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Reflections of a working writer and reader

 

 

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

This novel would make an excellent gift for any young people you know who are thinking of becoming missionaries.

As night fell, burning torches were set on wooden tripods and the young men raised a song. The elders sat in a circle and the singers went round singing each man’s praise as they came before him. They had something to say for every man. Some were great farmers, some were orators who spoke for the clan. Okonkwo was the greatest wrestler and warrior alive. When they had gone round the circle they settled down in the centre, and girls came from the inner compound to dance. At first the bride was not among them. But when she finally appeared holding a cock in her right hand, a loud cheer rose from the crowd. All the other dancers made way for her. She presented the cock to the musicians and began to dance. Her brass anklets rattled as she danced and her body gleamed with cam wood in the soft yellow light. The musicians with their wood, clay and metal instruments went from song to song. And they were all gay.

Chinua Achebe was born in Ogidi, Nigeria, the son of a teacher in a missionary school. His parents, instilled in him many of the values of their traditional Ibo culture, but christened him Albert after Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.

Almost forty years ago Chinua Achebe published Things Fall Apart and became one of the founders of the new Nigerian literature. He would quickly become one of the finest African novelists, if not one of the finest in the world.

This ironic novel traces the life of Okonkwo, one of the greatest men in Umuofia, who, after seven years of exile, returns to his village to find missionaries and colonial governors have arrived and are in the process of undermining and destroying his culture and tradition. With his world thrown radically off-balance he can only hurtle towards tragedy.

As an Ibo writer, Achebe is interested in the effects of Western customs and values on traditional African society. In simple and dignified language he describes a complex and sympathetic portrait of a traditional Ibo village. He shows us a society that contains much of value and undermines Conrad’s vision of Africa as the heart of darkness.

Although he does not paint a vision of an ideal society, Achebe, nevertheless, introduces us to a range of timeless and empathetic characters, and displays his ability to portray them in a way that makes them instantly recognisable to us over both time and space.

This is a short novel but compulsive reading. There are, apparently, two sequels, and I shall be looking for both of them.

33 Responses to “Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe”

  1. Hi John,

    Things Fall Apart once formed part of the fifth form syllabus (O levels), a time when I studied literature at the Convent in Malaysia.
    The name Okonkwo strikes a chord.
    His tall and silent headship.
    His wives and affairs of the night.
    The scornful rivalry as each wife competed for Okonkwo’s affections.
    That resulted in:
    our muffled giggles at the back of the classroom & the sly passing of the odd note. Never had i seen our teacher Mrs. Xavier so passionate about a fictitious character before. 🙂

    Last year, our government banned this book together with several inspiring novels. No one knows why. Except that Things Fall Apart isn’t allowed into our country anymore.

    Glad I still hold the memory.

    jb says: Hi Susan. Strange isn’t it, the things we remember. . . And how terrible that such a book is banned. A government that is frightened of ideas is a government that is frightened of everything.

  2. John,

    Just to add on to the subject of banned books, late last year several others got banned too. This included Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown, Being Jordan, Feel: Robbie Williams, Mao: A Life, Practice of Business Statistics, A History of God, Things a Woman Should Know About Seduction, Addicted to Love: The Kate Moss Story, Music for Sleepy Babies, the series of SpongeBob Square Pants & Counting Adventures Sound Activity Book by Disney, Read-A-Loud Children’s Classics & many others.

    Mine stays as one of the most democratic muslim countries in the world. I can travel to almost anywhere without a visa. Yet, I don’t understand why this suddenly happened. When you consider the irony. That one can just cross the border to Singapore in minutes to purchase the banned books. I can get mine when I travel easily enough. But not so for the several thousands of others who make up for communities that may not travel.

    I feel such an action deprives the people of a credible thinking society.

    (Sorry that this stayed out of focus to your post at hand.)

    jb says: Thanks, Susan, we need to know these things.

  3. Grant says:

    Things Fall Apart is indeed a great novel and is one of my personal favorites. I read it in conjunction with The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, which is about a family of missionaries in the Congo. Both are excellent, as is Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

    I simply love Achebe and I think that he’s one of the greatest minds and authors of the twentieth century. His story-telling ability is legendary. It’s such a gripping story. I highly recommend No Longer at Ease which is also by Achebe. It focuses on the life of Obi Okonkwo, Nwoye’s son. It has a more modern setting but uses as interesting parallel structure that connects the two different time periods. I think it’s even better than Things Fall Apart.

    jb says: OK, Grant, you’ve sold it to me. And I’ve also been promising myself a look at The Poisonwood Bible one of these days.

