Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe, Summary and Character Analysis
Book: Things Fall Apart
Author: Chinua Achebe
Publication: Penguin Uk
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Chinua Achebe (1930-2013) was an African, more particularly a Nigerian writer. He was an illustrious name in the history of African literature as well as world literature. Though he showed the same dexterity in writing short stories, poetry, novels, critical essays, yet his excellency crossed the limit of acclamation for his novels.
He had written five novels:
Things Fall Apart ( 1958)
No Longer at Ease (1960)
Arrow of God ( 1964)
A Man of the People ( 1966)
Anthills of the Savannah (1987)
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe faithful yet detached Representation of African life and the most widely read novel on African Literature. Translated into more than 50 languages, through it African Literature was introduced to the world. it is not just a wonderful story real significance lies in the wider context against the background of a real story. he is a master craftsman in whetting characters and plots in a very humble narrative style.
Nigeria became independent in 1960. And Things Fall Apart was published in 1958 two years before the independence. The novel opens with the poem ” The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats. And the title “Things Fall Apart” is taken from the third line of the poem.
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,”
Though the context for the poet and the novelist was different yet they both represent a situation where anarchy loses open.
In a Nutshell:
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is set in the late 1890s in the fictional village of Umuofia In the African country of Nigeria.
The book is divided into three parts:
Part-1 (Chapters one to thirteen)
The story is centred around the character Okonkwo and the Igbo Culture. Okonkwo was a brave and successful hero in his clan. Unlike his father, he was a great warrior and owner of vast land. He had three wives and eight children whom he treated with his “fiery temper”.
“Perhaps down in his heart, Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness.”
The fear was deep inside his heart.
“It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father. Even as a little boy he had resented his father’s failure.” In his childhood, he had to suffer and tolerate bad names for his father. That’s why he abhorred all that his father had loved…either it is gentleness or idleness.
He was also a strong man and possessed tremendous energy. At a very early age, he gained respect and fame by defeating a wrestler, Amalinze the Cat. He could work hard from dawn to dusk on his farm and kept his family in stern surveillance from any laziness. He ruled his family with a heavy hand. And his family lived in constant fear of his fiery temper.
Unfortunately to his utmost anxiety, his eldest son Nwoye inherited his grandfather’s carefree lazy attitude.
Accidentally a neighbouring clan’s man of Mbaino killed one of the daughters of Umuofia. As a rule, there will either be a war or a peace treaty. As the men of Mbaino were afraid of Ukonkwo’s vigour and power they chose the second option. They offered a young boy Ikemufuna, the son of the killer and a virgin from their clan as compensation. Okonkwo was chosen as the negotiator. And he came back from Mbaino with a virgin and Ikemufuna.
The girl was sent to Ogbuefi Udo whose wife was killed. And Ikemufuna was taken under the custody of Okonkwo. He ordered his most senior wife to look after him. Nowye became very fond of Ikemefuna.
Okonkwo loved Ikemefuna as his son though he never expressed his feeling. Showing emotion was regarded as a weakness of a man. He often beat his wives and children to appease his anger.
Over the years, the priest ordered to kill Ikemefuna as per the oracle to avenge the death of an Umuofian woman three years ago. The village elders warned Okonkwo not to take part in that murder. But Okonkwo thought that if he did not obey the Oracle he would lose respect in his community. So to prove his masculinity over all the earthly weakness he killed Ikemefuna.
Nowye became devastated by the death of Ikemefuna as he loved him much. And this brutality on the part of his father sowed the seed of loathing and disrespect in Nwoye’s heart. Later he left his father as well as his clan. Okonkwo was also very upset about the killing of Ikemefuna. He expressed his concern to his best friend Obierika.
Meanwhile, Ezinma, Okonkwo and Ekwefi’s daughter fall ill. Okonkwo was very fond of her. Both husband and wife toiled hard to recover her.
When one of the elders of the clan, Ogbuefi Ezeudu died, Okonkwo felt distressed. During the funeral ceremony, accidentally Okonkwo’s gun exploded, killing Ezeudu’s son.
Part-2 (Chapters fourteen to nineteen)
As per the rule of punishment for killing a clan’s man Okonkwo and his family were exiled for seven years from Umuofia. They settled in Mbanta, Okonkwo’s mother’s village. Though there Okonkwo was welcomed he was very depressed at his fate. He realized he could not surpass his fate.
