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Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe As a college student, Chinua Achebe developed an interest in indigenous Nigeriantraditions. Ogidi, a large village in Nigeria, was where he grew up. Father taughtAchebe at the missionary school, and Achebe witnessed firsthand how Christianitybrought both benefit and harm to the Igbo community. There was a vibrant newliterary movement in the 1950s. Nigerian oral traditions were used as inspiration forthis movement, which enriched European literary forms to create a new Africanliterature that was both in English and distinct from European literature. Things FallApart, a masterpiece of twentieth-century African fiction, was published in 1958.
It is set in the 1890s, when the white man first arrived in Nigeria. Many Europeanwriters have stereotyped Africans as brutish and unintelligent, and this novel aims tocorrect that stereotype. The District Commissioner, who appears at the end of thenovel, strikes a familiar chord with most readers because of colonial literature'sattitudes toward Africa. Igbo life is complex and rich, but he is arrogant anddismissive of African "savages." Even though he shares many of the attitudes depictedin Achebe's portrayal of the Igbo, this attitude seems hollow and savage.
Achebe makes extensive use of digression in his writing. Anecdotes and tertiaryincidents abound in Achebe's novel about Okonkwo, despite the novel's central focuson the tragedy. Achebe's narrative style prevents the book from reading like ananthropology text, despite the fact that the novel is based in fact. Igbo rituals andholidays are celebrated in their own way, and we get a chance to see them through theeyes of those who practise them.
The Igbo are depicted by Achebe as a society with strong social structures. Theirtraditions and laws emphasise justice and fairness, and their culture is rich andimpressively civilised. They don't have a monarch, but they do have a simpledemocracy, in which all the men gather and make decisions together. These clanmeetings in Umuofia are being suppressed by Europeans, who frequently boast aboutbringing democracy around the world. Additionally, the Igbo are known for theirsocial mobility. Achebe emphasises that high rank is attainable by all freeborn Igbo,regardless of their parents' wealth.
He's not afraid to show the inequities in Igbo society that exist. The Igbo are deeplypatriarchal, no different than the English of the same era in this respect. When itcomes to twins, they have a deep-seated fear of them. They are not unfamiliar withviolence, but European-scale warfare is beyond their comprehension.
The novel tries to undo some of the damage done by European depictions of Africansin the past. " However, this recuperation must come in the form of memory; by thetime Achebe was born, many aspects of indigenous culture had already beendestroyed by the arrival of the white man.
SummaryOn the lower Niger River, there is a cluster of nine villages known as Umuofia.Umuofia is a formidable clan, renowned for its military prowess and large population,as well as for its advanced social institutions and proud traditions.
From nothing, Okonkwo has risen to greatness. He has earned the respect of his peersand family by putting in long hours of effort. Three wives and yams, the staple crop,fill his barn. Iron-fisted rule is the norm in his household.
Umuofia is attacked by a neighbouring clan one day. One virgin and one young boyare given as gifts by the offending clan in order to avoid war. The offended party'snew wife will be the girl. However, the boy's name is Ikemefuna, and he is to besacrificed at some point in the future. He spends three years in Umuofia underOkonkwo's roof, where he is cared for. Okonkwo's family accepts him as a member.Ikemefuna is loved by Nwoye, Okonkwo's eldest son, as if he were a brother.Ikemefuna's death is eventually ordered by the Oracle, and a group of men kidnap andmurder the boy in the forest. Okonkwo takes part in the death of the boy out ofcowardice and a desire to avoid being perceived as weak and sentimental. Despite theadvice of the elders of the clan, he goes ahead and does so. Nwoye's soul has beenshattered by the experience.
Okonkwo is shaken, but he continues to pursue his goal of becoming a lord of his clandespite the trauma he has suffered. In spite of his disappointment with Nwoye, hisdaughter Ezinma, by his second wife Ekwefi, he has great affection for her. Tenchildren have been born to Ekwefi, but only one, Ezinma, has survived. She isinfatuated with the little girl. There are times when Ekwefi is afraid that Ezinma willdie as well. One night, Ezinma is taken to the earth goddess by the powerful Oracle ofthe Umuofia. Ekwefi is frightened and follows the Oracle from a distance, afraid thather child will be harmed. Okonkwo is right behind them.
