Things Fall Apart
The two narrative
Many critics see Things
Fall Apart as a book with two narrators, one that adheres to tradition,
and another with more modern views.
In his essay, Wright plays off Neil McEwan's idea of the two narrative
voices: the traditional/communal which dominates the first 2/3 of the
book, and the individual/ modern which takes over the last third
He claims that Okonkwo's stubborn resistance and deep need to wipe out
his father's memory "
are out of harmony with a society which
is renowned for its talent for social compromise and which judges a man
according to his own worth , not that of his father." (Wright, 78)
Okonkwo resists change so much that he can't even accept it in others.
Wright claims that to the rest of his people, Okonkwo's recklessness and
fanaticism is embarrassing. This is not as evident in the first 2/3 of
the book, but in the modern narrator's voice, it becomes clearer how out
of touch Okonkwo really is.
Or maybe as just
But not everyone sees
the book as narrated by two distinct voices. It can also be seen as having
a single narrator, whose tone changes and adapts over time. This would
be a reflection of the Umofian society's gradual change and adaptation
in order to survive. "The detached yet tolerant tone of the narrator
creates this perspective, and acts as a most effective mediator between
the individual and the community, between the present and the past."
(Carroll, 33) In fact, Carroll points out that "
when the narrator
begins to delve into the single mind we anticipate with foreboding an
unpleasant turn of events." (Carroll, 34)
The use of the
phrase "great man"
At his death, Obierika
calls Okonkwo " one of the greatest men in Umofia" (Things Fall
Apart, 208). Wright claims this is a phrase used in "this particular
African society" to describe someone like a tragic hero, "
is most unlike his community but who, through his great strength and his
ability to do more than it has ever asked of him, and set examples it
does not require, belatedly becomes its representative"(Wright, 79).
Is Okonkwo completely unlike his community? While he certainly fits the
other qualifications of a "great man," Okonkwo only seems to
be unlike the community at the end, once everyone has adapted and changed.
Okonkwo and the
end of tradition
So how is Okonkwo related
to the end of traditional Umofian society? Booker sees Okonkwo as a visual
representation of the standards of success in Ibo life. He is prosperous,
he is one of the egwugwu, no one compared him to his shiftless father;
he has everything he wants at first. But things start to change when Ikemefuma
was killed. Up until that point, following the traditions of his society
has only improved Okonkwo's situation. When the choice comes to kill Ikemefuma,
the shortcomings in tradition start coming through. "
can be seen as testing the limits of his society's integrity and exposing
its real failure to provide for humane and compassionate feelings."
(Wright, 79) He adheres so strictly to the rules that his example points
out to others the flaws in the system. If the system was complete, then
Okonkwo's stubborn, inflexible observation of the rules would not have
led to his downfall. Wright also claims that Okonkwo's death was inevitable
because through his inflexibility he was the clog in the wheel of progress.
"If things fall apart is first a story of the disintegration of a
traditional African society, it is also the personal tragedy of a single
individual , whose life falls apart in the midst of that same process."
But does Okonkwo fall
because he represents the values of a culture that is disappearing, or
because he deviates from that society's' norms? Umofian society is very
flexible; they compare their actions to those of their neighbors, always
questioning and adapting. But Okonkwo does not adapt at all. In fact,
he is so adverse to changing that he cannot even accept it in anyone else.
And as for his strict adherence to tradition, that is not quite true.
Sure, he does follow the order to kill Ikemefuma-even when he is given
a loophole to escape through, pointed out by Obierika-but he also disrupts
the Week of Peace and Achebe writes that "
Okonkwo was not the
man to stop beating somebody half-way through, not even for fear of a
goddess" (Things Fall Apart, 30). In that scene, he is following
his own stubborn will, and not tradition. He kills Ikemefuma not because
the system is flawed, but because he does not want to appear weak like
Okonkwo as a Historical
One of the requirements
of "civilization" is that a nation must have a history. But
Umofia seems to lack one. Gikanki suggest that the beginning of Things
Fall Apart is an "imaginary response to the problems of genealogy
and cultural identity that have haunted igbo culture
29) The book sets up Okonkwo as surrogate founding father, with the story
about throwing the Cat in a wrestling tournament, and other aspects of
Okonkwo's history as the same as those of the Umofian nation. This is
possible because he seems to draw his identity from the traditions and
laws of Umofia. It is when he is separated from these values and sent
to his mother's land that marks the end of his way of life. "In general
terms, Okonkwo acquires his heroic and tragic status by becoming alienated
from the very values he espouses and uses to engender himself." (Gikanki,
Umofia is a nation that definitely treasures loquacity. In a setting like
this, Okonkwo's stammer is a tragic flaw. It is not seen in the book much;
never does Achebe quote a passage when Okonkwo sputters out his words.