  4. Ashis says:

    The Variability of Values

    Values are something that we believe in. Different parts and structures of society have different values. Social values, family values, economic values, and religious values could be some of those. These values may be similar and vary from family to family, society to society, culture to culture, and country to country with respect to time. In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart the values of respect and faith vary with time and generation differences.

    Different kinds of social values could be seen in Okonkwo’s society which also changed with time. In their Ibo society a title is very important to establish social status; both of these things reflect the value of respect. A title might be given for any brave work, winning a wrestling competition, growing a lot of yams as an example. A man could get a maximum of four titles in the clan and could become a lord of Umuofia. On the other hand, if a person doesn’t have any title in his whole life he is called agbala and is treated as a woman. For example, Okonkwo’s father, Unoka was a man like that. That is why, Okonkwo tried his whole life to be the opposite of his father and tried to get the maximum title of the clan and to be the lord of the clan.

    As time passes, beliefs in people in a certain society also may change as they changed in Umuofia. When Okonkwo returned from his mother land after seven years he noticed a huge change in his clan. By this time British Missionaries had come to their village. They setup churches and a court system in the village. They converted some people to Christianity. Title was no longer valuable in that clan; respect and status had been lost. For example, one person having two titles who had a good chance to be a lord of Umuofia also converted to Christianity. Nobody also respected and cared about Okonkwo’s title; rather, they paid attention to his two young daughters. People of the clan began going to school and they learned to read and write, and a number of them changed their previous beliefs. Previously, they acquired knowledge from tales and now an educational institute took the place of acquiring knowledge. Some of them even got jobs as a clerk in court and became teacher in school. They began to establish their social status on a different scale then. They adopted some living standards from British culture.

    Religious values play a very important role in a society. A lot of social and cultural activities of religious people are centered around their religious beliefs. Even though it is hard to change values of faith, it may also change with respect to time. Okonkwo and their villagers believed in many gods. They established their personal cbi. They had their god for crops, weather, health, and children and Chukwuka as their main god. The villagers lead their lives depending on the wishes of their gods. They used to sacrifice animals to their gods to satisfy them as they could achieve their goal.

    As British colonial people came in to the clan they tried to change their beliefs and told them there is only one god in the Universe. Mr. Brown tried to teach people about the new religion about one almighty god. But no frontal attack on religion would succeed to change one’s belief. That’s why setting up schools, hospitals, and churches could help to do so. British missionaries established those in the Evil Forest and no English people died for that, which was very new and unbelievable to the inhabitants of Mbiano. This kind of amazing event, new policies and their intimacy attracted the people and hence help people to change their religious beliefs too.

    Hence, because of change in values, Okonkwo, the warrior like-man in Umuofia, unaccountably became soft like a woman. The value of respect and faith changed to the new generation with respect to time. People began to respect education and new laws. Most of their faith also changed from polytheist to one god. Variation in values could cause a death of man and also could help to emerge a society.

    jb says: Thanks for this, Ashis. Perceptive and succinct summary.

  5. Jani Medina says:

    I think this novel is the valuest one in the African Literature.
    I advice evryone to read it !

    jb says: So do I.

  6. […] is awarded every two years for a body of fiction. Achebe, 76, is best known for his first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958). He has written more than 20 books, including novels, short stories, essays and collections […]

  7. chichi says:

    i am igbo same as achebe and i write to encourage your interest in the book.the first time i read it i was 12 years old and then for me it was just a wonderful tale in the likes of Aesop’s fables.i only came to realise its importance one day when i turned to the back of a book of greek mythology and then saw achebe’s name listed along with literary giants such as Dostoevysky(hope i spelled that right) whose novel ‘crime and punishment’ i’ve just finished reading with a shamelessly unacademic interest.Ironic,isn’t it- that i could have been so ignorant of a man reshaping eurocentric and narrow-minded views concerning my people.I feel particularly flattered by your interest in the book-it is high time everyone started learning about other cultures rather than turning up racist and narrow-minded noses(excuse the mixed metaphors please!) on anything slightly different to what they have been used to or their own self imposed norms!

    jb says: Hi Chichi. Thanks for calling in, and particularly for your comments. I’m almost envious of your reading of Dostoevsky. That was another book that tore me apart and put the pieces back to make a different shape.

