Umoufia is a small hamlet on the lower Niger in Africa, and Okonkwo is its hero. Okonkwo is a self-made man, strong, willful and proud. With three wives, and a barn full of yams, he has reason to believe that he will soon be the lord of the clan. In an unfortunate incident, Okonkwo kills a little boy accidentally, and he is sent to exile to his mother’s homeland for seven years to atone for his sin. During his exile, Christian missionaries come to Umoufia with their bible, and convert the local people into Christians by making them lose faith in their ancestors and ancestral gods and the laws of their forefathers. In the words of Okwonko’s friend, Obierika, “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.” Okwonko is outraged and wants to wage a war against the white men, but his clansmen, out of fear, refuse to take up arms. In the end, unable and unwilling to adapt, Okwonko commits suicide. To quote Obierika’s sorrowful words, “That man was one of the greatest men of Umuofia. You drove him to kill himself; and now he will be buried like a dog…”summ
Before ‘Things Fall Apart’ was published in 1958, Africans were thought of as an ignorant and superstitious clan. But Chinua Achebe showed the world that these were people with strong cultural values— wise, honest, proud and noble— and what the Christian missionaries did in the name of progress was only to destroy their culture. In an interview, Achebe says, “… You had a situation in which people come from somewhere else and say to the people they encounter: Everything you do is wrong. Your religion is wrong. You have no education. You have no culture. So it was that kind of situation...” ‘Things Fall Apart’ shifted public opinion about the Africans, and sowed the first seeds of respect for them.
‘Things Fall Apart’ is written in third person perspective in a simple, matter-of-fact tone. Achebe weaves in a good number of anecdotes about the customs and laws of the Igbo clan, and thus gives us insight into their culture and tradition. His characters are well-developed, and thoroughly believable.
I shed some tears after closing the book, and I was left with a bitter taste in the end. Yet, I’ll recommend it; I think it is a spectacular read. Although it is a tragic tale, it is told with warmth and honesty. Short and riveting, its ending is a most powerful one. Pick it up. You will not regret it.
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