Things Fall Apart Novel Analysis
Aug. 17, 2009
I.B. English HL 1
1. Title: The title of the novel is Things Fall Apart. The title gives foreshadowing details of the book. Things falling apart is a common theme through the entire novel. At the beginning, Okonkwo is the one of the most famous in his village because he threw “The Cat” in wrestling. Though, at the end Okonkwo commits the worst disgrace possible, he kills himself. The title also describes what happens to the tribe’s religion. As Western Civilization begins to colonize the African tribes, the African’s culture diminishes. Soon many Africans have left their own religion and gods to become Christians. Many of the Africans lose their own values and begin to value the customs of Western culture. The title is also very simple and mysterious. Other book’s titles are normally an object or saying from the book, but Things Fall Apart is never talked about or brought up in the novel. The reader is forced to wonder what falls apart or what this title has to do with the book. Things Fall Apart is basically the center of the story. Achebe took the title of his book from "The Second Coming" (wr. 1919; pub. 1921), by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939; Irish). The poem is very similar to Okonkwo’s life and it makes sense that Achebe would use the line “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;” (Yeat 3). Okonkwo is too high in power and wealth and he can’t hold those things forever. He begins to lose everything that he has worked so hard to have. He first loses Ikemefuna and becomes depressed and angry, and then he gets exiled to another village after killing a man on accident. Nwoye leave’s him after to become a member of the church and after coming back to Umuofia, he kills a representative for the Missionary and kills himself out of fear. As it says in the poem, Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Okonkwo can’t hold forever, so Things Fall Apart.
2. Biographical Sketch: Chinua Achebe or, Albert Chinualumogu Achebe, was born November 16th, 1930 in Ogidi, Nigeria. His father, Isaiah, was a Protestant teacher in a missionary school. Chinua was raised religious which probably gave him the idea of the white men converting the
Villages’ many religions. Achebe attended University in Ibadan to 1953 and received a B.A. in English from the University of London. Originally, Achebe studied Medicine but it became too hard and he switched to English. If Achebe had not switched to majoring in English, we would probably not have his literary works. A friend later convinced him to teach English and the school he taught at was built on land where the locals believed the spirits were “unfriendly”. This is how Achebe found the idea of the “Evil Forest” from Things Fall Apart. Things fall apart was published in 1958. The novel was influenced by Achebe’s early life, including the dilemmas of religion and culture shift in Africa. His first book was an instant success and was even turned into a play. Many authors do not become a successful, famous writer on their first, second or even third book, Achebe did. He married Christie Okoli and had four children together as he continued to write books. Other novels include No Longer at ease (1960), Arrow of God (1966) and Anthills of the Savanna (1987). On Achebe’s sixtieth birthday, he was in a car accident and his legs are now paralyzed. Achebe is now 79 years old and teaching at Bard College in New York. Chinua Achebe has become one of the most influential writers in Africa. His novels have become accepted in Western Culture without his writing being influenced with the trends of western culture. Achebe will be one of the classic African writers forever.
3. Themes: A major theme in Things Fall Apart is things fall apart. As previously talked apart, one of the major conflicts with Okonkwo’s life is everything around is falling apart. “Okonkwo was clearly cut for great things. He was still young but he had won fame as the greatest wrestler in the nine villages. He was a wealthy farmer and had two barns full of yams, and had just married his third wife.”(Achebe 8) This is taken from the first chapter of the book. Okonkwo’s life could not get any better; he had the successful farm, wives and children but as his years progress, he loses a lot of that wealth. By the last chapter of the novel, Okonkwo has lost his first born son Nwoye, his religion, and his village. Okonkwo has even committed suicide, an act considered to be an abomination in his village; he cannot even be properly buried. The theme of things falling apart reoccurs throughout the entire book.
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Another theme in Things Fall Apart is the problem of Western colonization. During Okonkwo’s exile, rumors begin to spread of these white people on iron horses and the destruction they caused in another village. Finally white people come to the other villages to build churches and try to get others to follow their strange religion. Western colonization is has its pros and cons. For example, without colonization, some people wouldn’t be able to enjoy the comforts we have today. But Western colonization also destroys ethnic cultures. In the novel, many people begin to follow this taboo religion which divides the village into old and new culture. This division creates a separation between the people and causes a lot of animosity between both sides. Okonkwo loses his son to the Christian religion and he feels like Nwoye is a trader to him and his village. The problem of Western colonization begins in Chapter 15 and continues to the end of the novel.
