Saturday, November 10, 2007


In the 1950s Chinua Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart as a reaction against the portrayal of the primitive African in Western literature. The novel introduces the reader to the life of an Ibo tribe in Africa. Through the story of Okonkwo, his wives and children, the reader learns about the tribal way of life, its customs and beliefs, social hierarchy, politics and system of justice - in other words, the traditions of their civilisation. When white missionaries arrive on their iron bicycles, the indigenous way of life is destroyed. Okonkwo clings herocially to the old ways but cannot withstand the white man's rule and religion and so moves inexorably towards his personal tragedy, echoing the 'falling apart' of everything he has ever known.

Achebe doesn't idealise the Ibo way of life; some of their customs seem barbaric to us. He seems to want to show the reality of a lost way of life. We are left to question whether the white colonials, with their guns and their arrogant imposition of political and religious domination, aren't the real barbarians, with their casual destruction of the indigenous civilisation. Who are the real barbarians here, and who are the "civilised" men?

The book is written in an amazingly simple style. The language is almost childish in its simplicity, which suits the story well and adds to its power.


moonrat said...

I found this book very powerful when I read it, but I have to admit I didn't "enjoy" it per se--it was too much like watching a train wreck, especially regarding the Christian missionaries and watching what happens to the community. You watch all the inevitabilities as things fall apart and you see where it's going and there's nothing you can do but read on in frustration.

I do agree with you, though, that Achebe doesn't shrink away or romanticize his topic at all. I think this is a really smart book for "Western" readers, because I think that it's so easy to get caught up in one's own moral ideology that one has trouble seeing right and wrong in a more culture-to-culture perspective. You don't always agree with Okonkwo--in fact, sometimes you hate him--but at the same time you have to understand his role in his society and the terrible things that have been forced upon him by the superimposition of another [exploitative] culture.

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, Okonkwo isn't exactly a sympathetic character! I suspect this makes the book more powerful because Achebe shows us the Ibo society warts and all which lends credibility to the story.

Cheryl said...

This book was really interesting to me because it detailed a way of life I didn't know too much about--life in tribal Africa. However, I don't remember much else about the book :(