrifty, brave, violent, and adamantly opposed to
music and anything else that he perceives to be soft, such as conversation and
emotion. He is stoic to a fault.
Okonkwo achieves great social and financial success by embracing these ideals. He
marries three women and fathers several children. Nevertheless, just as his father
was at odds with the values of the community around him, so too does Okonkwo find
himself unable to adapt to changing times as the white man comes to live among the
Umuofians. As it becomes evident that compliance rather than violence constitutes
the wisest principle for survival, Okonkwo realizes that he has become a relic, no
longer able to function within his changing society.
Okonkwo is a tragic hero in the classical sense: although he is a superior character,
his tragic flawthe equation of manliness with rashness, anger, and violence
brings about his own destruction. Okonkwo is gruff, at times, and usually unable to
express his feelings (the narrator frequently uses the word inwardly in reference to
Okonkwos emotions). But his emotions are indeed quite complex, as his manly
values conflict with his unmanly ones, such as fondness for Ikemefuna and
Ezinma. The narrator privileges us with information that Okonkwos fellow clan
members do not havethat Okonkwo surreptitiously follows Ekwefi into the forest in
pursuit of Ezinma, for exampleand thus allows us to see the tender, worried father
beneath the seemingly indifferent exterior.
Unoka- Okonkwos father and the root of all his fears and problems; represents all
the characteristics the Igbo abhor (gentleness, lack of ambition, sensitivity to people
& nature)
Okonkwos first wife is never mentioned by name; she is wise, compassionate,
peaceful, and adheres to tribal traditions
Ekwefe- Okonkwos second wife; courageous and strong willed
Ojiugo- Okonkwos third and youngest wife; makes her husband angry and prompts
him to break the sacred Week of Peace
Nwoye- Okonkwos son; disappoints him by showing signs of his grandfathers
sensitivity and laziness
Ikemefuna-comes to live with Okonkwos family as a peace offering from another
tribe; fills the void in Okonkwos life that his own son cannot
Obierika- Okonkwos best friend, more of thinking man and stood by Okonkwo till
the last
Mr. Brown The first white missionary to travel to Umuofia. He tries to appeal
respectfully to the values of the tribe and becomes friends with prominent clansmen
Uchendu He is the younger brother of Okonkwos mother. He received Okonkwos
family well when they were on exile for seven years

Relevance in modern world
After going through the detail analysis of the book, we can understand that Okonkwo
was a leader who lacked in purpose. He wanted to be a leader because of the status
that a leader used to get in the village, not because he had a reason (purpose). A
leader used to be famous and was respected among the village members. If we
were in his shoes, given the circumstances of their society we might have also done
the same. For example, every year there are thousands of candidates getting
selected in the top B-Schools. The main reason behind most of the candidates
joining these B-Schools is actually because of the respect they and their family
members get from the society. A few of them turn out to be leaders in the future and
the rest end up working under others. It is not because they are not smart but it is
because they did not have a purpose in what they did.
Discussions taken up in the class
The discussions taken up in the class were:
Okonkwo believes that strength and toughness are more important than
compassion and gentleness.
In what circumstances might this attitude help a person succeed
and when could it cause problems?
Okonkwo grew up not wanting to be like his father. He felt his father was weak and
afraid of war and blood. So he became the person he is. Any effective leader should
be stubborn and adamant at times and should be flexible whenever situation
demands. Okonkwo had been stubborn throughout the book, both in part1 and part2.
Being stubborn was ok in the first part, whereas in the second part he had a purpose
and wanted the support of his clan. He needed to gain the confidence of the people
before acting, which he didnt and stubbornly went forward hoping that his clan would
support him. All the characteristics in the point of discussion are equally required in
any leader and how they intend to use them at their discretion is what makes a great
leader.

What was the purpose of his ambitions? Was he a good leader?
There was no purpose of ambitions in part one. Just because the society
respects a leader of the clan and looks up to people who are strong and warlike,
he became one. There was no particular reason (purpose) that Okonkwo had or
wanted to change in the society. There was only ambition driven by the hatred for
his father.
However, he was one of the few who could foresee what the Christian
missionaries actually intended to do. He gained purpose of retaining the values of
his clan. But people were different when he returned to his place after exile. He
did show characteristics of a good leader in the second half but couldnt capitalize
them because of his stubbornness and lack of ability to explain his thoughts. Had
he not gone on exile, he would have been a good leader at the time of crisis.