Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a novel that was rare for its time because it was one of the first narratives about Africans by an African. Achebe wrote honestly about the impact that Western colonization had on a tribe in Nigeria called the Igbo. Through the main character, Okonkwo, Achebe demonstrates how colonization is able to tarnishes someone’s sense of identity.

Okonkwo is the first character we are introduced to in the novel and immediately, his masculinity is magnified. He is a famous wrestler in the story who was one of the first people to successfully throw “Amalinze the Cat” (Achebe 4). Then he is described as someone whose muscles “stood out” all over his body and “he would use his fists” whenever he couldn’t express himself through words. Based on these early characteristics of Okonkwo, it’s safe to say that a big part of Okonkwo’s identity was based on his aggressiveness and pride. He depended heavily on his strength to be able to gain prestige and status among his clan. However, the introduction of Western ideas through missionaries tarnished all of that permanently.

When missionaries begin to convert Igbo people, the new Igbo converts become more emboldened to spread their faith. As an attempt at retaliating, Okonkwo and his clansmen decide to burn down the church that was built in Umuofia when a key missionary leaves their tribe for a period of time. Mr. Smith returns and tortures Okonkwo and his men in a prison for a few days. During this time, Okonkwo’s pride is challenged because he thought he was invincible but soon realizes that he is not. When Okonkwo and his clan are planning striking back, they decide to fight but Okonkwo ends up killing a messenger from the missionaries which causes him to kill himself. The text states, “Then they came to the tree from which Okonkwo’s body was dangling, and they stopped dead.” (Achebe 207). This shows how colonization has permanently changed Okonkwo’s sense of identity. By killing himself, Okonkwo is committing a dire crime in his village because “it is an abomination for a man to take his own life” (Achebe 207). Okonkwo’s pride is completely tarnished when he hangs himself because he’s conceding that he cannot stand up against the forces of the missionaries and ultimately colonization. He can also no longer depend on his sheer aggression to help him win every battle he faces.

Things Fall Apart sets the stage for Africans to be able to give their perspective on colonization. Through Okonkwo, Achebe is able to demonstrate how colonization was able to tarnish a main character’s sense of identity. Colonization stripped Okonkwo of his pride and aggression. This shapes the meaning of the work as a whole because it highlights how colonization mutilates cultures just like the Igbo culture. By nature, Europeans, through colonization, tell cultures that their way of living is wrong and forces them to adhere to a new way of living the colonizers deem is correct. Because of this coercion, many colonized nations were forced to forfeit their customs and beliefs to follow standards they never asked to follow. Things Fall Apart demonstrates how poisonous colonization is to culture.

Text Talk

What do you find interesting about the text? 

The text Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe explores the life of two Okonkwo and the tribe in precolonial Nigeria .The text was interesting and compelling as it allowed me to apply a socio-cultural lens that asks me to examine literature from historical, political and gender based viewpoints. By doing so, I was able to connect and explore the cultures of Nigerian women, the history and cultural aspects of the country, the effects patriarchal control, and the issues of sexuality and the marginalization of disempowered groups.

What are the prominent devices used in the test and for what purpose?

Though the novel is written in English, Achebe often sprinkles words from the Igbo language (the native tongue of the Umuofians and one of the most common languages in Nigeria in general) into the text. This creates the complex effect of both distancing the reader, who is presumably English-speaking and doesn’t know any Igbo, while simultaneously grounding the audience in the place of the novel by adding local texture. While reading the novel, the reader must continuously evaluate where he or she stands in relation to the characters and groups in the novel—is she aligned with Okonkwo or with Nwoye? Is there a greater sense of familiarity towards the Africans or towards the Europeans? Which is more comfortable and engaging, the English words or the Igbo words? Christianity or the native religious customs? Whose side are you on?

What do you see as the author’s central idea?

The central ideas of Things Fall Apart ask us to reflect on power, and how it is too utilized amongst humanity in a responsible way. Set in Nigeria readers witness the emotional and physical connection characters share with their home country, despite the escalation of war- some refuse to leave, some return in the mist of  dangers- all though must learn to navigate under an abusive and controlling authority. Whether it be an oppressive husband, government, or military official. However, other themes reveal themselves the 1958 novel of Africa just before colonialism, tells the story of a world about to undergo a radical change. Through the character of Okonkwo, a man of prominence and stature in his village community, Achebe depicts how issues of masculinity and agriculture interact with each other and affect the world of the novel. Additionally, these ideas change greatly throughout the novel, and each character’s ability (or inability) to adapt to these changes plays a key role in where they wind up at the novel’s end.

How will students connect?

Students will be able to find fault in the missionaries arrogance and also become intrigued by the customs and traditions that are foreign to them.

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