Okonkwo's gun explodes during a funeral for one of the clan's great men, killing ayoung boy. Okonkwo and his family must be exiled for seven years in accordancewith Umuofia's law.
Bitterly, Okonkwo bears his exile. His core belief is that a man is in control of hisown destiny. Because of his exile, Okonkwo is forced to start all over again withoutthe strength and energy of his youth, which proves that at times man cannot controlhis own fate. He and his family flee to his mother's hometown of Mbanto. They aregreeted by his mother's family, who show them kindness and generosity upon theirarrival. Uchendu, Okonkwo's uncle, is a generous and wise old man in charge of hismother's family.
The white man visits both Umuofia and Mbanto during Okonkwo's exile. The Igbopeople are shocked when the missionaries arrive, preaching a religion that theyconsider insane. However, most of their converts are low-ranking men or outcasts.The new religion, on the other hand, begins to gain traction with the passage of time.Nwoye becomes a follower of Jesus Christ. Okonkwo beats Nwoye when he learns ofhis conversion. Nwoye heads out of the house on his own accord.
Returning to Umuofia, Okonkwo is met by a saddened family. Some of the church'sadherents are fanatical and defy clan tradition. The white man's government hasarrived in Umuofia, which is even worse. To be fair, the District Commissioner doesnot know the details of each case. Armed force is behind him.
One of the clan spirits is revealed during a religious gathering. Because of this, theclan has decided to ban the church from entering Umuofia for good. The building isdemolished. Okonkwo is one of the leaders of the clan who is summoned by theDistrict Commissioner for a peaceful meeting soon afterward. As soon as the leadersarrive, they're seized. They are held in prison until the clan pays a large fine,humiliated and beaten.
Clan members convene for a meeting following the release of the men and thedecision on whether to fight or live peacefully with non-indigenous peoples.Okonkwo wants to start a war. When court messengers arrive to break up the men'smeeting, they are ordered to do so by the men themselves. To disrupt Umuofia's clanmeetings would be akin to overthrowing the last vestiges of the country's sovereignty.Okonkwo kills the court messenger in a fit of rage. Okonkwo knows that his peoplewill not go to war because the other clan members did not capture the other courtmessengers. Others will not follow his lead in showing their disapproval of the statusquo. As a result of his grief over the loss of his people's independence, Okonkworeturns to his home where he hangs himself.
ThemesMemory/DocumentaryMemory/Documentary While the novel tells the tragic tale of Okonkwo, it alsochronicles Igbo culture prior to the arrival of the white man. The white man'sdestruction is depicted in the novel. The novel's depiction of Igbo customs andtraditions is an important part of its narrative.
Disintegration of societyAt the end of the novel, we see how Igbo society begins to disintegrate. Religion,Umuofia's self-determination, and the very centres of tribal life are all under threat.Igbo life has been depicted in such detail that these events are even more difficult forthe reader to comprehend because the reader has learned about a way of life that isnow extinct.
Ambition and greatnessOkonkwo is adamant that he is the rightful ruler of his clan. He rises from humblebeginnings to a position of power, and he is a well-off individual. He is a driven anddetermined person, but the same traits that make him great also make him prone tofailure. He is haunted by a fear of failure, and he is often too harsh with his family.
Free will and destinyWhen a man says yes, his chi, or spirit, also says yes, according to an Igbo proverb.Okonkwo places a high value on the belief that he is in control of his own destiny.Okonkwo's faith in this belief is shattered by a series of events, and he becomes bitteras a result. As in most tragedies, the character's choices and external forces combineto bring about the end.
MasculinityOkonkwo is obsessed with masculinity, and he defines it very narrowly. He seestenderness as a sign of weakness and effeminacy, and he doesn't like it. He whowields brute force is a man. However, throughout the novel, we see men with a moreadvanced understanding of masculinity. Nwoye is driven away from the family byOkonkwo's harshness and into the arms of the new faith.