During his absence, Okonkwo was visited by his friend Obierika who narrated to him the invasion of white men in neighbouring areas and the consequence of blood-shed and devastation.
Later the Christian missionaries invaded Mbanta and started building a church. They manipulated the native people to become Christians. Nowye converted to Christianity, violating his father.
“Living fire begets cold impotent ash.”
Gradually the missionaries started building schools in different areas.
Part-3 ( Chapter fourteen to twenty-five)
When Okonkwo returned to Umuofia, after seven years, he got stunned at the huge change in his village. Many of his clansmen took a new religion. The white men had encroached on the area and started their ruling with their judiciary system and prison house. Okonkwo wanted to fight them. But it was too late. The Igbo community was divided. Some of them welcomed the change and some others were not. Those who did not cooperate with the colonization system were killed or imprisoned. Six leaders of the village including Okonkwo were imprisoned on the charge of violating the new government and destroying the church. They were freed on the condition of money, collected by the clansmen. Later when some white messenger approached them in a rage Okonkwo behead one white messenger. But the other clansmen did not support him. Okonkwo realized that everything was misplaced…things fall apart. He could do nothing.
“ He knew that Umuofia would not go to war. He knew because they had let the other messengers escape. They had broken the tumult instead of action. He discerned fright in that tumult. He heard voices asking: ‘ Why did he do it?’ .”
He committed suicide by hanging himself.
He is the protagonist who gained fame and acclamation by winning a wrestling match, and defeating an undefeatable champion. He was a leader, warrior and great farmer with hypermasculine attributes. He was quick to anger and violence. He hated the idea of being an unsuccessful man like his father.
He had three wives and ten children. He was the wealthiest man in his clan. His success was in stark contrast with his father’s failure in life. He was stubborn in his thought. He could not adapt to changing situations. That’s why he committed suicide in the end.
He was the father of Okonkwo who failed as a man with a huge loan and irresponsibility. He preferred playing the flute and drinking wine to farming. He was lazy and afraid of work. He died a pathetic death, being left in the forest with a disease to die alone.
He was a boy from a neighbouring clan. He was sent to Umuofia on some terms. Okonkwo was chosen as his guardian. But unfortunately, he had to die at the hand of Okonkwo.
He is Okonkwo’s oldest son who became very fond of Ikemefuna. He abhorred his father and later he converted to Christianity.
Ekwefi was Okonkwo’s second wife for whom Okonkwo had more concern. She loved her daughter Ezinma very much.
She was Okonkwo’s daughter who had a special bonding with her father. She was very bold and brave in attitude.
One of the wise older clansmen of the Igbo community.
He was Okonkwo’s closest friend who took care of his land and properties when Okonkwo was in exile. He always helped and warned Okonkwo, giving him the right advice.
She was the priestess in Umuofia who was very stern and dedicated to the oracle. She was a good friend to Okonkwo’s second wife Ekwefi.
He was the younger brother of Okonkwo’s mother who received exiled Okonkwo warmly and supported them.
The first white missionary who travelled to Umuofia. He was a very compassionate man with respect for the Igbo community. He built a school and a hospital in Umuofia.
Reverend James Smith:
When Mr. Brown fell ill he was replaced by James Smith. But he was not tolerant and compassionate like Mr. Brown. He is the representative of stereotype colonialists.
Significance of the title, ‘Things Fall Apart:
The novel shows how ‘things fall apart’ at variegated levels before and after the colonization. Even the character Okonkwo’s life fell apart due to certain mishaps and his arrogance. His perfect life as a respectful and powerful leader of the Igbo community shattered when he took the leading part in killing his foster son Ikemefuna. In his fear to be proven like a weak person, he always did everything with rashness and without thinking. His accidental killing of a clansman led to his exile from his land for seven years which devastated his life. Later he committed suicide fearing the helpless humiliation at the hand of the White Men.
Like Okonkwo, the Igbo society fell apart. When the book opens we were introduced to a society dominated and controlled by a strict as well as rigorous political and religious tradition. Their superstition, blind religious faith, and brutality all were their own. Before colonization, the Igbo community had their own culture, customs and way of living. After the colonization, the traditional tribal way of life was suppressed under the atrocious hands of colonisers who set up their own rules and regulations. Christian missionaries convinced and forced the tribal people to convert to their religion and follow their judicial as well as social system.
