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INTRODUCTION

Chinua Achebe (pronounced Chee-noo-ah Ah-chay-bay) is considered by many


critics and teachers to be the most influential African writer of his generation. His
writings, including the novel Things Fall Apart, have introduced readers throughout the
world to creative uses of language and form, as well as to factual inside accounts of
modern African life and history. Not only through his literary contributions but also
through his championing of bold objectives for Nigeria and Africa, Achebe has helped
reshape the perception of African history, culture, and place in world affairs.

Achebe was born in the Igbo (formerly spelled Ibo) town of Ogidi in eastern
Nigeria on November 16, 1930, the fifth child of Isaiah Okafor Achebe and Janet
Iloegbunam Achebe. His father was an instructor in Christian catechism for the Church
Missionary Society. Nigeria was a British colony during Achebe's early years, and
educated English-speaking families like the Achebes occupied a privileged position in
the Nigerian power structure. His parents even named him Albert, after Prince Albert,
the husband of Queen Victoria of Great Britain. (Achebe himself chose his Igbo name
when he was in college.)

Achebe attended the Church Missionary Society's school where the primary
language of instruction for the first two years was Igbo. At about eight, he began
learning English. His relatively late introduction to English allowed Achebe to develop a
sense of cultural pride and an appreciation of his native tongue — values that may not
have been cultivated had he been raised and taught exclusively in English. Achebe's
home fostered his understanding of both cultures: He read books in English in his
father's library, and he spent hours listening to his mother and sister tell traditional Igbo
stories.

At fourteen, Achebe was selected to attend the Government College in Umuahia,


the equivalent of a university preparatory school and considered the best in West Africa.
Achebe excelled at his studies, and after graduating at eighteen, he was accepted to
study medicine at the new University College at Ibadan, a member college of London
University at the time. The demand for educated Nigerians in the government was
heightened because Nigeria was preparing for self-rule and independence. Only with a
college degree was a Nigerian likely to enter the higher ranks of the civil service.

The growing nationalism in Nigeria was not lost on Achebe. At the university, he
dropped his English name "Albert" in favor of the Igbo name "Chinua," short for
Chinualumogo. Just as Igbo names in Things Fall Apart have literal meanings,
Chinualumogo is translated as "My spirit come fight for me."

At University College, Achebe switched his studies to liberal arts, including history,
religion, and English. His first published stories appeared in the student publication
the University Herald. These stories have been reprinted in the collection Girls at War
and Other Stories, which was published in 1972. Of his student writings, only a few are
significantly relative to his more mature works; short stories such as "Marriage is a

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Private Affair" and "Dead Man's Path" explore the conflicts that arise when Western
culture meets African society.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1953, Achebe joined the
Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation as a producer of radio talks. In 1956, he went to
London to attend the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Staff School. While in
London, he submitted the manuscript for Things Fall Apart to a publisher, with the
encouragement and support of one of his BBC instructors, a writer and literary critic.
The novel was published in 1958 by Heinemann, a publishing firm that began a long
relationship with Achebe and his work. Fame came almost instantly. Achebe has said
that he never experienced the life of a struggling writer.

Upon returning to Nigeria, Achebe rose rapidly within the Nigerian Broadcasting
Corporation. As founder and director of the Voice of Nigeria in 1961, Achebe and his
colleagues aimed at developing more national identity and unity through radio programs
that highlighted Nigerian affairs and culture.

Turmoil in Nigeria from 1966 to 1972 was matched by turmoil for Achebe. In
1966, young Igbo officers in the Nigerian army staged a coup d'ètat. Six months later,
another coup by non-Igbo officers overthrew the Igbo-led government. The new
government targeted Achebe for persecution, knowing that his views were
unsympathetic to the new regime. Achebe fled to Nsukka in eastern Nigeria, which is
predominantly Igbo-speaking, and he became a senior research fellow at the University
of Nigeria, Nsukka. In 1967, the eastern part of Nigeria declared independence as the
nation of Biafra. This incident triggered thirty months of civil war that ended only when
Biafra was defeated. Achebe then fled to Europe and America, where he wrote and
talked about Biafran affairs.

Like many other African writers, Achebe believes that artistic and literary works
must deal primarily with the problems of society. He has said that "art is, and always
was, at the service of man" rather than an end in itself, accountable to no one. He
believes that "any good story, any good novel, should have a message, should have a
purpose."

