Set in the village Umuofia in Nigeria, Things Fall Apart is a tale of the life of the Umuofia Clan told through Okonkwo a respected man in the tribe. It also chronicles the colonization of the village by the European missionaries and how the Igbo people were affected. The book provides an insight into the tradition and culture of Umuofia, Chinua shows that despite its struggles the village was functional. She aimed at criticizing the imperialism and painting a picture of how much colonization changed the lives of most African countries.
Okonkwo the main character of the book is battling against becoming like his father- known for being lazy and a coward. Okonkwo, therefore, resolves to live his life avoiding becoming his father. He builds his reputation as a hardworking farmer and a wrestler, he becomes wealthy and even marries three wives. After the murder of a woman in Okonkwo’s village, Okonkwo adopts Ikemefuna, the woman’s son and loves him more than his own son Nwoye.
However, things take a twist and the village decides that the boy must be killed. Okonkwo, fearing to be seen as a coward, although he loved the boy kills him with a machete. After the boy’s death, Okonkwo kills another boy Ezeudu’s son and violating the sacred Week of peace by beaten his wife during a time of peace, Okonkwo is exiled from his home for seven years.
Chinua strives to bring out the traditional beliefs of the Igbo people before the invasion of white people. They had strong beliefs in evil spirits and gods who led them to do things how they did. When Okonkwo is banished, we are told of a jury of nine members of the tribe each representing a village. This is to show that the people of Umuofia believed in fair representation. It is also a significant incidence that shows how things to fall apart for Okonkwo. His dreams and hopes of becoming richer are paused and his faith with most of his friends is also lost.
We can see Chinua’s effort to show the gender roles in the society, she shows this through painting Okonkwo’s anger when his wife, Ojiugo does not fix him dinner that he even violates the week of peace. While he introduced his son to wrestling and told him stories of war among others that he considered manly, he treated his daughter Ekwema less harshly because he did not want her to grow like a man.
On his return, he finds that the missionaries have invaded his village and to add insult to the injury, the people of his village do not seem to have a problem with this. Churches and other buildings have been built and the town has really changed. When he tries to initiate the chasing of the missionaries, he is even more disappointed that his people do not join his initiative. He is hit even harder when his eldest son Nwoye, whom he had great expectations of converted to the White man’s religion.
Embittered by the destruction of his peoples independence, enraged by the treatment that the white people are giving to those opposed to their ideas and seeing that his people had chosen to live in peace with the white people, Okonkwo still wanting to show off his manliness goes home and hangs himself in fear of the humiliation that he would feel if he died under the white man’s law.
Things fall apart is a perfect title especially following the life of Okonkwo. Achebe’s motive to show how the African community, in general, was affected by colonization has been well achieved as every aspect of the influence has been explained. Chinua’s view is that the white people and Christianity destroyed beliefs and disturbed traditional rituals that had been in place for the longest time. In addition to this, the justice system is also seen to be taken over hence the death of traditional justice structures.
The book is a great read especially in understanding the African culture and tradition. Chinua’s use of language, symbolism and the representation of the characters makes it easy to relate with the author and to make clear the intention behind writing this book.
For Chinua, Africa prone to conflict and violence as any other continent, the book counters this by also showing the successes that had been achieved by the same people who were struggling.