One of the reasons for this may be that Okonkwo uses aggression to replace
his lack of speech (Carroll, 40). This flaw sets him apart from the traditions
he embodies; he can participate, but he cannot find the joy of being verbose
like his compatriots. Another tragic flaw is Okonkwo's stubborn inflexibility.
"As Achebe presents this growing success, he insinuates the cause
of future conflict: Okonkwo's inflexible will is bringing him success
in a society remarkable for its flexibility." (Carroll, 40) His rigidity
leads to his participation in the death of Ikemefuma. This incident is
seen by many as a turning point in novel, the beginning of the end. It
"initiates a series of catastrophes which end with his death"
(Carroll, 44). This action may have been legally correct, but it was morally
wrong. From that point on, all of Okonkwo's decisions lead to disaster,
even at the end when his decision to kill the messenger leads him to kill
himself, something so abhorrent to his nation that they cannot bury him.
Despite Okonkwo's best efforts, he is further separated from his nation
the embodiment of traditional law has become the outcast
of the tribe" (Carroll, 58).
apart as Yeats predicts
Yeats said that societies don't collapse on their own; there must be outside
pressures as well as internal conflict before they collapse. Like Yeats
predicts, Umofian society is undone from within first, and then collapses
under forces from without. Wright notes that Umofian tradition's cruelty
to minorities furthers its collapse. The people it casts aside are the
ones who first join the church. Wright also calls the Ibo sense of justice
are arbitrary and inadequate. The conflicts between the modern and traditional,
individual and community are highlighted in Obierika's conflict of loyalties:
personal/tribal, human/ religious, particularly when he fathers twins
but then has to leave them in the evil forest, comforting Okonkwo then
having to destroy his house. The question of loyalties, and irreconcilable
differences between public and private needs, are made more painful because
one person is frequently asked to do both conflicting things. This inner,
personal conflict grew into an external, community conflict. "From
every indication it destroyed total unity among the people and they could
no longer fight a common enemy as before" (Emenyonu, 87). One of
the factors to play on the weakness of Umofian society was the missionaries.
Christianity didn't take over through militarism or force, "but by
responding clearly to a need so deeply felt that it haws not been clearly
formulated." (Carroll, 53)
Or not falling
"The dual vision of Things Fall Apart is evidence, at least at the
narrative level, of things not falling apart."(Wright, 76) Wright
concludes that the title of Things Fall Apart is misleading, because Umofia
does not actually fall apart. It does not stand with Okonkwo and resist
change with war, but adapts in order to survive. Carroll points out that
the Umofians are always probing the logic of what they do and why, comparing
with other villages, and the past. The only thing that falls apart is
Okonkwo's life, because he refuses to adapt. The world does not end; it
merely changes, and the Umofians change with it.
The culture clash
Things Fall apart is indeed a classic study of cross-cultural
misunderstanding and the consequences to the rest of humanity, when a
belligerent culture or civilization, out of sheer arrogance and ethnocentrism,
takes it upon itself to invade another culture, another civilization."
