1958 novel by Chinua Achebe which describes the first meeting of an African tribe with colonial white men.

It's a thin book, filled with the sort of noble savage wisdom conquered people like to dole out. On that political level, I've always thought the book fails. On every other level, plot, characters, literary devices -- I love this book.

Achebe, who writes in French (I think), is a genius craftsman with language. The only other writer of story and prose that translates so well is Milan Kundera. Both grab at the reader in any language, gently inundating the him or her with soft beautiful text strings that hide hard truths.

The kola nut is prominently features througout the novel. Its demise from a religous symbol to a cultivated cash crop is a beautiful metaphor that runs through the book.

A particularly telling scene from the book describes the meeting between a war chief and a colonial explorer. The war chief regales the explorer with tales of the Great War his people had fought with a neighboring village. The chief uses 24 kola nuts to count the twelve brave men from each village that had died before the suffering on each side was so great that the fighting stopped.

The explorer than attempts to explain the 30 Years War where a million men died. The chief is at first unimpressed. "How many is a million," he asks. When the explorer dumps a bag of rice on the ground in an attempt to show a million, the chief is at first disbelieving and then horrified.

The title is taken from a William Butler Yeats poem The Second Coming. Somebody add more please:)

Things Fall Apart is a story about the Ibo clan (sometimes spelled Igbo) of Nigeria, circa 1900. The bulk of the story spans about a 12 year period and focuses on the influence of Christian settlement on the clan.

The book is seemingly slow to start. It goes through several years of life in the tribe called Umuofia, and seems to have little point with no plot build up. What Achebe is doing, however, is attempting to dispell the deep-seated belief that tribal peoples are without unique and important culture, and that civilization is inherently better than tribalization. He very carefully explains many of the cultural aspects of life for Ibo peoples, including inter-tribal relations, religion, birth, death, the importance of status and wealth, and the intradependence of the tribe, the role of men and of women. Achebe makes the reader view the tribe members as people, not savages.

When the plot does pick up and the reader is made aware of the conflict that arises between white European colonists and the tribe members, it's no longer a case of colonists civilizing where needed: it's a case of forced cultural homogenization regardless of want. For the sake of brevity, the colonists are white Christians whose intent is to interact with the Ibo and completely convert them to Christianity. As their presence grows, the main character in the book and a powerful man in the tribe, Okonkwo, grows more suspicious of them and their intent, wishing them to be gone.

Due to an unfortunate accident, Okonkwo and his family are forced to leave the tribe for seven years per tribal rules. When finally he is allowed to return to his tribe, the white settlers have made significant advances in their disintegration of Umuofia. Many of the lesser men in the tribe, the efulefu (those without titles), have converted to Christianity and joined the church because it offers them a status they would not have otherwise had. In addition, the church has won conversions with some of the people of the tribe. The portrait that Achebe paints is that since the arrival of the settlers, there has been external pressure to be subjected to Christian and English laws and culture, and internal rifts between devoted clan members and those who would join the settlers.

The main character, Okonkwo, is a very strong character who has pushed himself his entire life to be successful. For him, anything that brings shame to himself or to his family is intolerable. He is very strict and very determined. Born to a father who spent his life and died in debt, Okonkwo was driven by his hatred for his father and the idea that he would never, under any circumstance, be like him. In the last pages of the story, when Okonkwo fails to rouse the people of Umuofia against the white man and kills a messenger from the English courts who has come to arrest clan members, he hangs himself and is shunned by the people of his clan.

Though seemingly unmoving, the story is a well knit tale whose end is fitting. Achebe first gave the story of Okonkwo and his strength. He was a man who would do anything honorable to be successful and strove for nothing short of being one of the most important and noble people in his clan. His eventual suicide is representative of how far life for the Ibo people had deteriorated since the arrival of white settlers. Achebe then told the story of the clan: it was a closely knit group of individuals and tribes who worked together for the common good. Tradition was not broken, for there was no alternative, and life was successful. There was no hate, no crime. When the settlers began working their way into the life of the clan, it was comparable to slowly unraveling the stitching from a quilt: patches began to fall away, and soon nothing would be left.

Things fell apart. A bad review, but not too bad. The book is a very short read and can be accomplished in a weekend. It is very fast and very absorbing.

To comment on mcSey's noble savage remark, I disagree. Achebe makes no attempt ever to portray the Ibo has noble savages. His entire intent with the first one-hundred fifty pages of the book is to demonstrate that the Ibo are normal, and that their way of life is what works for them. They're not doing anything special, they simply live. What he does do is accurately portray the way the European/Christian settlers encroached, encircled, and destroyed the Ibo culture. If anything, he simply portrays the settlers as having ignorant, malicious intent.
I believe this entire book is summed up in this passage:
“You said one interesting thing,” said Mr. Brown. “You are afraid of Chukwu. In my religion Chukwu is a loving father and need not be feared by those who do his will.”
“But we must fear him when we are not doing his will,” said Akunna. “And who is to tell his will? It is too great to be known.”
Reading this book, I was never completely sure what it was about. As mentioned above, Chinua Achebe takes his time in getting to the main conflict of the story. The first half of the book is meant to give the reader some sense of tribal life, but bored me quite a bit. This passage, however, is interesting because it is the critical point in the entire conflict of tribe vs. changing times. Here the Christian religion meets the tribal beliefs in a straight forward honest dialog. Soon after this point in the story, the wise Christian missionary, Mr. Brown is replaced and this dialog is silenced. This passage is one of the few times that the basic cause of the conflict become clear.

The fundamental difference between the two sets of beliefs can be seen perfectly here. As this book is written from the tribal perspective, the Christian missionaries are shown in a bad light. This passage personifies the arrogance of the missionaries, assuming they can know the will of God. Akunna personifies the tribes’ simple, perhaps naive point of view. They are a simple people who don’t take themselves as seriously as the missionaries. The religious conflict is caused by two different ways to interpret the will of God.

Religious conflicts arise because the very nature of religion is uncompromising. And that, kids, is what I got out of this book.

"An unspeakable amount of pain, arrogance, harshness, estrangement, frigidity has entered into human feelings because we think we see opposites instead of transitions."
--Nietzsche
node your homework!
Mr. Hakim Mansour
English 12
Buena High School

Globalization is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as the attempt to unify the world into one culture, and one society, usually due to one culture imposing itself onto others. The concept of a globalized society is not a new one, in that ever since cultures have attempted to conquer each other, globalization, whether stated or not, has inevitably followed. However, today globalization is specifically propagated by those cultures whose way of life is prosperous, and based on expansion, more accurately, those who embrace capitalism, like current day American culture or Western European culture. In the novel Things Fall Apart, the imposing culture is group of European, Christian missionaries, spreading their way of life, and the culture that is imposed upon, and eventually displaced is a clan of Ibo tribesmen in Nigeria. The European culture and way of life is so openly accepted by the native culture that it effectively replaces, or appears to be on the way to replacing the way that their society functions. The message of globalization, as seen from Chinua Achebe’s point of view in Things Fall Apart, is of something that can destroy entire cultures, for it is a tool of cultural homogenization, affecting everything from religion, government, and basic tradition based values, thereby eliminating diversity between peoples.

The first section of Things Fall Apart is spent almost entirely on explaining the details of the Ibo culture. Achebe goes into great detail talking about the more subtle cultural aspects of the community, highlighting crop rotation, the customs of feasts and communal activities, and sporting events to immerse the reader in the Ibo way of life. When the Europeans are first introduced in the book, they are described by the Ibo tribesmen as being distinctly different like nothing they have ever seen before, using devices and accessories that are completely foreign. In fact, the first white man introduced in the novel is mistaken as an albino, and his bicycle was referred to as an iron horse (Achebe, 138). This misunderstanding in cultures is used to show the distinct differences between the two cultures, and how the natives were initially captivated with the novelty of the differences between the two peoples. The Ibo’s infatuation with the European culture eventually led to them mimicking them, as seen when the Christian missionaries came to the village, and started to spread their beliefs.

One of the first aspects of life in the Ibo's land of Umuofia to be affected by the arrival of the missionaries is religion and religious based values. A perfect example of the Ibo’s religious beliefs cam be found when the priestess Chielo took away the character Ezinma, for she was a changeling, and was likely to be put to death. Despite the fact that she did not want this to happen, Ezinma’s mother Ekwefi allowed her to be taken, knowing full well what Chielo intended to do, were it deemed necessary. While Ezinma’s abduction was something that could have potentially meant her death, Ekwefi honored the traditions of her people, and did not voice any protest when the decision to do that was made. The power that Chielo held is evidenced in the quote: “How dare you, woman, to go before the mighty Agbala of your own accord? Beware, woman, lest he strike you in his anger” (101). Also, the Ibo believed in many gods, with a god for different things. For example, Ani is the earth goddess, and is responsible for all things related to the earth, like the well being of crops, and the general well being of the tribe (Achebe, 30). Also, each person had his or her own personal god, or chi, which protected each individual (211). These beliefs starkly contrasted the traditional Christian monotheistic belief of there being only one God. The missionaries took it upon themselves to correct the natives’ false beliefs, and make them better prepared for an afterlife in heaven. By spreading the word of their bible, and openly denouncing any of the native beliefs, they claimed that there was no way that the Ibo could be correct, for there was only the Christian God. It was not long before this idea spread among the Ibo, and eventually became the popular belief concerning spirituality.