Masculinity is a primary theme for the main character. Okonkwo constantly talks about masculinity and how important it is to be masculine. To him, something is either feminine or masculine, and if it feminine he does not do it. This condescending sexist attitude affects his relationships with people too. He does not like to be associated with anyone slightly considered effeminate. This theme easily translates to our world too. Many men consider things to be too effeminate and will not be involved with these activities. Men are either too proud or not comfortable with themselves to break out of the classic masculine stereotype. Okonkwo has this same problem and he has to be doing masculine things or else he feels like a woman (which is not a bad thing). His masculine character is responsible for many of his actions in the novel. We see this theme reappear constantly throughout the novel.
4. Narrative Style: The book is written in third person. The narrator does not seem fully limited or fully omniscient either. They never explain what is going on inside a character’s head but they know things that someone with a limited view would not know. An example of this is in this quote, “ He woke up once in the middle of the night and his mind went back to the past three days without making him feel uneasy” (Achebe 75) The narrator knows what is in Okonkwo’s mind but doesn’t tell the audience what he’s words are in his mind. This shows the narrator either is really good at picking up on a people’s emotions and actions (limited) or knows what is in a character’s mind but doesn’t share it with the reader (omniscient). The narrative style adds to the reading because the constant foreshadowing and unknowing future causes the reader to be enveloped into this foreign world. Each page causes the reader to wonder what else will happen to Okonkwo and what will become of his future? The third person detail makes the reader feel like they are watching the story from above. This Narrative style adds a god-like feel to the book and gives us descriptions to make a movie of the book in our mind.
5. Main Characters: Okonkwo, the central character, tall, bushy eyebrows, lean and walks quietly and has a very quick temper. Okonkwo is in the story because it is his life that falls apart. Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son who is very similar to Okonkwo’s father, he likes to play, tell folk stories and be marry. He is the one that causes Okonkwo’s worrying, Okonkwo is constantly concerned that Nwoye will not be a man like he is. Ikemefuna, a boy from a neighboring village is given to Okonkwo to take care of. Ikemefuna becomes a part of Okonkwo’s clan; he works hard and shows the qualities of a real man. His masculinity rubs off on Nwoye which causes Okonkwo to become even fonder of him. When Okonkwo takes part in Ikemefuna’s murder, Nwoye’s relationship changes with his father and it causes him to become Christian later on. Ikemefuna is not in the entire novel but he must be considered a main character because his death is the beginning of the downward spiral for Okonkwo. Mr. Brown is one of the first Christian missionaries to come to the Ibo Villages. His is a very nice man, very Christian-like. He helps convert many of the villagers. Nwoye is with him now in the missionary and has left his dad to become part of the Church.
Minor Characters: Unoka, Okonkwo’s Father who is lazy and a debtor. His troubles cause Okonkwo to become so work driven and “masculine”. Ezinma, Okonkwo’s daughter, is also the only child of Ekwefi. Okonkwo often wishes Ezinma was a man. Ekwefi, Ezinma’s mother is constantly worried about losing her only child because she has had miscarriage many of times. The bond between her and Ezinma is very strong and she treats Ezinma with rare foods like eggs that are meant for special occasions. She is the second wife of Okonkwo. Priestess or Chielo, the Oracle of the Hills and Caves is around a lot but as two different people. During the day she is around the village as Chielo and is one of the normal women. She goes to the market and events in the village but at night she becomes the Oracle of the Hills and Caves and it’s like she is taken over by another power. She taught Ekwefi a lesson about being too close with her child and she is also a representative for the Gods. Reverend James Smith, very mean and strict replacement for Mr. Brown. He causes much grief throughout the village and causes many problems with the people of Umuofia. Okonkwo kills himself because of Smith’s actions. The District Commissioner, he appears at the end of the novel and doesn’t really know about the customs of the people. He summarizes the entire novel from a westerner’s point-of-view.
