Chinua Achebe was brought up in the village of Ogidi, Nigeria. His interest in studying the Nigerian local cultures grew while he was attending a college. His father was a missionary school teacher. While growing up, Achebe personally experienced the advantages and disadvantages that Christianity handed the people of Igbo. During the 1950s, a new literary lobby group emerged which sought to blend the Nigerian native oral traditions with European literature to produce a new form of African literature. ‘Things Fall Apart,’ released for the first time in 1958, was authored against this background. The setting of the book is in the 1890s, the period when the white men started to occupy Nigeria. To some extent, the book sought to counter the perception perpetuated by European literature that the Africans are uncivilized and savage (Moore, 1970).
In the novel, the author portrays the Igbo community which has firm social establishments. The community has a developed culture and is strikingly civilized. It has certain laws which aim to secure justice and fairness among all its members. It is worth mentioning that this community is governed through a simple form of democracy. This form of democracy implies that all decisions are made through a consensus among the male members. So, the author shows the Igbo as a patriarchal society. Ironically, it was the Europeans who claim that they are introducing democracy to the other parts of the world and attempt to repress the clan assemblies in Umuofia. Social mobility is allowed and possible in the Igbo community. In the community, a person’s status is not based on the wealth of his/her father. Instead, any person in the community could attain a high status by working hard and amassing a lot of wealth by his/her own right.
Achebe does not shrink from exposing the inequity in the Igbo community. For instance, twins are considered to be a bad omen in the community and are left to die immediately following the birth. Although, the Igbo community is not used to sophisticated warfare, violence is still a common phenomenon in this community.
The direct theme of this novel is the devastating effect of the Europeans meeting with the African civilization. The book describes the societal and psychological clashes caused by the incursion of the white men and European culture on the so far autonomous African culture, and the confusion that this invasion has brought to the minds of Africans. Therefore, the central theme of the novel is the Africans colonization by the Europeans and the adverse effects that this experience causes to African indigenous cultures. Besides the colonization, there is the arrival of missionaries whose primary agenda is to propagate Christianity among Africans and help them join this new religion. The missionaries put up formal governance and judicial institutions as some of the strategies for indoctrinating Africans with the western culture. Achebe delves deeply into the tribe’s superstition and barbarism and even links the two elements with the community’s eventual collapse or what he terms as ’falling apart’. The onset of the missionaries plays a very big role in causing this disintegration.
One of the aims of this novel is to amend some of the earlier injury done to the image of Africans by European literature. However, it is not easy to secure this amendment since by the time Chinua Achebe came into existence; a lot of damage had already been done to the native African cultures by the western culture. In the major part of the novel, Achebe tries to depict the sophisticated way of life of the Igbo tribe, showing it as an unadulterated, prosperous, rich and self-reliant culture. This community has a wonderful collection of songs, dances, and other artifacts (Iyasere, 1969).
The novel also details the Igbo’s agricultural cycle. The first season is known as the Week of Peace. This is followed by Yams’ Planting, Yam Festival, and then the drier Harmattan. This tribe also has medical practitioners who offer both psychological and herbal therapy. The medicine men are said to be very effective and master in their trade (Achebe, 1962).
One of the stylistic devices employed in the novel is the use of digression. Though the main topic of the book is Okwonkwo’s calamitous life, the author takes a detour from this topic to discuss other stories and events that are not related to Okwonkwo. Although the novel is a documentary to some extent, Achebe has avoided representing it to look this way. Through his perspective, we are able to develop insights into the Igbo society and its rich and sophisticated way of life.
There are also very many folk-tales narrated in the novel. For instance, there is the tale of the cat and the tortoise depicting the unique distinctions between western and African cultures as well as the significance of folk-tales in pedagogy. In addition, the author has used stories to bring out the society’s values and morals. Societal traditions such as marriage, funeral, and ascension among social classes are described rather vividly in the book to create an impression of the lifestyle in the Igbo community.
‘Things Fall Apart’ is a literary work about post-colonialism. It covers a wide range of notions which focus on understanding, assessing, criticizing, and documenting people’s experience during the colonial era. A post-colonial theory by Edward Said was of great significance in uncovering the European’s project for justifying colonization of the East.
The novel is a typical example of the cross-cultural conflict and how a war-like culture or society, as a result of complete haughtiness and ethnocentricity, may make an incursion into another society or civilization. Although the Igbo community does not have kings or chiefs, it has established an effective and democratic system of governance. The European civilization seems to be oblivious to this fact when they take it upon themselves to invade the African societies. According to the western philosophy, a country needs one leader to be in power in order to prevent anarchy. Therefore, they do not recognize the African system of governance; though most of these systems are as effective as the formal institutions of governance. The main cause of the clash between the Western and African cultures is as a result of the two cultures not taking time to understand each other as well as the lack of social relations between the two.
The primary goal of the author is to disclose the colonial era to Africans who have not undergone it. This depiction of the colonial period from the perspective of the Africans is free from the misrepresentations of the Europeans.
When the missionaries start their work in Umuofia, the unity of this community becomes endangered. In a tribe-based community, the unity is a very important element as it implies the submission of the members to the council of the elders and the gods of the tribe. When some members of the Umuofia society accept western values and Christianity, the tribe’s unity begins to weaken. Due to the missionaries’ influence, western mentality, religion, and beliefs begin to dominate in this society making it vulnerable to exploitation by the Europeans. The main character in the novel, Okwonkwo, is a part of the few people who oppose the western culture assimilation of Umuofia people. However, his resistance earns him a death punishment as narrated near the end of the novel. Okwonkwo resents his community members for not being courageous enough to oppose the western invasion. In his book known as ‘Seven African Writers’, Gerald Moore claims that Achebe’s key objective in authoring the novel was to depict the indigenous life of the Igbo community before the arrival of the western civilization. This concept is basic in order for the reader to comprehend the novel. Throughout the book, the author tries to show how the Igbo society has changed as a result of its encounter with the white men.
The arrival of missionaries is, therefore, the cause of the disintegration in the Igbo society. After staying for so many years being pristine and unadulterated, Okwonkwo goes back home from expulsion only to find that his community is nearly unidentifiable. Upon his return, he is also rejected by his clan members who have now been assimilated into the western ways of life.
Although Achebe seems to oppose the European invasion into the African societies, he is open-minded and not as acrimonious as he appears (Kabbani, 1969). What the author is advocating for is for both the Africans and the Europeans to take mutual interest in each other’s culture so as to avert conflict. Also, it is not the author’s intention to depict the indigenous African cultures as superior to the western cultures introduced by colonialists. Rather, the author’s real intention is to portray the true nature of the Africans native cultures prior to the western invasion. This depiction is free from distortions and stereotypes as it is typical in the accounts of the Africans cultures offered by European literature.