He wrote his first novel of Things Fall Apart, because he was unhappy with
books written about Africa by the British (like Heart of Darkness and Mister Johnson) .
According to him, the books because were inaccurate and insulting referring to the
Africans as ignorant, dark, almost sinister people with no sense of justice or purpose.
Thus, as an answer, Things Fall Apart was born which main purpose is to bring dignity
back to the individuals of Africa. The novel has been translated into at least forty-five
languages and has sold several million copies. A year after publication, the book won
the Margaret Wong Memorial Prize, a major literary award. He was unhappy with books
written about Africa by the British (like Heart of Darkness and Mister Johnson) because
they were inaccurate and insulting

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Continuing his relationship with Heinemann, Achebe published four other
novels: No Longer at Ease (the 1960 sequel to Things Fall Apart), Arrow of
God (1964), A Man of the People (1966), and Anthills of the Savannah (1987). He also
wrote and published several children's books that express his basic views in forms and
language understandable to young readers.

In his later books, Achebe confronts the problems faced by Nigeria and other
newly independent African nations. He blames the nation's problems on the lack of
leadership in Nigeria since its independence. In 1983, he published The Trouble with
Nigeria, a critique of corrupt politicians in his country. Achebe has also published two
collections of short stories and three collections of essays. He is the founding editor of
Heinemann's African Writers series; the founder and publisher of Uwa Ndi Igbo: A
Bilingual Journal of Igbo Life and Arts; and the editor of the magazine Okike, Nigeria's
leading journal of new writing.

In addition to his writing career, Achebe maintained an active teaching career. In


1972, he was appointed to a three-year visiting professorship at the University of
Massachusetts at Amherst and, in 1975, to a one-year visiting professorship at the
University of Connecticut. In 1976, with matters sufficiently calm in Nigeria, he returned
as professor of English at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, with which he had been
affiliated since 1966. In 1990, he became the Charles P. Stevenson, Jr., professor of
literature at Bard College, Annandale, New York.

Achebe received many awards from academic and cultural institutions around
the world. In 1959, he won the Margaret Wong Memorial Prize for Things Fall Apart.
The following year, after the publication of its sequel, No Longer At Ease, he was
awarded the Nigerian National Trophy for Literature. His book of poetry, Christmas in
Biafra, written during the Nigerian civil war, won the first Commonwealth Poetry Prize in
1972. More than twenty universities in Great Britain, Canada, Nigeria, and the United
States have awarded Achebe honorary degrees.

Achebe died on March 21, 2013. He was 82.

SUMMARY OF THE NOVEL

As a young man, Okonkwo becomes one of the greatest wrestlers in the clan.
Okonkwo values strength and aggression, traits he believes are masculine, and his
worst fear is to be thought of as feminine or weak, like his father, Unoka.
Okonkwo's wealth and status within the tribe grow, and he becomes one of the
greatest men in the land, with three wives and a large stock of yams. He treats his
family with a heavy hand, believing that the only emotion worth showing is anger.

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Okonkwo is particularly worried about his eldest son, Nwoye, in whom he sees signs of
laziness reminiscent of Unoka.
One day, the clan settles an argument with a neighboring village by demanding
the sacrifice of a virgin and a 15-year-old boy named Ikemefuna, who lives with
Okonkwo's family for the next three years.
While living with Okonkwo's family, Ikemefuna becomes very close to Nwoye,
sharing folktales and encouraging him to enjoy masculine tasks. Okonkwo approves of
his influence on Nwoye and grows fond of Ikemefuna himself. Ikemefuna soon starts to
call Okonkwo “father.”
After three years, when the oldest man of the tribe, Ezeudu, informs Okonkwo
that Ikemefuna must be killed, he advises him not to participate in the killing, since “the
boy calls you father.” Okonkwo ignores this advice, fearing that others will find him weak
or effeminate, and he proceeds to strike the killing blow when they take Ikemefuna out
to be killed the next day.
Soon, Ezeudu passes away, and his funeral celebration draws the entire clan.
During the burial, Okonkwo's gun explodes, killing Ezeudu's 16-year-old son. Having
killed a fellow clansman, Okonkwo has no choice but to flee the clan with his family.
Because the crime is a “female,” or accidental, crime, they may return in seven years.
During their time in exile, Okonkwo and his family work hard to start a new farm
in Okonkwo's motherland, Mbanta. His mother's kinsmen treat them kindly, but
Okonkwo is extremely discouraged by the circumstances. He plans for the day he can
return to his rightful place in Umuofia.
While he works in Mbanta, the white men begin to appear among neighboring
clans, causing stories to spread about their power and destruction. When they finally
arrive in Mbanta though, the clan is fascinated but finds their religion ridiculous. Nwoye,
however, is captivated by the hymn he hears on the first day, and soon joins the
Christians to get away from his father, who is outraged.
When Okonkwo finally returns to Umuofia, the white men have changed his clan as
well. Mr. Brown, a white missionary who is popular for his patience and understanding
approach, has built a school and hospital, and many clan members are enrolling their
children in the school so that they can one day become clerks or teachers. However,
soon after Okonkwo's return, Mr. Brown leaves the country due to health reasons,
and Reverend Smith replaces him.
Reverend Smith is uncompromising, encouraging acts among the converted clan
members that provoke the rest of the clan. When Enoch, a fanatical convert, rips the
mask off of one of the clan's masked egwugwu during a ceremony. The clan retaliates
by burning down the church. Reverend Smith reports this transgression, and the District
Commissioner tricks the clan's leaders into meeting with him before handcuffing them.
The clan leaders, including Okonkwo, suffer insults and beatings before they are
released once the village pays the fine.

