UNRAVELLING ‘THINGS FALL APART’ BY CHINUA ACHEBE
Do you agree with the phrase that, a room without books is like a house without windows? If yes, you are definitely a bookworm, isn’t it? A book and its content can highlight many aspects of the author’s state of mind, his or her personal opinion and many other facets. Sometimes the thoughts are directly mentioned and sometimes, we, as readers need to find out the underlying meanings! If you are interested in postcolonial literature, you must have heard about the famous author, Chinua Achebe and one of his outstanding books called, THINGS FALL APART. In this article, I will try to discuss about this novel and highlight the underlying meanings. However, you must unravel the entire story by reading it once!
Things Fall Apart by an African author, Chinua Achebe highlights two intertwining major plots. The plots are primarily based on the central character of the novel, Okonkwo. The first major plot is the conflict between the individual (Okonkwo) and the society which leads to his fall from grace with the tribal world. The second plot is the invasion of European missionaries in their tribal village and the clash of cultures between the two worlds.
The title has been adopted from W.B.Yeats’ poem ‘The Second Coming’, where he has composed these lines: “ Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ The falcon cannot hear the falconer,/ Things fall apart, the center cannot hold,/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Achebe tries to portray this theme from the very beginning of the novel, since these lines are mentioned on the first page, even before the story commences. Things fall apart because the centre cannot hold them together – the clan of Umuofia, to which Okonkwo belongs, falls because he- the man who is at the centre of the community fails to hold the people together. Many instances have been given by the author to prove Okonkwo’s failure as a leader of the tribes.
If we consider Okonkwo’s childhood, we will be able to decipher the reason behind his failure despite being strong and powerful. He was the son of Unoka, a talented musician but also a coward and spendthrift. From his childhood, Okonkwo was ashamed of his father and thus, he tried to shape himself into a completely different character. He became the most courageous and strong individual who was highly valued by the Umuofian society. He proved his prowess by defeating the eminent wrestler called the Cat and from then onwards he became the central figure of his clan who retained a large family with several wives and children. However, to show his courage and male domination, he breaks several rules and regulations of his clan. Okonkwo mercilessly beats up his wife because she has neglected his wifely duties, during a period of peace in which the people of Umuofia are prohibited from committing violence. Later, Okonkwo kills his adopted son, Ikemefuna to prove his courage. He had raised him like his own son but when an Oracle commanded to put Ikemefuna to death, he killed him instantly. The Oracle has asked Okonkwo to stay away from this matter but he committed a transgression here so that others do not perceive him as coward and weak just like his father. His loaded gun kills a sixteen-year-old son of a clansman accidentally, whose funeral Okonkwo was attending. From these instances, we can see that Okonkwo is undoubtedly powerful but at the same time destructive as well. He can beat up his wife, kill his adopted son and abuse his own son, Nwoye for being effeminate just to prove his strength in front of everyone time and again.
A considerable part of the novel has been used by Achebe to introduce his readers to the various customs and traditions of the African clan, particularly the Umuofia clan. Though, in the beginning of the story we are slightly moved by the strange customs of the clan, we are slowly accustomed to these rituals and it doesn’t feel weird anymore with the completion of each chapter. Each part of the novel is highly informative and interesting and as we read, we can become a part of the clan easily. However, we are told about the sudden arrival of a European Christian missionary in the Umuofian clan who is willing to set up a church in Umuofia. The missionary’s name is Mr. Brown who wants to convert the Africans to Christianity. Mr. Brown soon dies and he is replaced by Reverend Smith, a person with stricter nature and outlook. A conflict between them arises when a new Christian convert, Enoch humiliates the ancestral spirit of Umuofia during an annual festival. The enraged people of Umuofia burns down the house of Enoch as well as Reverend Smith’s church. Due to this conflict, the European district commissioner arrests the leaders of Umuofia and puts them in jail. After their release, Okonkwo takes a brutal action against them and murders the leaders of the court messengers who had come to their village. Towards the end of the novel, Okonkwo emerges as the person who singlehandedly attempts to declare a war against the coloniser. However, he couldn’t manage everything on his own because his clansmen denied helping him. He is responsible for tearing apart his community but he portrays himself to have the potential to save his clan from the oppression of the whites. The external force or the European colonisers are responsible for the downfall of the Umuofian clan but Okonkwo is also equally responsible. He couldn’t hold his men together which resulted into his suicide at the end. Here also he doesn’t get a proper burial since taking away one’s life is a sin in their tribe. Hence, Obierika asks for help from the District Commissioner to take down Okonkwo’s lifeless body and bury it. Okonkwo’s body is evil because he has gone against Nature to finish himself and thus, only strangers can touch it.
The novel ends with the title of an unfinished novel by the District commissioner, which is known as THE PACIFICATION OF THE PRIMITIVE TRIBES OF LOWER NIGER. He decides to include a chapter on Okonkwo’s death and the situations that surrounds it. Here, we get a glimpse of colonial discourse. The title highlights the colonial oppression in Africa, through the term “pacification” in the title. This diminishes the complex social structure of the African community which Achebe has introduced to us in his novel, into a “primitive race” which is barbaric and savage. The title of the book itself shows how the ‘whites’ showcased the ‘blacks’ as barbaric, inhuman and undomesticated.
I hope this explanation has aroused an interest in your mind to read the novel. There are still a lot of things to know about, which the author has tried to showcase. Let us know about your opinion regarding Things Fall Apart!