The novel ends with the death of Okonkwo and the death of Igbo society.
Fire and Rage:
Okonkwo is termed a “roaring flame”. His angry nature, masculinity and heroism are defined in related terms of fire throughout the novel. He was afraid of showing any weakness. His strength is always explored in his indomitable stubbornness and atrocity.
In this novel, the yams symbolise wealth and power. Okonkwo harvested a huge amount of yams that insinuated his strength and wealth. Growing yam was a tough and challenging job.
” Yam, the king of crops, was a very exacting king.”
A clansman who succeeded in growing yams is regarded as a respectable man. And Okonkwo with his hard toil succeeded in that.
Though at the beginning chapter locusts were relished as delicious snacks, later their significance changed.
Locusts represented the coming of white men and the missionaries. As locusts destroyed the corn so also did the missionaries spread over the land and took control of the aboriginals, devouring their cultures and heritage.
White men are locusts consuming everything of the past; they devoured the clan’s tradition and culture.
Different themes are woven into the fabric of this novel.
The destructive effect of European colonization is the central theme of the novel, Things Fall Apart. Colonizers brought new thoughts, new judgement new roles erasing the old ones.
The British power arrogantly tried to change everything in their favour.
They found the church, school and other institutions and practised their system of rules and regulation.
Okonkwo betrayed Ikemefuna by killing him. He was his guardian, the father figure. But he betrayed that bond and faith.
Again For Okonkwo, his clansmen had betrayed the tradition of their culture. They should use their power to resist the incursion of missionaries in their territories. them away despite supporting them to conquer their land.
Again Nowye’s departure from the clan was a betrayal.
Masculinity was a product of society and tradition that the Igbo community followed through generations.
In this novel, the theme of masculinity is expressed through the character of Okonkwo. He was in deep shame for his father. For him, any sign of gentleness was against masculinity. He vowed no laziness. So he used to beat his family regularly. He demanded unquestionable obedience from everyone. He represented the patriarchal hierarchy of tribe life. And for this stubborn angry autocrat nature, he could not adjust when the colonial power encroached on the land and tried to change their lives according to them.
The fear of losing identity is a recurrent and inherent theme of the novel. Okonkwo was desperate to build his own identity, unlike his father who was a lazy and unsuccessful man. And the fear of being like him always haunted Okonkwo. When his father died he inherited nothing. But he toiled hard to earn his name and fame. Like a possessed soul, he drudged his livelihood.
” And indeed he was possessed by the fear of his father’s contemptible and shameful death.”
Throughout the novel, Okonkwo tried to keep his identity intact. Even the slightest show of emotion or gentleness was prohibited in his character. After colonization, the loss of identity became synonymous for everyone. As the colonizers started implementing their religion, judicial system, and cultural yardstick the previous society and primitive life lose their identity. The tribal communal justice system, ritual traditions were all gradually replaced by the new system and power.
Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a classic novel and a significant literary piece for postcolonial studies. This book exhibits and explores the conflict of the African tribal value system with the encroaching of Christian colonizers. Under the insensitivity and indifference of colonial power, the aboriginals lost their identity and root. This book is the voice of African life, the life of all native people who were stripped of their land and identity. It is a literary masterpiece, a canonical work. Chinua Achebe, with his truthful pen, draws the most realistic picture without any veil of colonised imagination.
Again Achebe proves his excellence in portraying the women characters who are just the shadow of males. In the Umofian society, men are at the centre of power and women are just household commodities like a farm or land.
At the very beginning of his life, Okonkwo had owned nothing…” neither a barn, nor a title, nor even a young wife”.
So ‘wife’ falls in the same category of an everyday commercial necessity like a barn, or a tile…something useful.
They are just for bearing children and caring for the household. They had no role or opinion in the family or society….it was true for Ikemefuna’s mother as well as Ekwefi or Nwoye’s mother. They are just numbers…one, two, three. Their husband can beat them whenever they wish. They had t live according to their rule. They had no voice against the missionaries as earlier they had no voice against the male domination. So we can study Things Fall Apart from postcolonial perspectives as well as from gender biases.
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