(Emenyonu, 84) One of the things pointed out is that Umofia had no kings
or chiefs but had a highly democratic and efficient government. This is
something the invaders did not see; Western sensibilities insist that
each nation needs a leader, at least one person to take charge and prevent
anarchy. The courts used the white man's justice: either a flogging or
hanging: both senselessly brutal in Umofian eyes. The main reason for
the culture clash is lack of social interaction and understanding between
the cultures. And the misunderstanding did not end at the end of the novel;
the colonizers are the ones who recorded the history, so, as the saying
Until the lions produce their own historian, the story
of the hunt will glorify only the hunter" (Achebe, Home and Exile
73). African history is unique; "History has not treated the whole
world the same way, and we would be foolish not to realize how we are
in a peculiar situation as Africans. Our history has not been the history
of England." (Jussawalla, 76). The cultural misunderstanding led
to a false history, with characters written from the hopes and fears of
a people whose uniformed accounts are prevalent even today. "Achebe
has made it clear that his principle purpose in the book was to give African
readers a realistic depiction of their precolonial past, free of the distortions
and stereotypes imposed in European accounts." (Booker, 65)
Umofia as Athenian
Many critics note that Umofian society is similar to ancient Greek civilization.
Some point out that Greece was influenced by Africa, and that the democratic
system in place in African society predated that of Greece. The colonizers
may not have recognized it, but the readers of Achebe's book can see the
oft-honored ways of Athens. This endears the Umofian nation to Western
readers, by making it more familiar and even culturally superior to the
British invaders. But there is one major problem with that idea. "By
circumscribing Achebe's book within European aesthetic traditions, such
readings are in danger of perpetuating precisely the colonialist gestures
that the book is designed to surmount." (Booker, 66) Western readers
may be alienated by an unfamiliar society, but to cater to Western tastes,
to Booker, is evidence of intellectual colonization.
Semiotics and Colonization
Gikandi claims that the semiotic codes in book (like breaking kola nuts,
etc.) are intended to provide cultural background to the characters, warms
that they should not be regarded merely as local color. They are included
in the book to represent societal values, not exotic quirks. "After
all, the most obvious sign of the destruction of Igbo culture and its
authority is the repression of Igbo voices at the end of the novel when
colonialism imposes its grammatology and henceforth represents the African
as a subject with neither a voice nor a logos." (Gikanki, 33) The
most profound and effective way to take control of someone is to control
their speech. A language is not just a way to talk with another person;
it reflects cultural information as well, it is the embodiment of the
speakers' point of view. "When Umofia's scheme of meanings is colonized,
the function of its culture is rapidly eroded." (Gikanki, 35) Another
thing pointed out is the 'semiotics of the yam.' According to Gikani,
the yams represent three things: manhood, prosperity, and control in society.
Whenever they are mentioned, or used, they are always as one of these
Born in 1930 in Ogidi
Full name: Albert Chinualumogu Achebe.
Father: Christian evangelist and teacher
Education: in the colonial system, received a BA in 1953
Studied broadcasting with the BBC
1958: Things Fall Apart published, first book
1966 Man of the people published: first book set in post colonial Nigeria
Became highly involved in Nigerian politics
Achebe has written nearly 300 books about himself and his writing
Chinua as a post-colonial
"Achebe is aware
that the acquisition of a speaking voice betrays his involvement with
the process of destruction he records; that he can celebrate the value
of Ibo culture only with he language tools acquired in the act of destroying
it" (Wright, 77). Many critics agree on this point, that for Achebe,
"To write is to reconcile oneself to a past foreclosed by the experience
of colonialism; it is an archaeological gesture that seeks to recover
the historicity of Igbo life and culture" (Gikanki, 25). Postcolonial
writers are faced with the irony of using the tools of their destruction
to recreate a foreclosed past, and also to reconcile themselves to it
as well. "Achebe is aware that in gaining the voice to speak he reveals
his involvement with the destruction which he records." (Gikanki,
Achebe and the 20th century Ibgo society
"Achebe recalls that his parents looked down upon the "heathens"
in their community who did not espouse Christianity, but he eventually
came to wonder if "it isn't they who should have been looking down
on us for our apostasy"
which mirrors the hybrid experience
of the twentieth-century Igbo society as a whole
80). Achebe is able to so completely record and create Igbo society because
he has faced the general problems on a personal level. He has felt and
lived in the questions colonialism brings up, and is able to use them
to his advantage in recreating an unbiased past. "Achebe's advantage
is that he is able to use with economy and confidence rituals and conventions
each of which symbolizes the society his is describing." (Carroll,
The politics and
When asked about his 21-year gap between Man of the People and Anthills
of the Savannah, Achebe replied, "Well, it was a long period, but
it was not a period of silence. The novel is not the only form of expression
I have" (Jussawalla, 64). It seems like any post colonial writer
becomes enmeshed in politics at one point or another, whether or not they
intend to be involved. They become labeled as the Voice of the People,
and have the role of activist thrust upon them. Here are some of Chinua
Achebe's views on political topics:
*Achebe has noted that "It was not the intention of the British to
practice their system in the colonies. They practiced a colonial system,
a totalitarian system, whether in Africa or India or wherever." (Jussawalla,
*He also said that, "I am so democratic that I will fight to the
death to let my opponent have his say." (Jussawalla, 67).
