English Literature
Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart

Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

The Influence of Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson on Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart

In his famous novel Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe reveals that his inspiration for writing came from his disappointment with the portrayal of Nigeria and its people in Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson. Published in 1958, Things Fall Apart offers a genuine and comprehensive depiction of pre-colonial village life for the Igbo tribe in rural Nigeria, capturing the attention of readers around the world.

A Summary of the Story

The novel follows the life and death of Okonkwo, a prominent member of the Igbo community. Set in Nigeria, primarily in the villages of Umuofia and Mbanta (Okonkwo's fatherland and motherland, respectively), it explores the historical events that shape Okonkwo's life, his family, and his community. It also delves into the arrival of European missionaries and colonial powers in late nineteenth-century Nigeria, which ultimately brings about the downfall of Okonkwo's village.

Through the eyes of Okonkwo, readers are immersed in the intricacies of the Igbo community's structure before the interference of colonial powers. Achebe highlights the hard work, resilience, and agricultural knowledge of Okonkwo that contributed to the prosperity of his community. In doing so, he challenges the ignorant stereotypes held by western readers about the capabilities of pre-colonial tribal societies to govern themselves.

The novel's climax sees Okonkwo's suicide after killing a disrespectful European messenger. This tragedy not only reflects the erosion of traditional values in his community, but also the lack of support for his actions and his desire to resist the European colonizers. In many ways, Okonkwo's death can be seen as symbolic of the downfall of his entire community.

The Effects of Colonialism in Things Fall Apart

The impact of British colonial rule on Igbo society is powerfully captured through poignant quotes in Things Fall Apart. As Obierika, Okonkwo's friend, reflects, "We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart" (p.167). This statement reinforces the view of the Mbanta elders that Christianity was a divisive force, emphasizing the novel's title.

The title, Things Fall Apart, was inspired by a line from W.B. Yeats' poem "The Second Coming" (1919), further underscoring the novel's theme of change and the effects of colonialism on traditional societies.

The Main Themes of Things Fall Apart

The novel covers various themes that contribute to its main idea, including femininity vs masculinity, tradition vs change, and fate vs free will.

The Conflict between Femininity and Masculinity

The conflict between femininity and masculinity is a prominent theme in Things Fall Apart. This is evident through the generational tensions between fathers and sons, the strict gender roles, and Okonkwo's suppression of emotions other than anger.

The cycle of father-son conflict begins with Okonkwo feeling ashamed of his father's inability to conform to masculine ideals. In this society, men are expected to be providers and leaders, earning respect through sporting achievements, bravery in war, and earning titles. Okonkwo reflects on his childhood, stating, "That was how Okonkwo first came to know that agbala was not only another name for a woman, it could also mean a man who had taken no title" (p.13).

After the death of his father, the cycle of conflict continues when Okonkwo is disappointed with his own son's perceived laziness. This is highlighted in the statement, "Okonkwo, you have become a woman indeed" (p.13). In this patriarchal society, being called feminine is seen as an insult.

Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart offers a thought-provoking insight into pre-colonial Igbo society in Nigeria. Through its exploration of colonialism and powerful themes and quotes, the novel conveys a powerful message about change and its impact on individual and collective identities.

Examining Cultural Representation in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

The novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe serves as a powerful reminder to critically assess how cultures are portrayed and to seek out authentic perspectives. Through the story of Okonkwo and his struggle with tradition and modernity, Achebe skillfully highlights the clash between old ways and new ideas within the Igbo community.

After unintentionally killing his adopted son Ikemefena, Okonkwo is consumed with guilt and grief. However, he feels ashamed of these emotions as they are associated with femininity in his culture. This highlights the strict gender roles and expectations within the traditional way of life.

Using Okonkwo and his family as symbols, Achebe delves into the conflict between those who hold on to tradition and those who embrace change. Okonkwo represents the conservative beliefs of the past, while his son Nwoye represents the younger generation's willingness to adopt new ideas and customs. This internal struggle is a reflection of the larger tension between the old and the modern in the Igbo society.

Achebe masterfully intertwines the past, present, and future of the Igbo community through Okonkwo's narrative. The novel introduces readers to a crucial period in their history as their traditions and autonomy are threatened by the arrival of colonial forces.

Okonkwo's disapproval of his son's conversion to Christianity is evident as he envisions a future where all his male descendants reject their cultural heritage. He fears this would be a betrayal of their ancestors and sees it as a rejection of their values and way of life.

As the community starts to change, Okonkwo mourns for the loss of their traditional customs and lifestyle. He is saddened by the idea of their once proud and fierce clan breaking apart and becoming weak. He fears that their culture and identity will be lost forever.

Achebe further showcases the impact of change on traditional societies when he writes about the imprisonment of some Igbo people for breaking the colonial laws. This includes the outlawing of practices such as infanticide. This highlights the clash between the old and the new and the suppression of the Igbo culture by the colonizers.

Okonkwo also laments the changes happening within his community, stating that their customs and traditions are being labelled as bad by outsiders and even by their own people who have converted to the new religion. This adds to the conflict within the community and shows that change can come from within.

Inevitably, the European colonists impose their laws and justice system on the Igbo people, as seen when they demand a fine from the community. This illustrates their dominance and the loss of control for the traditional society. It further emphasizes the theme of change and its impact on cultural traditions.

The Role of Free Will and Fate in Things Fall Apart

A major theme in the novel is the idea of free will versus fate. The Igbo people believe in a higher power called "chi" that can influence one's luck. However, they also understand the importance of taking action and making choices that can shape one's destiny.