  8. Azogini says:

    Hi John I am a niece to Prof Chinua Achebe. The novel Things Fall Apart was written when I was born. I read it when I was 10 tears old and I still read it every year so as to digest it. I have also been able to teach my children about our culture long ago. My late father was his brother and guardian. Thank you very much.

    jb says: Hey, Azogini, you just made my day . . .

  9. sola says:

    IM SO PROUD OF PROF CHINUA ACHEBE, I HOPE I WILL MEET WITH HIM ONE DAY. IM A DOCTORATE STUDENT IN SPAIN, AND MY THESIS IS ABOUT THIS STRONG AND VALUABLE MAN AND HIS WORK ‘THINGS FALL APART’. ACTUALLY, HE’S REAL AFRICAN CHILD, IM PROUD OF HIM, HE MAKES ME FEEL REAL AFRICAN. I WOULD TRULY LIKE TO SEE HIM AND PROF WOLE SOYINKA DOING SOMETHING TOGETHER. I HOPE AFRICA, MOST ESPECIALLY NIGERIA WILL RECOGNIZE BOTH OF THEM ONCE AGAIN AS GIANTS OF AFRICAN LITERATURE, TRUST ME, I RESPECT THEM BOTH. GOD BLESS THEM,WITH THEM I HAVE THIS PRIDE TO SAY I AM AN AFRICAN AND PROUD TO BE.

  10. Caylen says:

    I think this is a great book for people interested in learning about the IGBO culture. I think Chinua is good at writing to make you feel what he is feeling.

    jb says: It’s a great book for people interested in learning about people and culture and society, Caylen.

  11. ilikepoo J says:

    NICE

  12. Chynna Cherry says:

    Hello could you tell me what was Chinua Achebe’s real name was and why did he change his name.

    jb says: As far as I know, Achebe was the son of a Christian churchman and was babtized Albert Chinualumogu Achebe. He later changed his name to Chinua Achebe to reflect his Igbo heritage.

  13. Bisi says:

    please what are the languages Things Fall Apart have been translated into?

    jb says: I don’t know which, Bisi. But they say it’s been translated into at least 50 languages.

  14. AFAYEDOR ENYONAM says:

    THIS BOOK IS THE BEST WE COULD EVER GET IN AFRICA.IT GIVES YOU AN INSIGHT INTO THE AFRICAN CULTURE AND CLEARS YOUR MIND FROM EVERY DOUBT.

  15. baldeh says:

    i love things fall apart i love the african culture cus many african writers like to westernize there book but dis one is typical african.n is so amazing dat all or most of ous african have the same voules n culture.but i guss i love THE ARROW OF GOD better its about ezulou. i love it.am GAMBIAN LIVING IN DA USA but i still love to read n watch african movies cus da american society does not have morals or values.for dem its all about sex, big cars n money no culture no family .

  16. nazmul says:

    helo John
    From your writing I am interested to read the book Things Fall Apart”. But It is not in my hand. If You have ebook of this book mail me a copy of things fall apart.

    my mail: mail.nazmulbd@yahoo.com

    jb says: It’ll be somewhere on the web, nazmul. Have a look around.

  17. anita tomar says:

    i m doing P.hd on chinua achebe’s things fall apart,whosoever got things fall apart of achebe please e mail me .i am a great fan of achebe your one e-mail regarding chinua achebe can help me to learn a lot about him.my e-mail id is cheeniasha@rediffmail.com.if you have any information about him plz send me on my e-mail id

    Thanks!

  18. Sandra says:

    Hello, what was Chinua Achebe’s purpose of writing the novel Things Fall Apart?

    jb says: You’d have to ask him, Sandra. I would imagine there were lots of reasons, not least that he wrote it because he could. Others might mention that the novel illuminates the clash between European and African cultures.

  19. Leon P says:

    @Sandra

    It’s a novel about Africa written in an extremely cool, ‘European’ style. It’s therefore both revealing about the nature of that culture in a ‘scientific’ way (i.e. as a Westerner, you learn a lot of facts), and it also shows the influence of the settler (i.e. the transition from an oral to an ironic, written culture). The fact that Achebe wrote this book shows that the influence wasn’t a completely bad thing.

    I love this book, and I loved teaching it to UK students. It’s very subtle – although the white man can be monstrous, uncaring, cold etc. Achebe doesn’t portray the Iboans as noble savages. It’s a novel of surprising contrasts. For example, the white man’s beliefs about the holy trinity are portrayed for the mumbo jumbo they are, while the Iboans are quite realistic about the symbolic nature of some of their rituals.

