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Things Fall Apart

By: Akshay Pai

“Umuofia Kwenu!” roars the man of the event, “Yaa!” reply proud African

tribesmen. In Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, I was stripped from my cozy

homely setting, and plunged into the depths of Nigeria. Achebe’s novel depicts the story

of a man; Okonkwo, whose life he dreams to be great, but as the story further develops, it

is clear that things do fall apart. The novel, even if a form African literature, will open the

eyes of boys and girls anywhere who dream of great things -- that everything can go

wrong at anytime. While the novel incorporates many different aspects of life into an

intricate webbing of brilliance, a few important ones include: characters and how their

attitudes impact the progression of their lives, the novel’s religious values, and how

today’s societal problems are still addressed in the novel.

At first, the novel tells the story of how Okonkwo threw Amalinze the Cat. This piece

of information about the main character is significant because it indicates the entrance or

creation of the character. Amalinze the Cat hadn’t been defeated in 7 years, and if Okonkwo

had not defeated him in a wrestling match, he would have remained unnoticed through out

his society. Not only would he have been unnoticed, he would most likely be deemed to his

father Unoka’s fate. The novel depicts Unoka as a lazy, effeminate man with large debts.

Unoka’s attitude at life made him the person he was and the life he lived. Thus, it is simple to

conclude that if Okonkwo had not thrown Amalinze the Cat, he would lead a life much like

his father’s. On the other hand, Okonkwo hated his father and his lifestyle. This attitude

empowered him to do things to be greater. This attitude showed me that to thrive in some

societies; a person must regulate his lifestyle to socially be accepted. For example, if I had a
hobby in a societal system where that hobby would bring dishonor; to thrive and make

friends, I would most likely need to adjust and kick the habit before a [bad] name hovered

over my head.

Just as with the characters, the novel’s religious values must also be taken into

consideration. Achebe, at first, familiarizes us with the religion of Umuofia. He structures

events and plots to allow the religious value to fit in the gaps. Just as things seem to settle,

Achebe introduces one of the major oppositions and conflicts in the novel; European religion

and society. Umuofia, even in its primitiveness, is a civilized land with an authoritative body.

Men take titles for their place in society, which is what Okonkwo dreamt of doing. However,

the introduction of another religion and a missionary indicates the large conflict between

religions. Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye, converts into the Christian faith. Achebe already clarified

that Okonkwo’s father was effeminate, henceforth; it is obvious that Okonkwo did not want

his son to carry his father’s effeminacy. This novel exemplifies the problem with the world’s

religion. By making religion a major conflict in the novel, Achebe denotes the importance of

acceptance in life. For example, during the episode where Enoch frantically tears the mask

off an egwugwu during a relegious ceremony further develops the problem between

relegions. Not only that, but also the problem with two different authorititative identities.

Umuofia’s societal integrity is jeopardized by this event. Achebe questions the moral values

of religion and religious authority, he clarifies the fact that anybody will go to any length in

order to obtain religious sanction; be it a war, or even suicide – as we learned by Okonkwo at

the conclusion of the novel.

Finally, the world today, even with all the developments in law and authority, has

problems in society; primarily, the treatment of women. Achebe addresses this fact frankly.
There is no surprise or taboo about how women are treated. In Umuofia, there is no direct

abuse or disrespect, only the slight conflict between a man’s powers. However, many times

we see men punished or chastised by other men in society for the mistreatment of women,

which reinforces the statement that women are not directly abused. Achebe also clarifies the

obvious difference in societal system, meaning women have different roles in society than

men. On the other hand, Achebe describes the existence of goddesses and oracles, both of

which are female; this indicates further that society depends on the role of a woman. For

example: Okonkwo, when banished from the clan for 7 years, returns to his Motherland.

There, he is asked why he seeks shelter in his mother’s birthplace, to which he has no

answer. Later on, however, it is explained to him that a mother and her child share a relation

ship deeper than that of with the father, petrifying the fact that women are also respected.

While at the same time, however, Okonkwo is shown to beat or threaten his wives.

In the end, it all boils down the simple fact that his novel idealizes societal values and

a person’s view towards things. Achebe signifies the need for acceptance of others, not only

in person but also in cultural values. He further goes to explain that things fall apart easily,

and a conflict sometimes is too great to be solved in one lifetime. Reading this novel not only

addresses life’s simple facts, but it’s also a great introductory and historical background into

African culture, primarily Nigerian, and an all-in-all outstanding read for any age.