Things fall apart is a novel written by the famous Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. This novel was published in 1958, and since then it has dominated not only the African literature but the whole world literature. Achebe wanted to pass message that, African culture has not been eroded, as assumed by many. He demonstrated this by telling the story of the colonization of the Igbo using an African approach. In this novel (Things fall apart), Achebe refers to western culture as “arrogant and ethnocentric” emphasizing that African needed to be embraced.
Achebe argues that, due to lack of Kings and chief Umofian culture was exposed to invasion by western civilization. This is demonstrated at the end of the novel by showing how repression of the Igbo language led to erosion of the culture. According to Achebe, the weakness of the of the native structure has contributed to destruction of the African culture.
During the publication of Things fall apart, Achebe stated that the core purpose of the novel was to demonstrated a complex, dynamic society of Africans and change the perception of viewing Africans as primitive, ignorant, and diffident. Achebe knew that, unless African tells their side of story, the African experience will remain diverted from the truth. Even with prominent writers such as Joyce Cary and Joseph Conrad, who were writing about the Africa, Achebe felt that these writers misunderstood Africa.
Achebe wanted to communicate to western audience, who he thought were not well informed about African experience. Western writers had been portraying continent as an dark place full of ignorant and poor people. This perception is viewed by Achebe as attributed by the racialism. Also other intended audiences were his own Nigerian people. He wanted Africans to understand their past and how their cultures had been eroded by western.
The novel narrates African culture in depth, differentiating it from western culture. Achebe goes into details to support his argument by providing the following aspect of Igbo culture;
- Symbol of honor where title are used to address people
- Polygamy is depicted
- Wealth is measured in terms of yams and cowries
- Social rituals are common
- Legend and traditions are witnessed throughout
The introduction of these facts by the author was relevant and important to demonstrate how Igbo society was complex and sophisticated. Achebe starts by portraying the values which made the main character “Okonkwo” attain his crucial position in Igbo society. With sound understanding of western culture Achebe in this novel adheres to the tradition of a Greek tragedy, in this story of Okonkwo, who is a tragic hero. Okonkwo is depicted as a respected man because of his outstanding achievements and noble virtues. As Achebe explain Okonkwo fear to appear weak like his father and due to that he does irrational acts of violence that challenges his dignity.
The author demonstrates unique system of honorific titles. In the entire novel, titles are points by which members of Igbo society often compare themselves each other. These titles are given to individuals who are able to pay for them regardless of their authorities. The gets much respect by acquiring more wealth and he is given a title. It is also possible for one to purchase title for men in his family. To acquire a title, one pay initiation amount of money to the person who holds the title.
As Achebe narrates, a Umuofia man can acquire up to four titles, whose value increase with level number. The first level is the common one, and many people can’t go beyond this level. This process of paying for the title is very expensive, the fact which has made it to be termed as “redistribution of wealth.”
Achebe describes some of beliefs and practices of Igbo, which are relevant to the story. For example, the big difference in responsibilities of men and women. Honor and achievements depends mostly on mans activities and success; on the other hand, women are responsible of household duties. Achebe applies the art of storytelling and demonstrates the legends and believes of the time to explain what people suppose and respect. Some of the examples are;
- Okonkwo recalls since he was young when his father was referred as a woman
- Achebe is of view that a belief in the protective value of moonlight in contrast with fear of the darkness.
Achebe continues to explain how Okonkwo’s bitterness of his father increased, as well as how his determination was tried. The main aim was to demonstrate the two probable characters of Okonkwo’s father as a tragic hero.
There were various custom ideas and facts that determined lifestyle of Igbo society. These values were communicated by indirect language and using proverbs such as;
- “The lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said that he would praise himself if no one else did”
- “A toad does not run in the daytime for nothing”
- “you can tell a ripe corn by its look”
These traditional sayings showed the great honor and courtesy that the Igbo society had to one another. In chapter three of the novel, a concept of the belief in personal chi is introduced. This concept resembles the western concept of soul, but chi seems to be more complex idea. The Igbo presumes that one’s fate and capabilities for the future life are responsibilities of the chi, and creator assigns each person a chi during conception period. They also believe that welfare of future life can be campaigned for especially before each reincarnation. Therefore, Igbo believed that chi was responsible of guiding each individual to his or her destiny. Achebe, whose first name started with chi, argues that, chi is about person’s spirit and it is common in every kind of combination.
Achebe intended to demonstrate complexity of Igbo society prior to the arrival of Europeans. To accomplish this, he used a detailed explanation of the justice codes and the trial procedures, how leadership of the community is divided, religious beliefs and practices, and fortunes for nearly every man to ascend the clan’s ladder of success via his own efforts. The novel just focused on the Okonkwo’s degradation in character in increasing indifferent and unsuited environment, however important to imagine what would have happened if Achebe did not stress on the theme of complexity and diverse features of the Igbo in Umuofia.
Achebe presents in details the African culture to the readers of other cultures and also those from his own culture by using English. He chose English language because he was targeting many reader from various background, thus English was much better than if he used language such as Igbo. When a writer uses his native language they need to permit translation of their work to international language like English so that reach many readers.
However, using English language did give Achebe a smooth presentation. Questions arose, why Achebe decided to present African culture in a foreign language which was limited in making adequate and effective description. Achebe also wanted differentiate between the Igbo culture and the colonist culture. The novel argues that, white man had no basis to criticize Igbo tradition yet he could not understand the Igbo language.