'Things Fall Apart' and 'The Small Place'


Things Fall a Part and The Small Place are some of the most influential books written by scholars from third world countries to highlight some of the fallacies or prejudices directed towards the British colonies. Chinua Achebe and Jamaica Kincaid, the authors of Things Fall a Part and The Small Place respectively from the depth of their writings happened to have fallen victims of the same circumstances. Such same circumstances as some might argue, was responsible for their same look of issue that culminated into them writing the two books. Chinua Achebe is a Nigerian national born in the year 1930 while Jamaica Kincaid is an Antigua national born in the year 1949. The two authors were born at a time when their countries were still colonies of Britain and subsequently, their early lives were characterized by domination of British superiority over her colonies. Although the two books have a whole lot of similarity, some significant differences can also be identified. This paper therefore, looks at the similarities and differences that the two prominent scholars had as captured in their publications.         

The first similarity as espoused in the two books is that they are an attack to colonial rule and its influences. As already said above, both Nigeria and Antigua were British colonies and as such shared some same agonies. Fro instance, religion practiced by nationals of these two colonies was highly looked down upon by the British government through its rulers. The people of Igbo village actually fallen prey to this kind of treatment as the colonizers conducted rigorous campaign to recruit the locals to their Christian religion. For instance, Okonkwo asks, “does the white man understand our customs about land”, this was meant to refute whites claims that the religion of native Nigerians was bad. The story even goes further by affirming that “how can he when he does not even speak our mother tongue”, to mean that the whites have no authority to refute Africans way of life. This poor treatment of African way of life was even taken further through publications made by some of the great British writers. For instance, in Things Fall a Part, Achebe makes it clear that his determination to write the book was because he wanted to respond to the publication “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad. This publication was a whole documentary of the British poor and prejudicial perception of African was of life. The low life perception by the British of their colonies is also reflected in The Small Place. For instance, Kincaid makes it clear when she says that “you should not let the slightly funny feeling of oppression and exploitation develop into full-fledged unease”, that is, she was already aware of the kind of suffering and humiliation Antigua had gone through and possibly the reader might have also fallen a victim of the same. So the reader should just take heart and read the book objectively. Kincaid further proves that when she confirms that her original name was Elaine Potter Richardson, a British name. She says that she was given the British name because of the imposed false belief that the British way of life was the model to be emulated by the people of Antigua.          

Another similarity captured in the two books is on how the narrators value foreign education. It becomes clear that British education is accorded important position in the two countries. Kincaid gives a lot of praise to what British education has done to her life. She says that despite the numerous humiliations and agonies in the hands of British people, she is very thankful of their education. More so, she observes that the kind of education now offered to the students of Antigua is very low in terms of standard, resulting to high levels of ignorance and poor performance at work place. Kincaid liked literature because of the influence the British curriculum had on her while studying classic literature. The praise for British education is further continued by Achebe who vehemently records that he chose to write his book in English as opposed to Igbo language which he says would not make his thought come out clear. Furthermore, Achebe was of the opinion that in order for his thoughts to reach a wide audience, then he had to use English he learnt under British curriculum. From the arguments above, it becomes crystal clear that the two authors valued extensively the impacts created by British education to the natives, and that it was good for the development of their countries.

Another important similarity lies in the portrayal of tradition and change, which seems to be under great attack from European influence. In “Things Fall Apart”, people are caught in a dilemma of either having to maintain their long-established traditions or giving way for the new European system. In chapter seven, Achebe stresses on the Nigerian tradition when he says that “no matter how prosperous a man was if he was not able to rule his women and children, then he was not man enough”. This kind of belief in tradition caught people in dilemma as they were confused on which side to take, whether to adopt the Christian beliefs or maintain the African ways. When reading the book critically, one realizes that the villagers are quite enthusiastic about the new systems brought by missionaries. The new systems of farming, building or cooking have revolutionized the Ogbi village. Adopting these new systems has the potential of degrading the traditional values and systems.