    John – I’m not stalking you, I promise! I design web sites now, but I used to teach English.

    jb says: Hi Leon. Surprised to see you here. Nice surprise, too. The guy who designs websites like no other.

  20. SWei says:

    There are sequels to the story, FOR REAL? Did you manage to get them anyhow? BTW, in response to Susan Abraham’s comments right…. Uhm, TFA is not banned in Malaysia, at least that’s what I think. I’m doing my A Levels in Malaysia and TFA is actually part of the syllabus for English Literature. =) This is how I managed to stumble upon this site whilst doing my research on this African lit.

    jb says: Hi SWei, thanks for calling in. I didn’t get around to the sequels just yet, but one of these days . . .

  21. maymed says:

    Hi,
    I totally agree with ur opinions which may represent mine i will be very happy if i could read what your doing in your disertation . i m fond of Chinua Achebe and especially Things Fall Apart which remains for mi one the greatest classics of universal literature . i love reading everything concerning the writer and his work .
    many thanks in advance .

    may

    jb says: I’m not dissertating, May. I’m just a guy.

  22. Houston says:

    This book should not be banned, to me this book is one of the greatest book ever published! I am also a missionary in my religion and being one is not easy as other think what I am doing is wasting of time but to me I enjoyed it and I feel great about too! So I will keep doing it.

  23. Wilson says:

    hey Ashis! Can i gt to kno u so u can help me out bcos i am doin this bk in skul

  24. Catai Smith says:

    Why would Things Fall Apart be bannned in Malaysia?

    jb says: Why would anything be banned anywhere? Censorship doesn’t work. We know that. Only people who don’t know that (i.e. ignorant and badly informed people) ban things. People who ban books are plain stupid.

  25. Kaylee says:

    Hi Mr. Baker,
    I just finished reading “Things Fall Apart” for my current English class. I found this book to be an incredibly intense look into the Ibo culture.
    Achebe gives the reader a look into the culture and what life was like for the Ibo people. With the vivid descriptions of the rituals and daily life of the Ibo, Achebe gives a basis to compare our current society with their past society. The faults of the Ibo and how they are totally different from our culture, as well as how the people experience some of the same conflicts we are faced with in today’s modern society.
    For example the concept of the ‘Ogbanje’; the evil spirit that torments pregnant mothers by causing them to miscarriage. The Ibo believe in getting rid of the spirit by doing things like mutilating the bodies of the lifeless babies. We know that these are just unfortunate events, and that they are not caused by an evil spirit. When I read this I felt really bad for the poor mothers who had to do this to their poor dead babies! The way Achebe illustrates these occurrences makes our culture look so superior, and more knowledgeable than theirs.
    Sometimes throughout the book I would start to feel sorry for the characters and what they believed. Their uneducated beliefs were sometimes almost too pitiful to read about. One prime example of this is when the clan gives the missionaries land in the evil forest. They think that the once the church is built, if they give the gods some time, that they will destroy it. Of course, nothing happens. The innocence of the clan is so incredibly remarkable to me it is almost upsetting. The village is incredibly smart at things like growing the yams, and survival skills, but when it comes to religious matters, and rituals they start to have issues.
    Another difficult concept when reading this story was the fact that they kill innocent people for ritual reasons. When Nwoye starts to realize the faults in his culture, you can tell he feels trapped inside it; this is why he is so ready to accept Christianity and believe in the missionaries. Christianity to him is an escape from the negative aspects of his culture that haunt him. It is as if when Nwoye finds out about the death of his, in a way adopted brother, and the (supposed) cursed twins are left in the woods to die, a part of him snaps. Nwoye is not the same ever again after these events in the book that lead up to the split between him and Okonkwo. Reading about the pain that Nwoye is suffering is tormenting because (until the missionaries come and build the church) there is nothing he can do and nowhere for him to go.
    These are the main things I thought about when I read this book. I felt this book was ingeniously organized and written. Achebe is a true insightful author and this book just proves that point. This book is an amazing basis to compare how people feel the same things now that they did in the past and how they will feel in the future.

  26. Neil says:

    Haha firstly, I found the last comment pretty amusing, as well as the brilliant english used by supposed about-to-be PhDs.

    But yes, the novel is a great one, although it’s ending was kind of disappointing. But it shows history for what it is, not overly showing African’s as noble, cultured, heroes, but at the same time, making it clear that they weren’t complete savages like Conrad and others portrayed them to be. In fact, even for me, it was quite an eye-opening read, to know that African tribes too had so many customs and value systems. In the past, I had gotten only the euro-centric biased view of Africa, with Russell Peters making fun of !Xobile and mad tribals running around in ‘The Gods Must be Crazy’.