6. Symbols: 1. Yams- Yams in Things Fall Apart were a very big deal to Okonkwo. The yams symbolized what Okonkwo wanted the most for his family, masculinity. Yams were a job for men only; women could grow other fruits or vegetables but yams were what real men grew because they required hard work. Yam didn’t just symbolize a man’s masculinity but they also provided food and an income. The Yams were what Okonkwo wanted the most for his family and it was what he grew the most of.
2. Locusts- The locusts in Things Fall Apart symbolized something new coming. In the book, it was said the locusts only visited the Umuofia only once a generation. While the locusts excited everyone, they soon became a pain and brought something else with them, death. Ikemefuna was sacrificed by the Umuofia to get rid of these locusts. Locusts could also represent Western culture because everyone is excited to see white people at first, but soon they become annoying and bring death to others including Okonkwo.
3. Christianity- Christianity represents the truth. Umuofia reacts harshly to the idea of a different religion. Many say that “Ignorance is bliss.” (Thomas Gray “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College”) and the villagers, including Okonkwo, don’t want to hear the truth. This can be compared to people today who do not what to hear the truth either. For example, those who belive global warming is not occurring or that President Obama is not a United States Citizen. No matter what era, people are not going to want to hear the truth.
4. Art- Art represents femininity. Okonkwo could not stand any type of art; to him, it is for women. He hates his dad because he was musical; he wishes also his son was more masculine when Nwoye tells folktales or legends.
5. Evil Forest- the Evil Forest represents the superstitions and fears. In the book, many things that people felt were taboo were put into the evil forest out of fear.
Achebe chose all of these symbols because they can be related to our own life in western civilization. Each is a symbolic representation of what we go through every day.
7. Setting: There are many different settings in the novel. The main setting is in a village in Africa named Umuofia. The time period was in beginning of the 1900s before western civilization had really explored Africa and other foreign Countries. Umuofia has many huts scattered and farms growing vegetables, like yams. The people of Umuofia are very strong and cultural people. They stayed with the customs their ancestors high regarded like the nobility of taking titles that select few could get or the respect of their gods. When Okonkwo accidentally kills another member of the tribe, he is exiled from Umuofia for 7 years. Okonkwo moves to the village where his mom was raised, Mbanta. After his exile was over, Okonkwo moved back to a very different Umuofia. The missionary had become a big part of the town. They even built a school and hospital. With trade going in and out of Umuofia, the town became bigger and wealthier. A court system also put in place at Umuofia and it is run by the missionaries. The setting of Umuofia changes from the beginning to the end due to the missionaries colonizing.
A. opening incident: The first incident occurs when all the men in Umuofia are called to the marketplace for a meeting. One of the villages killed a man’s wife from Umuofia. To prevent war the village provided the man, Udo, with a virgin to take for a wife and also gave a boy named, Ikemefuna. The boy was chose to live with Okonkwo until they found what to do with the boy.
B. building incident a: Years after, Ikemefuna has become a part of Okonkwo’s clan. He’s become best friends with Nwoye, his son, and helps with the crops. Locusts invade the town and the locusts are everywhere. To get rid of these locusts, Ikemefuna must be sacrificed. Okonkwo is warned not to see him sacrificed but he still goes. Once in the forest, one of the men slashes Ikemefuna with a machete and he falls in pain screaming. Okonkwo instinctively slabs Ikemefuna and kills him.
building incident b: After being exiled, Okonkwo hears rumors of white men in nearby villages. Soon after, white men are in their town building a church for the people of the village. The men of this strange religion begin to convert people in town with their folktale stories about their religion. Okonkwo finds this religion strange because they only worship one god who has very strange qualities.
C. climax: The climax of the story occurs when Okonkwo and a few others are thrown in jail for burning down the Christian church in the village. Okonkwo and his friends are tied up, beaten and made fun of for believing in their gods. After returning to the village, there is a meeting with all of the villages and soon representatives from the Christians come to disperse the crowd. With Okonkwo’s fierce temper, he loses his control and he kills one of the messengers. During the chaos that followed, Okonkwo slipped away and went home.
