Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

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Things Fall Apart takes place in the small village of Umuofia in Nigeria, Africa in the late 1890s. The protagonist, Okonkwo, is a revered elder in the community possessing two titles or ‘levels of authority’. Okonkwo has three wives and several children.

Told in three parts, the first illustrates primitive life in the village; customs, rituals, and values. The men were expected to “be men” and the women did what they were told. Superstitious beliefs dictated some barbaric customs like throwing away twins, and dumping the bodies of people who died of disease in a nearby “evil” forest, and of course there was no modern medicine or education. The entire village farmed- mostly yams- and lived on a diet of the same plus nuts, goat meat, fowl, and lots of wine.

In part two Okonkwo is banished from the village for seven years for committing a crime, even though it was an accident. He is forced to give up everything and return with his family to his native village where he makes a new start.

In part three, the seven-year banishment has ended and Okonkwo returns to Umuofia but nothing is the same. The Christian missionaries have arrived and set up a church… luring the villagers, one by one, to convert and discard their native traditions. Okonkwo has lost his revered status and understands that, but is puzzled and disheartened by the introduction of new foreign authority, changed customs, and Christian beliefs.

Thus, Things Fall Apart is a novella about the age old problem of resistance to change. Maybe back in 1959 when it was first published there was good reason for the books popularity because African literature was a novelty, but it reads like a pre-teen parable.

There is almost no description of the village (flora – fauna) except for references to food and harvests. Character development is weak. The book totally lacks emotion and the only feeling it evoked in me was annoyance. The narrative seems authentic, but village lifestyle and customs were probably toned down to avoid discriminate evaluation. At the other end of the spectrum, the white people came into Africa uninvited and forced their will on the natives with Christian religion and European laws, bringing with them their own form of corruption and exploitation.

Things Fall Apart is widely used as a text book. Cliff Notes and Study Guides are abundant- but I have no idea why. The story is very simple, straightforward, and uncomplicated. It left me yawning, looking at the clock, daydreaming and counting the pages until I was done.

Rated 2 Stars.

All contents © 2010 Lois Weisberg.  All rights reserved.

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