The dilemma surrounding change and tradition is also ripe in “The Small Place”. The narrator was given an alien name but had to later change it in order to maintain her tradition, which was under attack from two foreign nations. Kincaid admits that the situation the Antiguans are facing currently with regards to culture shock is actually identical to what happened in her youthful years. The only difference is that during her years of development, people were obsessed with what she referred to as “British trash” as opposed to the current influence from the “American trash”. The end result of all these influences is that as some people like Kincaid would like to maintain their traditional values and discard foreign ones, the larger percentage of the population seems to be fully addicted to the foreign influences. More so, the situation has been further aggravated by the adoption of British education in Antigua, a country whose people used to look down upon Antiguans. In short, Kincaid believes that the dilemma created by the infiltration foreign influences into the traditional values has been compounded by the people’s false consciousness of the true meaning of Western civilization. The same fact of confusion is illustrated when Kincaid says that, “Antigua is a small place. Antigua is a very small place. In Antigua, not only is the event turned into everyday, but the everyday is turned into an event”. This means that the people of Antigua have a distorted view of their lives because of the confusion created between native traditions and foreign influences.

Another similarity between the two books can be depicted in the authors’ use of symbols to relay a critical message to the readers. Chinua Achebe employed extensively the use of symbols to present abstract ideas or messages. The use of symbols is a common feature in many literary writings and is generally geared to give deeper meaning than when explained literary. One of the paramount symbols in “Things Fall a Part” is the Locust. Achebe uses the locust to symbolize white settlers who consume all of the people of Igbo’s resources, leaving them with nothing but erosion of the very foundations that kept them unified. He was particularly categorical about the unconscious influence of Christianity on the people of Igbo who could not realize that it was one way of their undoing.

Fire is another symbol that dominates Achebe’s work in “Things Fall a Part”, and is mostly attributed to Okonkwo, the danger man. Throughout the novel, Okonkwo has been associated with dangerous motives often described with words like burning, flame and fire. In chapter seventeen and twenty four, Okonkwo’s destructive nature becomes more imminent when he acknowledges that the fire he is associated with consumes everything in its path. He shows this destructive nature when he physically kills Ikemefuma and Ogbuefi, Ezedu’s son. However, one thing Okonkwo did not know is that fire consumes everything, including itself until only pile of ashes can be seen, and that he was on the way of consuming himself. This is shown towards the end of the novel when we see Okonkwo becoming a prison of his anger, which finally consumes him.

In the “Small Place”, the library’s sign has been used as a symbol to convey certain information about the Antiguans. The sign reads: “THIS BUILDING WAS DAMAGED IN THE EARTHQUAKE OF 1974. REPAIRS ARE PENDING”. It becomes apparent that both the damage to the library and the sign dates back to the colonial era before Kincaid actually wrote “The Small Place”. Kincaid points out that by the time she wrote A Small Place, both the sign and the damaged library had existed for ten years. This unique time span made Kincaid conclude that the people of Antigua have a more unusual sense of time than any other people of the world. The library and the sign are used by the author to relay both literal and metaphorical message. Kincaid wanted to make it clear that just as the earthquake destroyed the library, so did the transition from colonial rule to self-governance cause a seismic disruption in the lives of Antiguans, and especially their culture. It, therefore, becomes crystal clear that the use of symbols to convey deeper message to the reader is a characteristic writing style that was employed by both Kincaid and Achebe.

The two books have a fundamental difference in their view of post-colonial effects on the administration of the new states. According to Kincaid, the end of imperial rule has not helped the native Antiguans to realize that they should embrace good governance and propel their country to greater heights of prosperity. The corruption that currently pervades all aspects of life in Antigua is seen to have its roots in the colonial period. What amazes Kincaid is that during the colonial period the indigenous people were vehemently opposed to corruption. However, things have changed, and now their own leaders, the ones who are supposed to protect them, rob them more than the colonialists did. On the other hand, in “Things Fall Apart”, the post-colonial view seems completely different. Achebe believes that America is better now compared to what it was under the colonial rule. He believes that the governance by the people and for the people is better than compared to what was imposed on them.


There is no doubt that the two books offer to the people in the developing nations a new view of themselves. The central point as espoused by Achebe and Kincaid is that they wanted fundamental change in people’s thoughts about themselves. That is, the people of Nigeria and Antigua ought to take into control their destiny without being told by foreign infidels what to do. However, it is important that while taking destiny own hands, people of these nations should incorporate good governance than what was happening in Antigua. 

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