Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe, copyright 1959.
Things Fall Apart tells the story of a rich and powerful man in an Ibo village in Nigera around 1890. This man’s–Okonkwo’s–story is split up into three parts by the author, and two parts by the story. The three parts put by the author are there to separate where Okonkwo is at, in Umifona, his village, or in his motherland. The natural parts the story just creates shows us the rise and subsequent fall of Okonkwo’s life.
The first part shows us who Okonkwo is, who his friends are and the culture he’s grown up in. Achebe shows us all of this in such a compelling and interesting way that we not only understand the characters and the culture, but we value them. We almost see the book through their eyes. We know and appreciate so well that when the book continues on, we see why the characters react the way they do to the events around them.
Achebe was raised as a missionary teacher’s son and with a very deep respect for both the Christian faith and culture as well as the pre-colonization culture. His style strongly reflects this upbringing and the potential conflict within himself. He shows us the culture and the holes in the rules of this culture. We become involved with the culture’s path but not committed to it’s rightness. I think that is one of the major benefits of the slightly detached writing style that he used.
The ending, which was neither surprising nor predictable, is told with a startling apathy that leaves the readers slightly indignant. It shows the ultimate contrast between the main character Okonkwo and his closest friend Obierika, this contrast shows directly to their characters, Okonkwo who cannot stand to see these things fall apart. In W.B. Yeat’s Poem “The Second Coming” which Achebe used to title his novel says “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity”. I think Achebe chose this poem in part because of this phrase, because in the end you see the differences between Okonkwo and Obierika that give the theme that everyone–even people who can’t fully understand and appreciate the culture and it’s value, which is unfortunate–is that literally from the title, things fall apart and things change.
Really though, I don’t think it’s that simple. I’m a person who gets really into books, it’s really not uncommon for me to cry a lot when I read a good book. But when I read this book, as heartbreaking as it was, I didn’t cry. I just felt, unsettled, and angry at the story for going the way that it did. I feel like this was part of Achebe’s intent, to get us as readers to feel the conflict, the change and the indifference that the new brings to the old. To get us to feel the conflict he might have felt himself at this stage in his life. But that’s an assumption, when I read further, I’m hoping to understand it further.
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”
-William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”