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John DeCerce

Mr. Kane

Period A4

November 6, 2014

A Deconstructive Analysis of Things Fall Apart

Since the nineteenth century, Western culture has cherished the romantic worldview that

the primitive is in harmony with nature rather than aligned with with tradition against it.

Semantics of nature and tradition aside, Chinua Achebe has presented such a Westernized

ideology in Things Fall Apart, his masterpiece long heralded by critics like Harold Bloom and

Ernest Emonyonu as "the African novel" (Kasuka 390). This is the first indication of a novel

which readily deconstructs itself, followed by an emphasis on its binary oppositions and an

observation of its alarmingly welcoming reception by critics. We will use unstable recollections

of the text like these to display the overtly unravelling validity of Achebe's magnum opus.

If we were to analyze Things Fall Apart from a New Critical perspective (no matter how

outdated the convention, it will suit our needs), we can note a cast of characters and plots

revolving around the precept of emphasis on the antagonistic nature of colonialism. Specifically

regarding the perspective of a native culture, we experience, through Okonkwo's trials, invasion

by a foreign race – especially one believing themselves to be superior than ours. This

deconstructs, however, an outstanding hypocrisy embellishing the concept to the point that it

becomes laughable. The colonialists in Things Fall Apart view themselves as culturally superior

to the Igbo people, and for that we are expected to antagonize the whites, but we would not know

them to think they are superior unless the speaking point of view relentlessly affirms that there is
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some lack of superiority to indicate the existence of superiority; or, since the colonialists act in

ways which we are presumed to take as indicative of their inferiority, it must be the case that

their ironic belief in their superiority is present because the inferiority of the Igbo people is not

present. In essence, it is not viable to see the colonialists as antagonists because they see

themselves as superior without considering the natives, who consider themselves to be superior,

similarly antagonistic. Considering the binary opposition between the colonists and the

tribespeople, we see the latter privileged out of habit, but this is merely one of several such


There are three principle binary oppositions present in Things Fall Apart — masculinity

v. femininity, civilization v. primitivism, and conservatism v. progressivism — all of which,

through the privileging of the former term, collectively deconstruct the work. Masculinity and

femininity, we can begin with, are inherently social constructs and, in accordance with weak

teleologist constructivist theory, effectively non-existent. Things Fall Apart is cross-culturally

postcolonial at its heart, and it is thus not out of the realms of rationality to look into cross-

cultural gender studies to see how the text deconstructs itself; and indeed, account for the Gerai

people of Indonesia, who don't make any distinction between what we consider men and women,

even conceptualizing the sexual organs as the same; the Vanatinai of the South Pacific, whose

culture has a total absence of gender roles, masculinity, or femininity; countless Native American

societies which observe more than two genders, sometimes not only two-spirit identities but ones

with no definite match to any contemporary Western genders; and Anne Fausto‐Sterling notes,

"Even if we’ve overestimated by a factor of two, that still means a lot of intersexual children are

born each year. At the rate of 1.7 percent, for example, a city of 300,000 people would have
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5,100 people with varying degrees of intersexual development," indicating that sex, even, is not

absolutely categorized as "male" and "female" in humans, and that it is not sex which we have

applied to define gender, but gender which we have applied to define sex. With that, it is

demonstrable that gender, its roles, and even the concept of sexual dimorphism are illegitimate

constructs, immediately destabilizing the viability of ethical appeal on Okonkwo's misogynistic

behalf. As Lois Tyson observes, "In other cultures, gender systems are neither binary, like the

gender system in force in the United States today, nor what might be called unitary—that is,

without significant gender differentiation—like the two gender systems described above. In

contrast, some cultures see gender as a system of multiple possibilities. As one example among

many, consider the hundred or more North American Indian societies that had multiple gender

systems, that is, systems consisting of more than two genders, especially prior to the takeover of

the Americas by European colonizers. Native North American societies tended to define gender

in ways specific to their own cultures, differing in what aspects of social life were considered

primary in their conceptions of gender […] In short, the whole idea that there are only two

genders is based on the idea that there are only two sexes. However, researchers from a variety of

fields have revealed that such is not the case: biological sex does not fit neatly into two separate,

opposite categories. It would be more accurate to say that, following the European model,

American society has imposed the two‐sex system despite the fact that this system does not fit a

significant portion of the population. In other words, biological sex categories have not imposed

the two‐gender system on Americans; rather, Americans have imposed the two‐gender system on

biological sex categories." A different concern arises for the civilized against the primitive.

Achebe privileges civilization, emphasizing the civilized nature of the Igbo people as opposed to
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the animalistic, primitive, barbaric actions of the European colonists and the ignorant and

unenlightened Christian missionaries. On the contrary, the most prominent complication for this

worldview insinuated by Things Fall Apart is the contemporary Western view of the world, the

reveal that Achebe's structural, postcolonial idealism is epistemologically objective but

ontologically subjective. The establishment of the argument against imperialism goes unfounded

and even absent in Things Fall Apart since its entire argumentative basis revolves around the

precept that Okonkwo and his village are the epitome of civilization. There are particular values

reserved by Achebe, indicating what is "civilized." These values, however — strength, wealth,

ethics, intelligence, morality, etcetera — are the same held by the Western invaders of

"Okonkwo's" land, and it ultimately proves neither to be right but both to be wrong;

teleologically, what determines what is civilized is absolutely relative, and per that, so goes the

same case regarding primitivism. It is impossible to privilege one term when its opposite "might"

very well be identical.

As we have seen, Achebe's Things Fall Apart is much more a piece of Western literature

than it is at all indicative of the real struggles of culturally voided Africans or the colonized at-

large. Why else should victims of imperialism find the work repulsive but descendants of

imperialism view it as a masterpiece? The answer is simply that Things Fall Apart is a

hypocritical piece completely unable to stand in the light of legitimate, objective scrutiny without

immediately dismantling its own text. Even that it is written in English indicates the failure of

the work to convey a struggle not exclusive to Nigerians or even those subject to imperialism of

any derivative, but the very struggle faced by every human regarding survival in the face of

adversity — a survival unsustained by Things Fall Apart, a novel not well put together.