    But John, I would like to know why you chose this particular passage for the excerpt. I mean so many other passages could have shown a glimpse of the crux of the book in a better way, what was your thought process and reasoning behind choosing this one?

    jb says: Oh, Neil, I just loved the passage about the wedding ceremony. Such warmth and community and meaning expressed so beatifully and succinctly.

  27. Brandon says:

    Mr. Baker, I just finished reading the book as an assignment for my English class, and the book was very good. It was one of the first books in my English class that I read and actually enjoyed. As a part of my grade, I am required to do a project on the book, and I chose to post a comment on your blog as my project. That being said thanks for allowing me to post this and helping pass.

    Thanks,
    Brandon

  28. derrick N says:

    Achebe’s book is legendary and by any definition it is a timeless read, that reflects the simple fact that Africa had a culture even before colonisation. I have read this book several times over and it still has the same profound effect it had on me when i read it ten years ago!

    My fascination with this book centers ofcourse around Okoknwo.(arguably my tragic hero). As the novel opens,(Things) he is presented clearly as the heroic symbol of his culture aand time.However as it progresses we see his faults beginning to betray him which eventually leads him to exile and his subsequent suicide. Okonkwo in some way represents a part of the African society,which tried in every way to keep the traditional status-quo and resist change. This sadly failed.(Okoknwo over-did it,his strengths became his ultimate weaknesses and fall).
    He was in a serious regard, a prophet of sorts. In the novel he tells his son Nwoye “a live fire begets cold impotent ash..” how so true it turned out to be! This was not only true of his son but also for the majority of his society who embraced change and colonisation.! The ‘live fire’ soon begot the cold impotent ash…the once lively people and generation soon turned out to be cowards and collaborators.
    There is a lot one could say about this book and Achebe. The truth is, Achebe is one of the world’s finest writer’s. I was having a chat with a bunch of friends and i was just mentioning that Achebe is a prolific, outstanding writer (which i expected to be common sense) and i went on to comment that his Novel Things Fall Apart is actually the first literary novel to come out of Africa by an African. Well, one of my ‘associates’- Obviously uninformed and clearly arrogant eked out something to the effect of ‘well if he has’nt been a New York Time’s best seller then he isnt the best..’ i looked at him sternly and thought to myself….

    jb says: Thanks for that, Derrick. Sometimes our friends seem to be on a different planet.

  29. Alie says:

    Hi, I’m confused. Why was Things Fall Apart banned and what year?

  30. vera says:

    In the past, I had gotten only the euro-centric biased view of Africa, with Russell Peters making fun of !Xobile and mad tribals running around in ‘The Gods Must be Crazy’.

  31. May Jane says:

    Hey, I was wondering, what did this part symbolize in their culture: At first the bride was not among them. But when she finally appeared holding a cock in her right hand, a loud cheer rose from the crowd. All the other dancers made way for her. She presented the cock to the musicians and began to dance. Her brass anklets rattled as she danced and her body gleamed with cam wood in the soft yellow light.

    I found this very interesting.

  32. Fredo Ali Kamara says:

    Poor Achebe (no, I don’t mean his pocket. Trust me, the guy is no begger)! Seriously, what did he do? He just portrayed the reality – a dominant force coming into a fragile soceity and the centre cannot hold. But Malaysia? Oh, I See: Although Malaysia is widely known as a democratic country, it’s still basically an Islamic soceity. So, since Things Fall Apart depicts a drastic (call it tragic) change from traditional values and beliefs to Christianity and a Western way of life, the novel could have been seen as one to generate such sentiments against Islam in Malaysia. But why now, after so many years? That is rather baffling. Alas, colonialism sometimes has a terrible flashback the victims tend to turn on each other. At this time, is Achebe going to be the loser? Not by any spec of anyone’s imagination. In fact, the guy is going to be better read now than ever, and hence richer! By the way! Where has censorship ever worked? The last time I cared to checked, nowhere! And guess what: Chinua Achebe remains a prolific, legendary and highly respected writer the world over, with Things Fall Apart having been translated into more than 50 languages. Good boy! Hey! Don’t ask me if any of Achebe’s novels, including Things Fall Apart, ever made it as a New York Bestseller. Haha, it didn’t! You want to know why? Simple: It’s not about New York, hello!!!

  33. Fredo Ali Kamara says:

    I’ll appreciate if you could send me a link where I can get a copy of the book.