Achebe presents the character of Unoka as an example of both being a victim of fate and the cause of his own misfortune. The Oracle of Agbala blames Unoka's laziness for his poor harvests, indicating that one's actions can determine their fate more than luck or fate itself.

In a parallel to Unoka, Okonkwo is described as both lucky and hardworking. He has achieved success through his hard work and determination. When an elder suggests that his fortune is due to luck, the narrator reminds readers that it is actually the result of Okonkwo's efforts.

Achebe further highlights the power of free will when he includes the saying "When a man says yes, his chi says yes also." This shows that one's choices hold more weight than fate or luck.

However, there is also a belief that one's fate can be predetermined by their chi, as seen when Okonkwo reflects on his failed exile and concludes that his chi was not meant for greatness. This adds a sense of determinism to the struggle between free will and fate.

"A man cannot surpass the fate of his chi" (p. 131). This statement highlights the conflicting beliefs on free will and destiny within the Igbo community.

The Genre of Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart can be categorized as historical fiction.

Historical fiction is a narrative set in the past and may involve real historical figures and events. Achebe achieves accuracy in portraying the customs, language, and societal structures of the Igbo people, making his novel an excellent example of historical fiction.

Exploring Culture and History in "Things Fall Apart": The Influence of Language and Structure

Nigeria's colonization during the late nineteenth century brought permanent changes to the country's vibrant society. "Things Fall Apart" is a historical fiction novel that depicts both the pre-colonial and early colonial eras. The author, Chinua Achebe, utilizes a third-person narrative to provide a unique perspective on the characters and their experiences. The novel is divided into three parts, each focusing on a different period and following the characters' memories.

The Importance of the Igbo Language and Folklore

Achebe's choice to include untranslated Igbo words and phrases in the novel is intentional. He believed that the English language could convey his African experience accurately but needed to be adapted to fit the African context. In "Things Fall Apart," Igbo words and phrases are used in context, with a glossary provided at the end for better comprehension. Achebe faced criticism for writing in English, but he defended his decision, stating that he aimed to create fresh and authentic representations of Nigeria.

A Tribute to the Rich Oral Tradition

Proverbs and folklore play a significant role in the novel, reflecting the Igbo community's emphasis on language and oral tradition. These were a form of education and history, passing down wisdom and morals from one generation to the next. Achebe's use of language subverts the conventional narrative of African literature, showcasing the depth of the Igbo culture.

The Impact of Language Shifts

The majority of the novel uses Igbo language patterns, emphasizing the characters' culture and traditions. However, there is a stark contrast when the narrative shifts to the thoughts of the District Commissioner, who uses Standard English instead. This linguistic shift can be interpreted as symbolic of the transfer of power from self-governance to colonial rule.

The Significance of Symbols

Throughout the novel, Achebe employs symbols to challenge the ideas and biases of colonialists. For instance, the District Commissioner plans to write a book entitled "The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger," representing the colonizers' prejudiced perspective. Achebe's title, "Things Fall Apart," subtly critiques colonialism and its effects on traditional African societies.

Main Points to Remember

  • Cultural Representation: "Things Fall Apart" is a prime example of precise cultural representation in literature and belongs to the Nigerian Literary Renaissance.
  • Historical Fiction: The novel falls under the category of historical fiction, showcasing Nigeria's pre-colonial and early colonial times.
  • A Tribute to African Literature: Achebe's use of language and structure in "Things Fall Apart" paved the way for a new form of African novel and earned him the title of "Father of African Literature."

Themes in Things Fall Apart: A Reflection of Pre-Colonial Igbo Communities

In the novel Things Fall Apart, several essential themes are explored, including the clash between femininity and masculinity, tradition and change, and fate and free will. These opposing concepts offer a deeper understanding of the culture and self-governance in rural Igbo communities before British colonialism. Published in 1958, this novel provides a glimpse into the intricate and evolving society of pre-colonial Igbo and the initial stages of colonialism.

A Glimpse into Pre-Colonial Igbo Society

Written by Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart offers a global audience a nuanced portrayal of pre-colonial Igbo society. Through the eyes of the protagonist, Okonkwo, the novel delves into the complexities of Igbo culture, traditions, and values.

The Diversity and Richness of African Cultures in Things Fall Apart

Chinua Achebe's novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), serves as an important reminder of the vibrant and diverse cultures that existed in Africa before the arrival of colonial powers. As the novel concludes, it becomes clear that the once-unified Igbo society is disintegrating with the introduction of outside influences and the pressure to adapt to change. This reflects the devastating impact of colonialism on African societies and the struggle to preserve traditions in the face of change.

The Disintegration of the Igbo Society

Set in the village of Umuofia in Nigeria, Things Fall Apart provides readers with a glimpse into the everyday lives, customs, and beliefs of the Igbo people. The secondary setting of Mbanta, where the protagonist Okonkwo and his family are exiled for seven years, further showcases the interconnectedness of the community and the overwhelming influence of societal expectations on individuals.

Published by a British Publishing Company

The novel was published by William Heinemann Ltd., a British publishing company, adding an interesting layer to its exploration of colonialism. This highlights the power dynamic between colonizer and colonized, and the impact of Western influence on African cultures.

The Symbolism of Okonkwo's Death

Upon the death of Okonkwo, the once-powerful and respected leader, the death of his culture can be seen as symbolized. With the rise of colonialism, traditional values and beliefs are overshadowed, and Okonkwo's fate serves as a reflection of the death of his culture.

1. Collins English Dictionary, 2022.
Things Fall Apart.

Join Shiken For FREE

Gumbo Study Buddy

Explore More Subject Explanations

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 20,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime