Things Fall Apart (The African Trilogy, #1) Things Fall Apart discussion


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African Alienation & Wester Literary Theory

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message 1: by Jake (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:16AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jake Russo I've been reading through some of the reviews that people have written about this book. And a lot of people are expressing a disconnected perspective in relation to this book.

I was curious if maybe we could discuss the possibility of an alienation towards african culture in conjunction with our expected content from western-formed literature.

Maybe I am making some absurd claims, but I've got a feeling that this book's style and content tends to alienate western readers. Does anyone think that this could be the case?

If so maybe we could roll in another topic discussing the actual literary techniques that allowed this african novel to rise to western "stardom"

or, like some have heralded, it is just fashion and almost a western apologetic reaction to colonialism (often a heady topic in modern literature)


message 2: by Skylar (last edited Jan 03, 2008 04:53PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Skylar Burris Well, I'm a western reader, and neither the style nor content alienated me. The style is really quite sparse (though beautiful), and in terms of plot it is straightforward. I'm not sure what you think Westerners would find alienating about the style. As for the content, it is a nuanced treatment of the colonial issue, arousing sympathy for all parties--those wounded by imperialism and those liberated by it.

I think people who don't like it just don't like it for reason of mere personal preference, for lack of understanding perhaps—but not for anything having to do with Western alienation.

I wouldn't call it an apologetic reaction to colonialism. It's not as openly negative as is the fashion, but it's certainly nuanced. Maybe it's just not one-sidedly, blatantly anti-colonial enough to be embraced by some modern self-hating Westerners?

I agree that what allowed the African novel to rise to Western "stardom" is that Westerners read. Second to that--the stereotype of Western provincialism notwithstanding--they read diversely. Then, for a time, I would say the African novel was simply fashionable because often Westerners are looking to "prove" their openness to the literature of other cultures. And, on top of that, it's just a damn fine novel



message 3: by Deborah (last edited Jan 27, 2008 01:57PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Deborah I gave Things Fall Apart a 5 star rating. I was really impressed with Achebe's ability to create complex characters. I especially appreciated that he could be critical of both the tribal animistic system in Nigeria and western colonialism through the conduit of Christianity while also showing the benefits of both systems.

Achebe shows that although Christianity became an instrument of abuse and dominance, it also paradoxically helped to liberate outcasts and stop the needless death of infants practiced by the tribal animists. On the other hand, despite the superstitions and violence committed by the tribal elders, we also see them striving to make peace between tribes and demonstrating a love for peace and also trying to create harmony between the people. His treatment on culture and religion seemed true and less judgmental and laden with agenda. I believe it his in depth study of culture that has helped it attain its position as a literary classic. Often great novels are not popular with modern audiences, because we tend to enjoy a clear cut message or moral and Achebe's message seems more true to life, showing life's messy side. I teach this book to my AP English class and I think it has given my students a valuable window into a different culture and has helped them to see the world a little less black and white.


Jason There is an alienation towards African culture only if you let it. The thing you have to do is though the tribal customs may be strange to us you must accept as the reader that they are very normal to the people's lives you're reading about instead of scrutinizing them with harsh Western eyes.


Alyssa I agree with Jason, even though I see this post was made quite a while ago. Some readers probably do find it difficult to put aside their own beliefs and value systems when reading books set in a different culture. To me that is all the more reason to read them. Exposure to the world around us= education. You don't have to agree with a perspective to listen to it.


Richard western reader and no i wasn't alienated - obviously my life experience is not comparable to this but it didn't stop me admiring a very impressive book and recommending it to folk

This book I would strongly encourage my kids to read when they are older, just as i would sit them down to watch 12 Angry Men one day


Scott Hayden I wasn't alienated by it, but then, even though I'm a Westerner I've lived cross-culturally 14 years, so my view can't represent most Americans. I'm even a Christian "missionary", but Achebe drew me in to empathize with the tribal peoples, feel their conflict with them, and mourn their losses.

We teach this novel in our high school senior World Literature class.


Kelly Waks I was not alienated by it at all really, I think that books only alienate people if those people allow them to.

I've read this book twice, once my freshman year in high school and again this year as a sophomore in college, and both times I've really loved it. I think that if you know African slave-trade history and colonization, this book becomes even more interesting, especially making you take notice when the men of other villages begin acting almost as police over the village and tribe members. I love this book.


Rachel Hirstwood I must confess that I was alienated to start with. I found that the book seemed to be describing 'dreamstate' things; but then about half way through I had a kind of enlightenment of understading WHY there was that dreamstate feeling - it embodied the culture it was describing, and I got the impression that the culture saw life in a holistic way, not defining the boundaries beween animism religion (if that's what one should call it) and the commonplace. Once I had got that, I loved this book.

I especially like that Achebe seemed to present a balance of liking some aspects of traditional culture, and also liking some of what the Westerners brought. If only that balance could have lasted, the ending of the novel would have been so much 'nicer'.

Instead, I saw the end of the novel describing the death of traditional African culture due to the Western culture that was inflicted on Africa. Wouldn't it have been great if the two could have understood each other and melded the best of both? But then, I am an idealist.

I would strongly recommend this to everyone - and I am definately going to read it again.


Amadeus Dumas I don't think it's alienating the western reader. This book is story written by a native of the setting i.e. African, from a native's perspective. Keep in mind that there is bound to be a difference from African literature from Western-formed culture.
To the western reader, the book should be an informative account of a different culture from his/hers. Taking it from citizen of the African culture rather than a mere observer.
I admit the book relates less to a western reader but one must look at it from a diverse and different cultural perspective.


