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William Donald Fettkether

African Cultures CLS-130-3

18 February 2018

An Analysis of the Final Chapter of Things Fall Apart

In Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, the plot follows main protagonist Okonkwo

as he witnesses his society and culture crumble around him with the arrival and settlement of

European colonists and missionaries. In his novel, Achebe presents the reader with many themes,

motifs, and symbols throughout the course of the book. These literary devices touch on many

aspects of the real world, such as the myth of savage Africa or the perils of presenting only one

perspective of an issue. While underlying commentary is provided throughout the book, chapter

25, the last chapter of the novel, is particularly full of allegorical meaning. Within these four

short pages, Achebe takes the European District Commissioner's point of view, and describes his

reaction to Okonkwo’s suicide and how he will record it in the book he has been writing. Within

this transpiring of events, Achebe also wrote in a second meaning. With the final chapter of his

novel, Chinua Achebe addressed subjects such as the foreigner’s idea of Africa, the Myth of

Savage Africa, and most importantly, the danger of a single story.

For the majority of the story, Things Fall Apart takes Okonkwo’s point of view. This was

good in the first part of the story, as Okonkwo was a prime example of what a good Umuofian

was supposed to be. He was a proud warrior, a successful farmer, and “was well known

throughout the nine villages” (Achebe 1). While Okonkwo was a suitable vessel for exploring

the intricacies of pre-colonial Umuofia, Achebe would need another character to explore the

mind of a foreigner. Consequently, Chapter 25 experiences a shift in perspective from Okonkwo

to the District Commissioner. With this change of views, the reader is now left to experience the
thoughts of a foreigner in Africa, of a man on the outside looking in. The most important

difference in thinking was that the District Commissioner believed things were getting better the

more the Europeans ingrained themselves. The more European influence and interference to

Africa he brought was the more he “toiled to bring civilization” to Africa (Achebe 208). This is

in direct contrast to Okonkwo, who, as time went on, “mourned for the clan, which he saw

breaking up and falling apart” (Achebe 183). It is though the characters’ ideas are directly tied to

the title of their books: for Okonkwo, things are falling apart, but for the District Commissioner,

the primitive tribes of the Lower Niger are being pacified. It is through Achebe’s switch in

perspective that the reader can witness this contrast in ideas and ways of thinking.

The District Commissioner’s character also draws many parallels to the Myth of Savage

Africa, the likes found in the writings of authors Georg Hegel or Joseph Conrad. The Myth of

Savage Africa is a form of intellectual racism in which one imagines themselves and their culture

superior to Africa, for their idea of Africa is not as an equal, but as a savage, regressive, or

inferior state. Hegel and Conrad believed this myth, speaking of Africans as “natural man in his

completely wild and untamed state” or as “prehistoric man” (Hegel 109; Conrad). The District

Commissioner’s idea of Africa is very much in line with Hegel and Conrad’s. As stated before,

he believed he was bringing civilization to Africa, a land that was previously without (Achebe

208). However, a critical distinction between him and the authors must also be made. Whereas

Hegel and Conrad barely recognized Africans as humans--Conrad going as far as dehumanizing

them to merely stamping feet, loud yells, and whirling hands--the District Commissioner at least

recognized that the native Africans were humans with their own culture and ways of living. The

line “the resolute administrator in him gave way to the student of primitive customs” shows that

the District Commissioner was a “student” of the Africans’ customs. He had enough respect and
dignity to humble himself and be willing to learn another people’s culture, putting it before his

duty as commissioner.

The final paragraph of Things Fall Apart is probably the most dense portion, packed full

of meaning and commentary. The text itself narrates the District Commissioner’s thoughts on

how he would include Okonkwo in the book he was writing. However, there are more ideas that

can be derived from this passage, the most potent of which being the danger of a single story.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie establishes this concept very well in her TED Talk, aptly named

“The Danger of a Single Story” (TED). In her speech, she states that to create a single story,

“show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they

become” (Adichie). What she is saying is that if a person, a culture, anything really, is only

represented from one point of view over and over again, that is the only point of view that one

will take. An example she gives is how she only ever watched the American news coverage of

the Mexican immigration crisis, which gave her the idea that all Mexicans were just healthcare-

fleecing deadbeats (Adichie). Her trip to Guadalajara was a wake-up call to her, showing her that

all Mexicans, all people for that matter, are unique individuals that cannot be covered by a single

blanket term (Adichie). When she speaks of “the danger of a single story,” she is speaking of this

harmful form of stereotyping that inaccurately and incompletely portrays people.

The danger of a single story is very prominent in the final paragraph of Things Fall

Apart. It can be found when the District Commissioner mused how “the story of this man who

had killed a messenger and hanged himself would make interesting reading” (Achebe 208). He

then considered writing either a whole chapter, or, more likely than not, a solid paragraph on him

in his book, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger (Achebe 209). The

danger here comes from the potential audience that would only read the District Commissioner’s
book. If they did so, they would have a skewed view of the happenings in the lower Niger, and

would possess a incomplete, if not flawed, image of Okonkwo. These potential readers would

see him mainly as a man who killed a messenger, then promptly hung himself. They wouldn’t

think of him as a father, a son, a warrior, a leader, a farmer, or a strong, yet ultimately flawed,

human being that Achebe shows him to be throughout the novel. Okonkwo’s life was too large to

ever be well covered in a single paragraph, or even a chapter. Yet with only one story to go off

of, the readers at large will be left looking through a keyhole, never getting the chance to see the

bigger picture.

Chinua Achebe is truly an amazing author, packing the last chapter of Things Fall Apart

full of commentary, metaphor, and allegory. His shift in perspective allowed the readers to

experience the story from a whole new point of view, that of a foreigner. His work touches on

issues such as the Myth of Savage Africa, and the final paragraph of his novel was layered with

meaning, containing an exemplary example of what the danger of a single story looks like. There

is meaning behind almost everything he writes. All in all, the final chapter was the work of

someone who deserves to be called “great.”


Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Anchor Books, 1994.

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. “The Danger of a Single Story.” TED, TED Conferences,

July 2009,

https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?lan

guage=en. Accessed 13 February 2018.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Blackwoods Magazine, 1902.

Hegel, Georg W. F. The Philosophy of History. Batoche Books, 2001.