D. resolution: The District Commissioner goes to Okonkwo’s home. He finds Okonkwo’s body hanging from a tree. Okonkwo committed suicide by hanging himself. The District Commissioner decides to put this in his book The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger. Okonkwo has gone from great man to a chapter in a book about “Primitive Tribes”.
9. Quotations: 1. “Okonkwo was clearly cut for great things” (Achebe 8) In this quote, the narrator tells the reader that Okonkwo is clearly made to achieve great things in life. This is a quote from the first chapter, where Okonkwo is at his success peak in life. This quote is important in the book because Okonkwo is so proud of these great things he’s already accomplished in life that it leads to his downfall. He was made to accomplish more things in his life but his pride in his masculinity causes his doom.
2. “But he was always uncomfortable sitting around for days waiting for a feast or getting over it. He would be much happier working on his farm.” (Achebe 37) This quote is shows a part of Okonkwo’s personality. He would rather work than relax so he can accomplish more things. He feels like resting is feminine so he does not feel comfortable being comfortable.
3. “‘I am worried about Nwoye. A bowl of pounded yams can thrown him in a wrestling match. His two younger brothers are more promising.” (Achebe 66) Okonkwo is primarily concerned with his boys’ masculinity. Again we see Okonkwo’s stereotypical position about men being masculine and females being feminine. Yams are a symbol of masculinity and Okonkwo compares Nwoye to them. He is basically saying that Nwoye is not manly enough. This constant worrying about Nwoye being masculine is what drives Nwoye away from his father and to the Christian religion.
4. “A sudden fury rose within him and he felt a strong desire to take up his machete, go to the church and wipeout the entire vile and miscreant gang.” (Achebe 152) In the quote, Okonkwo is showing his sudden anger. This rage he has is often what causes him to get in dilemmas constantly. In the end, this sudden rage he has is what causes him to commit suicide at the end of the novel.
5. “He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger” (Achebe 209). The title of the book in quote is what Okonkwo’s life could be summarized as from a Westerner’s point of view. As someone reads Things Fall Apart, they become a part of the story but if the reader steps away from the book and looks at this title, it all makes sense. This is the last sentence in the novel which makes it even more fitting because it shows how the colonization in Africa has destroyed the African culture and the foreigners do not really care what they have done. In fact, those who colonized Africa find themselves to be heroes because they “saved” the Niger villages from Hell and allowed them to go to Heaven.
10. Additional Comments: I found the book to be very interesting because it broke away from the somewhat normal books we read in school. Thing Fall Apart was an actual world literature instead of the books that are set in western civilization. Achebe made this book so we could see the antagonists we have become, as a culture, to those in foreign countries. As Americans, we normally think that we’re saving these people in other cultures or that we’re doing more good than harm. But with this novel, it shows that colonizing foreign counties is destroying other cultures rather than helping them. As I read this book, I continued to say, “Wow, this book is pretty tribal” but it’s actually quite opposite. The people in Umuofia were less tribal before the westerners came. With the colonization it made many of the villagers do things they would never do; like kill a sacred object or burn a building down because of hate. The ending is also very surprising to me. Seeing how the District Commissioner saw the African tribes, I would have seen the tribes the same way if I saw the story from a missionary’s point of view. You don’t truly see how another culture is until you see it from their eyes and I think Achebe accomplished that very well. He made it possible for the reader to experience the culture of African tribes in the early 1900’s and be able to relate this foreign culture to their daily lives. We can take an example or a theme that the African’s had to deal with and use it in our daily lives. I found the theme of masculinity to be the most relatable for any high school boy. Achebe also showed that no matter the time or place, humans will still have things in common. Even though we are in separate countries, environments and times, we still have the same human elements, like emotions, in common.
Chinua Achebe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinua_Achebe#Anthills_and_paralysis
Chinua Achebe: http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/achebe.htm
Chinua Achebe: http://www.postcolonialweb.org/achebe/achebebio.html
Chinua Achebe: http://www.notablebiographies.com/A-An/Achebe-Chinua.html