Sarah I really don't see how the book is supposed to alienate anybody. When you know from the onset that the book represents a different culture, you naturally open yourself up to a different perspective allowing for things to seem unfamiliar. I'm not a western reader, but neither is the culture in the book familiar to me. I loved the book for the way it strove to present the change taking place within a culture - how the Ibo people made contact with a culture as unfamiliar to them as theirs was to the rest of the world.

I enjoyed the balanced view that Achebe presented in the novel never letting himself be swayed to 'take sides' as so much colonial literature was apt to do. It really is a masterpiece.


message 12: by Angie (last edited Dec 28, 2011 02:26AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Angie I loved this book and read it my first year at college. There isn't an intention for alienation but rather the point of view allows readers to see colonialism and westward expansion from a native's eye. I felt Achebe had helped me become more open-minded in creating a broader perspective about missionary work. "Things Fall Apart" is a reoccurring reality of our world... literally and figuratively.


Scott Hayden Rachel wrote: "I must confess that I was alienated to start with. I found that the book seemed to be describing 'dreamstate' things; but then about half way through I had a kind of enlightenment of understading W..."

Good point, Rachel. Typically us westerners tend to compartmentalize things, creating false dichotomies and fragmented worldviews. "Religion and commonplace" in many other cultures than ours are not two separated spheres. As T.S. Eliot said, culture is the incarnation of a people's religion.


Scott Hayden Scott wrote: "Rachel wrote: "I must confess that I was alienated to start with. I found that the book seemed to be describing 'dreamstate' things; but then about half way through I had a kind of enlightenment of..."

The Christianity described in the New Testament also viewed life holistically. The sacred-secular divide was a cultural creation of a later date.


message 15: by Liz (new) - rated it 5 stars

Liz Angie wrote: "I loved this book and read it my first year at college. There isn't an intention for alienation but rather the point of view allows readers to see colonialism and westward expansion from a native's..."

Well said Angie.
Being a South African, it was something of a sad read for me, as colonialism and it's resultant expansion has robbed many tribes of their heritage, as happened here due to the reaping of rich mineral deposits of gold and diamonds,leading to the destruction of the tribal way of life, exploitation and the embracing of a speudo western ideal that, as we know, is sometimes very hollow and materialistic.

A good read on this topic in the South African context, is Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.

There is a pathos about Things Fall Apart that never quite leaves ones mind. I plan to re-read it soon.


message 16: by Angie (last edited Feb 01, 2012 07:00PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Angie Thank you for your feedback, I feel that in ways we can only judge situations subjectively based on our own experiences. I would love to read Cry the Beloved Country, I will have to put that down as one I would like to read. I have been reading a lot of works in my creative writing non-fiction book for class and have been learning so much about other cultures and assimilating to one or another. Creating Nonfiction, A Guide and Anthology by Bradway & Hesse.


message 17: by Rohit Yadav (new) - added it

Rohit Yadav Skylar wrote: "Well, I'm a western reader, and neither the style nor content alienated me. The style is really quite sparse (though beautiful), and in terms of plot it is straightforward. I'm not sure what you th..."

i really appreciate your point and want to add a point being easterner that their is a phrase 'grass is greener on the other side' and that is the thing which happens to us while reading. A reader from east will always tend to move towards west and western reader towards the east and that has only made african literature or colonial literature, the area of literary center these days


message 18: by Matthew (last edited Dec 30, 2012 11:27PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Matthew Williams Jake wrote: "I've been reading through some of the reviews that people have written about this book. And a lot of people are expressing a disconnected perspective in relation to this book.

I was curious if ma..."


I'm actually very glad to see this book in a forum for once. And I agree, these are relevant issues. I've heard much of what you raised in relation to this book, particularly where people felt alienated towards the book. In my case, I enjoyed it and found it pretty challenging and thought provoking. However, others said they hated it, largely because of the portrayal of women and the rather stringent sexism involved. I could see there point and wanted to argue that its portrayal, not endorsement, but didn't bother.

At the same time, I was forced to wonder if my feelings about the book weren't just a little tainted by the fact that I wanted to like it. I read Achebe's essay on African literature and how Western literature has portrayed the "Dark Continent" in the past. By the end, I was quite intrigued and eager to see what he had to say. And all along I felt illuminated by the fact that I was learning about the history of peoples and a continent I knew so little about.

Complex issue really. But in the end, I was forced to concede that my interest in the story lay in the fact that it has some real depth and commentary that not all people will appreciate. And at the same time, its hard to take and the content can be quite difficult and offensive at times. But what can you do? True art is meant to agitate, and Achebe (for better or for worse) is certainly an artist.


Robert Anybody here read "Half a Yellow Sun," by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? I struggled with "Things Fall Apart," in terms of forcing myself to read it, but "Half a Yellow Sun" was one I couldn't put down. Somehow I was able to get a stronger feel for the context in which a way of life is changing. Perhaps this was because of the very real and historical facts of the Biafran war and the suppression of the Ibo culture. I remember it happening, when I was in college here in the U.S.


Logan Mathis Jake wrote: "I've been reading through some of the reviews that people have written about this book. And a lot of people are expressing a disconnected perspective in relation to this book.

I was curious if ma..."

I just think it's a beautiful book all around. The theme of man vs himself, man vs society, change vs tradition...all are amazingly presented in this book. Also, I think the best books are the ones where the characters are their own downfalls.
Achebe was around when the western culture took over Africa he said and I think he did a great job capturing by building it up while Okwonkwo was away from his village instead of from the beginning. I like how he built the character from the beginning talking about his flaws, fears, insecurities, and so forth and then in the second half having them be his downfall by being too physical and too prideful for change. It was a beautiful example of characterization.


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