* "(A leader alienated from his community" is perhaps the greatest
evil, the worst consequence of colonization
.One can see how the
creation of a ruler who had no responsibility to his people came about
as a consequence of the colonial system." (Jussawalla, 69)
*About his "British Protected Person" passport, Achebe has said,
"That was an arrogant lie because I never did ask anyone to protect
me. And to protect someone without his request or consent is like the
proverbial handshake that goes beyond the elbow and begins to look like
kidnapping" (Achebe, Home and Exile 103).
The Role of the Writer
Achebe has also spoken about his ideas on the role of a writer. Each writer
has their own philosophy on what it means to be a writer, and their place
in society. The following are quotes and ideas from Achebe on his views
on writing, and the motivations and responsibilities involved.
* "It's not really for the novelist
to say, "This is what you must to be saved."" (Jussawalla,
* "Why, why, why are people so frightened
of letting things that happen in real life happen in literature?"
* "It is important that the storyteller
tells the story the way he sees it, not the way the emperor wants it to
be told." (Jussawalla, 81)
* "For me there are three reasons for
becoming a writer. The first is that you have an overpowering urge to
tell a story. The second, that you have the intimations of a unique story
waiting to come out. And the third, which you learn in the process of
becoming, is that you consider the whole project worth the trouble-I have
sometimes called in terms of imprisonment-you will have to endure to bring
it to fruition." (Achebe, Home and Exile 39)
* "But overwhelmed or merely undermined,
literature is always badly served when an author's artistic insight yields
place to stereotype and malice." (Achebe, Home and Exile 41)
*one of the tools of colonization is storytelling:
make a more palatable story, justify their actions (Achebe, Home and Exile
*On Elspeth Huxley: 'She was engaged in spinning
stories to validate the transfer of African lands to white settlers. To
put it rather brutally, she was engaged in forging fake title deeds."
(Achebe, Home and Exile 68)
The influence of
When the college class Achebe was in rebelled against the book, Mister
Johnson, it deeply affected his ideas more than he realized at the time.
"Here was a whole class of young Nigerian students, among the brightest
of their generation, united in their view of a book of English fiction
in complete opposition to their English teacher, who was moreover backed
by the authority of metropolitan critical judgment" (Achebe, Home
and Exile 23). But as much as this was a turning point for Achebe, he
notes that "What Mister Johnson did for me was not to change my course
in life and turn me from something else into a writer; I was born that
way. But it did open my eyes to the fact that my home was under attack
and that my home was note merely a house or a town
Home and Exile 38)
And at the end of this section of notes, are some general quotes from
Achebe. I include them because I feel they express Achebe's personality.
Because, after all, after all of the hats Achebe has worn, as respected
writer, post-colonial spokesman, political activist and Nobel Prize winner,
he is still a person, as we all are.
*About Naipal referring to Africans as monkeys
and brutes: "He doesn't pull his punches, does he?" (Achebe,
Home and Exile 89)
* "We don't all have to be run over
by a car before we know that it is dangerous to stand in the middle of
the road." (Jussawalla, 68)
* "I think what makes the ethos, climate,
atmosphere in Things Fall apart appear more is that we are not familiar
with it." (Jussawalla, 71)
don't the environment and the
character balance each other all the way?" (Jussawalla, 70)
* "There's always that possibility of
things having a funny side." (Jussawalla, 73)
* "I'm so certain that self-righteousness
is the worst possible thing that could happen to us." (Jussawalla,