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The morning after their release, the clan leaders speak of war before they are
interrupted by the arrival of court messengers. Full of hate, Okonkwo confronts the
leader, who says that the white man commands the meeting to stop. In a flash,
Okonkwo strikes down the messenger with his machete. Seeing that none of his
clansmen support him in his violent action, Okonkwo walks away and hangs himself.
When the District Commissioner comes to fetch Okonkwo the next day, the
clansmen lead him to his hanging body instead, saying that they cannot touch it, since
it's an abomination for a man to take his own life. The District Commissioner finds this
custom interesting, making note of it for his book on Nigeria, which he plans to title The
Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

STRUCTURAL ANALYSIS OF THE NOVEL

This book report adopts the structuralist approach for the analysis of oral arts.
According to Propps (1968) “ structuralism is mostly concerned with the aesthetical
arrangement in the story”. That is to say , apart from the characters in the story,
structuralism is mostly concerned with the style and mode of telling it. Achebe has
artistically succeeded in interlacing the oral tradition of his people into the fictional
narration of Things Fall Apart. He does that with relative ease, bearing in mind the
target readers of his literary piece who are mostly Africans. Structuralism is based on
the premise that, for a story to be well- understood there is the need to divide it into
smaller sections or units. Characters therefore, are not much important in a tale, but the
role they play. Structuralism is based on the realization that, since human productions
have meaning, there must be an underlying system responsible for producing such
meaning. (Bako, 2016)
According also to Edward Said, structuralism, in its blindness to the historical and
cultural context spawning a particular text, “misses” the fact that literature is “an act
located in the world.” Treating literature as an inert structure, Said holds, is to “divorce”
the text, which is a “cultural object,” from the relation of power within which it is
produced (Ashcroft and Ahluwalia). The materiality of the text, Said contends, gains
crucial importance for postcolonial texts, not only for their capacity to represent the
world, but also for “their aim to actually be in, to intervene, the world” (Ashcroft and
Ahluwalia ) which is present in the novel Things Fall Apart, that is reclaiming African‟s
lost dignity.
In “Chinua Achebe and the Invention of African Culture,” Simon Gikandi praises
Achebe as the inventor of African literature as an “institutional practice.” Alluding to
Achebe‟s important precursors, Gikandi claims none of these writers had the effect
Achebe had on the establishment of an African literary tradition. Given the weight of
Achebe‟s novel in the cultural and political realm, attention is mostly devoted to the
response the work gives to the colonialist discourse. According to Gikandi, the novel
highlights the role of narrative in supplying such a response, a process which is
undoubtedly affected by textual features and structures.

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NARRATIVE THEORY

Set in Nigeria at the turn of the 19th century, Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart"
chronicles the rise and fall of Okonkwo, a powerful leader in the Igbo tribe, as he fights
against the turning tide of British colonialism. As Okonkwo's tribe and even his own son
fall away from tradition, Okonkwo clings more desperately to his heritage, a decision
that will have tragic consequences. Achebe's narrative techniques, such as point of view
and structure, are critical tools for exploring this theme of cultural change.

THIRD PERSON OMNISCIENT

Though most of the novel is focused on Okonkwo, the narrator generally


provides insight into the thoughts of most characters. There are times when the
narration is focused around different characters – namely Ikemefuna, Nwoye,
Obierika, and Ekwefi. The multiplicity of voices allows the reader to see different
characters through a variety of lenses. Access to the internal thoughts of a variety of
characters also gives dimensionality to the Igbo people as a whole – Achebe never
lets the reader assume that the Igbo people are homogenous and could be summed
up in one single character.

PLOT STRUCTURE

The first part deals with the vindication of tribal life in Africa and the rise in power
and authority of Okonkwo. Okonkwo, the protagonist is introduced, along with the
intricacies and rituals of the Igbo culture that serve as his backdrop. The author
highlights his strengths as well as his obsession with success. Okonkwo does not
show any love in dealing with his three wives and children. This part reveals that
Okonkwo’s actions are often irrational and imprudent, which will be the cause of his
eventual fall.