FearOkonkwo, despite his desire to be strong, is haunted by a deep sense of fear. He isterrified of failure and of being perceived as a coward. In the end, it is this fear thatcauses him to be rash, and ultimately leads to his death.
Tribal beliefAs the new religion threatens the Igbo culture, tribal belief is a major topic fordiscussion. As a result of their religious beliefs, the Igbo people are able to understandand comprehend the world around them. Igbo religious leaders such as the Oracle areshown to have uncanny insights by Achebe. With awe, he approaches the subject ofIgbo religious practises.
JusticeOne of the novel's major themes revolves around justice. The Igbo place a high valueon justice and fairness. Complex social structures ensure that justice is administeredfairly and rationally. It was until the British arrived that the balance was shattered. Inspite of the claims of the British that the local laws are barbaric, we soon come torealise that British law is both hypocritical and inhumane. The events leading up toOkonkwo's death revolve around the British District Commissioner's miscarriage ofjustice.
Things fall apart in the language department.
IntroductionWhen it comes to writing in their native language rather than the language of theirformer coloniser, writers in Third World countries that were once colonised by Europedebate among themselves. As a result, these writers argue that writing in their nativelanguage is essential because cultural subtleties and meanings are lost whentranslated. Using a "foreign" language to describe one's culture is not enough for theseauthors.
Language SelectionAccording to Achebe, this isn't so. According to an essay from 1966 published in hisbook Morning Yet on Creation Day, he presents "a new voice coming out of Africa"by using English. "African experience in a world-wide language." That the Africanauthor should write in English is his recommendation "without distorting the languagetoo much that it loses its value as a medium of international communication. It isimportant for a writer to craft an English that is both universal and able to convey hisown unique perspective." Using Igbo language, proverbs, metaphors, speech rhythms,and ideas in a novel written in English, Achebe accomplishes this goal successfully.
The African writer must write for a social purpose, according to Achebe and many ofhis fellow African writers. While many Western artists and writers create art simplyfor the sake of it, many African writers create works with the goal of re-establishingtheir own national culture in the post-colonial period. It was also in Morning Yet onCreation Day of 1964 that Achebe made the following comment:
It wasn't until Europeans arrived in Africa that people learned about culture for thefirst time.... their societies were not mindless, but often had a philosophy of greatdepth and value and beauty, and they had poetry, and above all, they had dignity. Inthe colonial period, Africans lost their sense of self-worth, and they must now reclaimit.
Achebe became the first editor of the African Writers Series, a series published by thepublishing house Heinemann with the goal of bringing African literature to a wideraudience outside of Africa.
English UsageAn African culture is presented to readers from other cultures as well as those fromthe author's own culture. Because he is fluent in English, he is able to reach a muchlarger audience and make a far more significant literary impact than if he wrote in hisnative Igbo language. Writing in a language other than one's own is a necessity forthose who want their work to be read by people who aren't native speakers.
But Achebe has a problem because he uses English. It's impossible for him to conveythe richness of African culture and heritage in a language that can never do it justice.This lack of understanding between Igbo culture and colonial culture is one of theprimary tasks of Things Fall Apart. Throughout the novel, the Igbo question how thewhite man can criticise Igbo customs when he doesn't even speak the language. Anoutsider's understanding of Igbo culture can only be achieved if he or she cancommunicate in Igbo.
Achebe solves this problem by using Igbo language elements in his novel. Achebe'suse of Igbo words, rhythms, language, and concepts in an English text about hisculture helps to bridge a gap between the two countries.
As a result of the seamless integration of Igbo vocabulary into the text, the reader isable to deduce the meaning of the majority of Igbo terms simply from their context.Any attentive reader of Things Fall Apart can't possibly be unfamiliar with the wordsand concepts depicted in the novel's title characters. Chi and ogbanje, two of the mostdifficult Igbo terms to translate, are used in Achebe's story to help the non-Igbo readerunderstand and connect with the Igbo culture.
