Year of Publication: 1958
Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a sequel to his other two novels, No longer at Ease and Arrow of God which almost carries a single subject. Unlike the other two, already mentioned above, I actually studied Things Fall Apart as part of a course known as Masterpieces of African Literature while at school and as the name of the course suggests, Things Fall Apart is indeed a masterpiece and a classic.
Achebe begins the novel by telling about the prowess of the protagonist, Okonkwo. Okonkwo was well known throughout nine villages and even beyond and his fame had grown like a bush-fire in the harmattan. The story advances as Achebe draws a sharp difference between Okonkwo’s father Unoka and Okonkwo. The difference lay in the fact that Unoka had no titles in the village and he was lazy and improvident and a debtor. It was for these traits that Okonkwo came to hate his father because he found his father’s character as a shame to him and his clan.
As a young man of eighteen, Okonkwo had already brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat. Titles in Umuofia meant a great deal of power and showed the masculinity of men.
Because of Okonkwo’s fame and place in the village, he was asked by the elders of the village to be the caretaker of a young lad called Ikemefuna, who was sacrificed to the village of Umuofia by their neighbors to avoid war and bloodshed. Later, an unfortunate incident happened to Ikemefuna and so Okonkwo was banished from Umuofia to his mother’s homeland.
While Okonkwo was away, white men settled in Umuofia, they introduced a new religion and then a new government soon emerged. Many people fled to the new religion as a form of escape and within a short period, the new religion had grown and had become popular.
Okonkwo returned from his mother’s household with his family only to find out that things had changed so fast in Umuofia, that the new religion had come to win many souls of his own people. He sought the help of the opinion leaders in Umuofia to cut off the activities of the white men who had by then built a local church in their land. Would Okonkwo be successful in wiping away the white man?
My parting thoughts:
Okonkwo’s fame, I think, was mainly as a result of the fear of failure, the fear of his father’s failure informed him to be over-ambitious in life. It was this fear of failure that brought him fame throughout the nine villages and even beyond. However, his fall, was as a result of his rash temper.
Again and again, it was some of these traditional and cultural practices in Umuofia that gave way to the rise and settlement of the white government and the church. Certain acts like the banishment and the killing of twins were prevalent in Umuofia and the only refuge for the people was the Christian church established by the white man. The church gave the people a second chance and the same church frowned upon these practices as they believed was unacceptable in the eyes of God.
The church gave every member equal opportunities and saw everybody as equal in the sight of God. Okonkwo, having achieved so many titles in his life, feared that all too soon, everything he had worked so hard for would soon diminish and his titles would no longer be regarded by his own people.
I enjoyed reading this novel and would not hesitate to pick it up for a rereading at any given day and time. I loved Achebe’s use of proverbs as well. I recommend it to all and sundry.