Deborah's Reviews > Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
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Jan 27, 2008

it was amazing

Achebe's acclaimed novel explores what happens when two cultures collide. In this case, western colonialism under the veil of Christianity confronting an animistic tribal system in a rural village in Nigeria. The result is a fascinating exploration of how one man, Okonkwo, who has invested his whole life into attaining a position of authority within the tribe, finds his whole world forever altered and his quest for achievement meaningless in this new Africa.

Okonkwo is not a man who embraces change. His whole life he has struggled against a legacy of failure and shame left to him by his father. Unoka, his father, was a lazy man known for the "weakness of his machete" throughout the tribe. Okonkwo in contrast, clings to hard work and almost an obsessive drive to achieve success that is fueled by his hatred for his father. As a result, he lacks compassion and shows little joy or pleasure revealed in the "manly" expectations he forces on his sensitive son, Nwoye and the beatings he inflicts on his three dutiful wives. There is nothing worse in Okonkwo's world than being called a "woman".

Achebe's talent reveals itself in his ability to create complex, multi-dimensional characters. Okonkwo is hard and brutal. He even participates in the murder of a young boy, Ikemefuna, in spite of the fact that he has grown fond of the boy. But Okonkwo must be admired for rising from nothing and the wisdom he shows in his farming of his yams. In spite of his gruff appearance he waits all night by the cave, waiting for Chielo to return his daughter, whom he loves.

Achebe's treatment of the church and of the the animistic religion practiced by the tribe also shows a complexity that forces the reader to acknowledge good qualities in both cultures, while also seeing the atrocities and injustices that both systems seem to promote. The tribe is more than willing to mutilate the bodies of infants and leave healthy twins in the Evil Forest to die. Those who are sick are often seen as having offended the earth goddess and are therefore tied to trees and left to slowly die, painful miserable deaths. Yet the tribe also strives to avoid bloodshed with other tribes. Ikemefuna is sacrificed only to reduce the likelihood of a more violent war with Mbaino where many other lives might be lost.

Christianity under the first missionary is compassionate. It seeks to destroy the superstitious beliefs that led to the needless deaths of infants, the cruel treatment toward outcasts, and the embracing of women. But under Christianity, we also see the arrival of a brutal colonialism that puts one tribe member against the other, fuels the injust enslavement and humiliation of tribal leaders and the corruption of government officials.

Okonkwo struggles with the adjustment to this new world. His struggle represents the struggle of Africa under colonialism and the inability of the tribal system to survive in the "New Africa".
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03/08 marked as: read

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