The means through which the Europeans implemented their religious takeover started small, by first having only one church, that was too occupied with it’s own affairs to draw attention from the Ibo clan (Achebe, 155). However, the Christian church began its rise to power when it broke one of the native norms, namely that of accepting individuals that were normally thought of as outcasts. By showing that their religion did not discriminate against those that were normally persecuted by the Ibo, and by being able to defend the decision of God through the church, the Christians were able to amass a greater pool of followers. Mr. Kiaga, the priest of the small church demonstrated his faith, and was the turning point for many coverts, as shown in this quote: “Mr. Kiaga stood firm, and it was his firmness that saved the young church. The wavering converts drew inspiration and confidence from his unshakable faith” (157). While this confidence generated support for the church, it also created a shift in the acceptable norms and taboos of the native tribe, thereby changing the Ibo culture, and making it more like the European culture.

Another social system drastically affected by the arrival of the European missionaries was the form of government in Umuofia. Traditionally, the government was run such that every person knew the rules of the tribe, and adhered to them, for they knew that it was how their ancestors lived, and was therefore right for them. Take for example the tradition of the week of peace. In that week it was strictly forbidden for anyone to say a harsh word to his neighbor (Achebe, 30) let alone strike another for any reason. Ezeani explains this well known tradition to Okonkwo after he breaks the week of peace: “We live in peace with our fellows to honor our great goddess of the earth without whose blessing our crops would not grow” (30). When Okonkwo broke this he knew that he had violated a traditional rule of the tribe, and met with the Priest of Ani for his punishment, which he willingly accepted. Another example of the governing system of the village can be found when the village was attending Ezeudu’s funeral, when a piece of Okonkwo’s rifle accidentally broke off and pierced the heart of Ezeudu’s eldest son’s heart, killing him. Despite the fact that this was an accident, Okonkwo accepted the rule of the tribe, and willingly went into exile for seven years (124). The normal system of actions and consequences changed however, when the missionaries came to Umuofia. Along with the Christian religion, the missionaries instated a European governmental structure, complete with a court system, and judges (176). This drastically changes the way that the villagers act, for now they adhere to laws or rules because they fear the consequences that this foreign court might impose, rather than adhere to traditional laws because they knew that they were the right things do to.

Many of the older laws or rules that the people of Umuofia abide by were passed down from generation to generation, and were held in high regard because that was how it had always been done. This sense of tradition was another significant part of the native lifestyle that was effectively eliminated or at least significantly altered by the missionaries. One example of a traditional belief that was altered by the missionaries was that of the power of the evil forest. The Ibo believed that that forest was a great source of evil power and should be avoided at all cost, unless for religious reasons (Achebe, 32). When the missionaries came though, the only area in which the tribe would allow them to set up a large camp was partially inside the forest. By simply defying the mythos of the forest, it gave the Ibo reason enough to question the power behind one of their oldest beliefs. The Ibo also held in very high regard the distinct gender roles and personality traits that each gender was supposed to possess. For example, men were supposed to be strong and responsible, and not waste time with feminine things like singing. However, Okonkwo’s eldest son was more inclined to such feminine things, which made him an outcast among his people, or at least his father based on their traditional beliefs. The Christians though, did not believe that singing was a distinctly feminine thing, to they took him in, and supported him where his father would not (152). If anything, by taking in Okonkwo’s son only further encouraged to Ibo people to embrace this new culture, for it did not punish those who did not adhere to their rigid traditional value system.

Another strongly held traditional Ibo belief was that of the honor of warfare, or at least the ability to partake in it, should the opportunity arise. It was considered a great feat to take another’s life in the heat of battle. However, at the very end of the novel, Okonkwo urged his people to rise up against their oppressors, and stave off their way of life, thereby preserving their own. His call to arms was met with pacifism, brought on by the Christian way of thinking, and obliviousness to the erasure of their own culture. What is more, after Okonkwo single handedly stood up against the missionaries and took one of their lives (Achebe, 204), his tribesmen could not discern any logical reason for him having taken that action, showing just how drastically their views had changed from what they once were, as can be seen in the following quote: “They had broken into tumult instead of action. He discerned fright in that tumult. He heard voices asking ‘Why did he do it?’” (204).

As seen in Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, if a culture’s form of governance, religious beliefs, and traditional value system are challenged by a more prosperous one whose aim is to assimilate it, the results can be quite disastrous, possibly resulting in the elimination of the imposed upon culture, or at least a decrease in the cultural diversity. All of these things are an example of globalization, as seen by Chinua Achebe. With any hope, this novel will show people the detrimental aspects to taking on a foreign culture in place of one’s native one, and encourage people to embrace their heritage. This seems like something that should be remembered, especially now, in a time where cultural diversity is supposedly held in such high regard.

Sources: Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books, 1959. 30, 32, 101, 124, 138, 152, 155, 157, 176, 204, 211. Node your homework.

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