The second part begins with Okonkwo’s exile to his mother’s land for seven
years. This part also marks the entry of the white man into the lives of the African
people. Though inwardly disappointed, Okonkwo begins a new life with his family on
his uncle’s bounty, dreaming and planning for the day when he would return to his
own land. In these seven years, he hears of the destruction of the village of Abame
by the white men because the natives there had killed a white man. This part also
introduces the missionaries into the lives of the people with particular reference to
their interest of converting people into their religion. Finally, there is the farewell
feast that Okonkwo arranges for the whole village before he returns to his own
village after his seven years of exile.

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The third part deals with Okonkwo’s return to his village and his disappointment
at the lack of interest in his arrival. Many things have changed during these seven
years. The village has virtually ‘fallen apart’ with the entry of the white men who have
brought about a lot of changes in the village. They have brought in a new
government and many villagers have converted to the new religion, including
Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son. Trade has also been established. The last two chapters
deal with the terrible treatment meted out to the leaders of the tribe by the District
Commissioner. His actions impel Okonkwo to behead one of their messengers and
after finding that his action has no support from the tribe, Okonkwo is compelled to
take his own life. Even at this last stage of his life, his fellow clan members do not
bury him since he has desecrated the land of the Goddess Ani, by taking his own
life.

The novel ends on a note of irony as the point of view shifts to the District
Commissioner’s who sees the situation only in terms of his own ambitions and
ruthless need to subjugate the native populace. The tragedy of Okonkwo will just be
a paragraph in the book of the District Commissioner, called ‘The Pacification of the
Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger’. The author at the end of the novel criticizes the
British for their lack of sensitivity and at the same time laments the death of
Okonkwo.

BINARY OPPOSITIONS

1. Between community and individual

Okonkwo as an individual and Igbo hero always struggle to maintain cultural


integrity of his people against overwhelming power of colonial rule, broke some
rituals of Igbo customs and committed suicide at the end of the novel. Okonkwo may
have failed because of his weakness as individual but his failure was inevitable
because Colonial rule destabilized the values and institutions that sustained him.
Indeed, there is a close relationship in the novel between Okonkwo’s individual crisis
of authority and power, and the crisis of the community.

2. Between father and son:

There is twofold father-son binary opposition presented in the Things Fall Apart.
Once when Okonkwo is son and Unoka as father and again, Okonkwo as father and
Nwoye as son. In both the cases, Okonkwo has been presented as strong,
courageous, warrior who is respected for his characteristics by the people of his
village. His opposite traits is found both in Unoka and Nwoye who are lazy,
profligate, coward, interested in music and conversation. Okonkwo is fearful of such
characteristics and Nwoye expands his fear even more because his character is
gyre of Oknokwo’s father Unoka who had no title.

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3. Between primitive and civilized

The concept of civilized and primitive has been presented in the novel. The White
people are thought to be civilized while the Black people or the people of Africa is
“primitive” or people living in the “heart of darkness”. The Ibo were to be civilized by
the British standards and under the British rule, using British imported goods, the
English language and the Anglican religion, as Achebe shows in the Things Fall
Apart. They wished to replace “savagery” with “civilization”. To them, the Stateless
society of the Ibo was anarchistic. So they wanted to establish Ibo people by
civilizing them.

4. Between white and black:

In Things Fall Apart, the tone of racism that is the distinguishment between the
White and the Black is found. The White people usually thought the natives as
“primitives” or “indigenous” people. They claim that the Blacks are inferior to
them. The attitude of reverend James Smith towards Igbo community is evident
enough to support this binarism. Reverend Smith saw things as Black and White
and the “Black” as evil. He saw the world as a battlefield in which the ‘children of
light’ (White) were locked in mortal combat with the “sons of darkness’ (Black).

5. Between human and bestial:

Humans are thought to be the best creatures. But in this novel, the Whites are
trying to enslave the Blacks and treating them as beast by claiming the Blacks as
“savages”. In African culture still there are bestial deeds. In one of them,
Okonkwo leads to kill Ikemefuna who called him ‘father’. He does this just to
prove significance of gender toll to show his manliness.

SIGNIFIER AND SIGNIFICATION

1. Igbo tribe - uncivilized, savages, barbaric

2. White men - colonizer, dominance,

3. European missionaries – christianity

4. yam – masculinity; crop grown exclusively for men

5. locust- abundance

6. folktales – femininity; stories seem to show a childish for escapism.

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REFERENCES

BAKO, A ( 2016) Oral and written literature in Africa: A Structuralist Reading of Chinua’s
Achebe Things Fall Apart

NGASSAKI, B.M. (2010) The Structural Perception of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall
Apart

TAGHIZADEH, A. (2013) A Theory of Literary Structuralism (in Henry James)