There are numerous instances in which Achebe refers to and illustrates a complexIgbo concept known as Chi, for example. For the first time, Achebe refers to chi as a"personal god" when speaking of Unoka's misfortune. As the story progresses, newdetails emerge. The concept of chi is more complicated than the idea of a personaldeity or even fate, which is another commonly used synonym. Karma, the concept ofindividuality in some mystical philosophies, and the concept of karma in Hinduism all
come to mind when one thinks of chi. The significance of chi in Igbo culture becomesclearer as the book progresses.
His frequent use of traditional Igbo proverbs and stories is another example ofAchebe's Igbo incorporation. Things Fall Apart has a distinct African flavour thanksto these elements. This means that "among the Igbo, the art of conversation isregarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten" inthe Igbo culture (Chapter1). Without allowing the proverbs to play a significant role inthe novel, it would be impossible to get a sense of Igbo culture. Despite the fact thatthese tales and proverbs come from a foreign country, the Western reader can easilyidentify with many of them. There is little need for explanation or elaboration becausethey are seamlessly integrated into the context of the piece. These tales and proverbs,in fact, have a lot in common with Western idioms.
Modern-day readers of this novel can identify with Okonkwo, Nwoye, and othercharacters' hardships, as well as with traditional proverbs and tales. They are universaland timeless, so even though they live in a different time and place, Achebe'scharacters are easy to relate to because they have been skillfully developed.
The use of speech patterns and rhythms to convey high levels of emotion and tensionis occasionally employed. Observe the droning sound of the drums at night in Chapter13; the call repeated several times to unite a gathering, first described in Chapter 2(Umuofia kwenu...Yaa!); the agonising call of the priestess seeking Ezinma inChapter 11 (Agbala do-o-o-o!); the repetitive pattern of questions and answers in theIsa-ifi marriage ritual in Chapter 14; the long narrated tale of Tortoise; and theexcerpts from so many other books
Achebe uses Pidgin English as an example of his creative use of language in thisnovel. In order to communicate with people who speak different languages, Pidgin isused as a simplified form of language. While Achebe employs only a handful ofPidgin words or phrases—tie, kotma, and sah, to name a few—they are enough tosuggest that Achebe was using a form of Pidgin English. The British were adept atintroducing Pidgin English into their new colonies as colonialists. When it comes tocommunication, Pidgin has the unfortunate tendency to sound both patronising andsubservient at the same time. A simplified language can be an easy way to avoidlearning the standard languages it substitutes.
As a result, Achebe has created an authentic African story that effectively bridges thereader's cultural and historical distance from the Igbo people. Among the manyreasons why Things Fall Apart is groundbreaking is because Achebe's controlled useof the Igbo language in an English novel extends the boundaries of what is consideredEnglish fiction. It was Achebe's use of new forms and language in a traditional(Western) narrative structure that forever altered the definition of world literature.
Igbo Names and Words PronunciationThere are many subtle differences in the pitch and rise and fall of a word or phrase inIgbo, just like there are in Chinese. Even though he was an Igbo-speaking translator,Achebe describes the missionary's translator as saying "my buttocks" instead of"myself" in Chapter 16. K means strength, while k refers to buttocks in the form k.)
Names in the Igbo language often have a deeper meaning than just a word or phrase.Ikemefuna, for example, translates to "my power should not be dispersed," which iswhat a parent hopes to instil in their child. Okoye, for example, refers to a man bornon Oye Day, the second day of the Igbo week; he is thus referred to as an Okoye.Also, in the Igbo culture, parents give their children names that honour someone orsomething else, such as Nneka, which means mother is supreme.
The spelling of Igbo words was not standardised prior to Nigeria's independence in1960. As a result, in Things Fall Apart, the word "Igbo" is spelled "Ibo," as it wasspelled before 1960. The revised spellings reflect a better grasp of Igbo wordmeanings and pronunciation. Most of the main characters' names are pronouncedusing English syllables in the List of Characters.