I re-read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and jotted down a few thoughts regarding this amazing novel, which is set in a village called Umofia in pre-independence, south eastern Nigeria and is considered to be a milestone in African literature.
Okonkwo, the novel’s protagonist, is Umuofia’s wrestling champion, a man who had defeated "Amalinze The Cat" when he was just eighteen. Okonkwo is tough on himself and tough on those around him, stamping out all weaknesses, beating his wives and children often. Okonkwo’s father Unoka had been a man with a weakness for song and wine and had left behind many debts. Okonkwo is determined to be the exact opposite of his father and works hard to build his wealth entirely on his own. Okonkwo is very successful, until things fall apart for him.
Things Fall Apart is set in the set 19th century and Nigeria still has witch doctors, black magic and tribes. The beauty of Achebe’s writing is that he does not make any apologies for the customs of his Igbo people. The various sub-tribes of Igbo are what they are and the reader has no option but to accept them without any changes to suit modern day values and form his/her own private judgement. Halfway through the tale, Okonkwo is selected by the elders of Umofia to take care of Ikemefuna, a boy offered to the clan as an offering, along with a virgin, for the murder of an Umuofian woman by Ikemefuna's father. Ikemefuna lives in Okonkwo's household and Okonkwo grows fond of him, although Okonkwo hides his feelings for the boy. Ikemefuna looks up to Okonkwo as a second father. Three years after Ikemefuna joined Okonkwo’s household, the Oracle of Umuofia decides that Ikemefuna must be killed as a punishment for his father’s actions. Though resisting the Oracle is never on the table, Okonkwo could have refused to play an active role in Ikemefuna’s killing, but Okonkwo voluntarily strikes the killing blow. Afterwards he is sick for a couple of days, but recovers quickly.
Fate deals Okonkwo a blow below the belt when his gun explodes accidentally at a funeral and kills the son of the man being buried. Okonkwo and his family are exiled from Umofia for seven years.
When Christian missionaries infiltrate the villages and overturn the ways of the Clan, Okonkwo wants to resist. However, the rest of the village doesn’t stand with him the way he wants and when a few join forces, it is too little and too late. The ways of the Christians, when seen in the cold light of the day, are more rational and logical than that of those who respect the spirits of the forests and the Oracle, but Achebe’s narration is such that one has nothing but respect for the old ways, though he does not embellish them. Towards the end, there is acceleration as things fall apart even faster and Okankwo commits suicide rather than be punished further by white men.
A classic, this definitely one of the best novels I have read it my entire life. To top it all, the opening paragraph of this celebrated novel is supposed to be the one of best opening paragraphs for a novel.