Things Fall Apart is an English novel written by a Nigerian, Chinua Achebe. It was published in the year 1958 and it was one of the first English novels from an African. It is considered as a modern novel and has brought critical acclaim from all corners of the world. This book is taken as a text book for study in African schools and even in many other countries around the world. When an African writes about the culture and traditions of his country or tribe, there is more authenticity. It is African culture from the perspective of an African who has lived it to the hilt.
The Village Of Umuofia
The novel talks about a cluster of village and then a specific village and the aspirations or life of one man in that tribal village. The village is Umuofia in Nigeria and the protagonist is Okonwo who has three wives and eight children. He is epitome of manhood and he works hard to establish his manliness because his father Unoka was a weakling and he did not want to become like his father. His father loved music, was lazy and finally died with debts. Okonwo worked hard, built a reputation for himself, created wealth, paid up father’s debts and lived an honourable life.
The lives of all the villagers were connected and in one such untoward incident in Mbaino the people of Umuofia decide that they should hand over a virgin and a young boy to their village. The woman is Oqbuefi Udo who becomes the wife of Okonwo and the young boy Ikemefuna is also taken into his household. He soon becomes popular with all the children of Okonwo. Nwoye, Okonwo’s son and Nwoye’s mother like him so much and make his stay there pleasant.
All is well in the village and Okonwo was happy that his son Nwoye who was a lazy boy was shaping into a proper young man under the influence of Ikemefuna. Ikemefuna also calls Okonwo as ‘father’. Though he is fond of him and all other children, Okonwo does not demonstrate any affection for he thinks those were signs of weakness. Soon comes the oracle reader Ogbuefi Ezeudu, who says that he must kill Ikemefuna but must not partake in the killing. That is soon arranged but Okonwo actually cuts up the boy and this sets a serial of misfortunes in motion.
Okonwo is exiled from his village for 7 years when he accidently kills the son of Ogbuefi Ezeudu. He goes to stay with his uncle from the mother’s side and there also he works hard. Meanwhile Christian Missionaries gain control over his village Umuofia during these 7 years. His son Nwoye is the first to convert. When he comes back after his exile he thinks he can win back his position and wealth but is sadly mistaken. The men in his village seem to have lost the ruggedness and no one was protesting when their culture was being destroyed.
Advent Of Christianity
The work of the missionary whites is increasing; it started with a church, now they started trade and bringing in money and slowly people were enjoying the new found knowledge and the people. Mr. Brown the first person to come there was a mild man and he won the hearts of the people and he took care not to antagonize the feelings of the natives. Mr. Brown was replaced with Reverend James Smith who upheld the word of Bible strictly and was intolerant to ways and traditions of the native people. This excited the activists but antagonized the group who were protesting the work of the Christians.
The final sacrilege is done by Enoch, a new convert, who unmasks the earth deity in their annual ceremony. This was blasphemy as it equaled to killing the spirit of the ancestors. Immediately the villagers burn down Enoch’s compound and then go to meet Reverend Smith and other Christians and tell they desire to burn the church to wash off Enoch’s sin. Smith is stubborn and the people then go ahead and burn the church. Okonwo was happy that there was some self respect left in his people but they are soon called by the District Commissioner. There he tells them it will be a friendly talk and disarms them. Once they put down their machetes they are handcuffed and arrested and are subjected to physical abuse. They are sent out after paying 250 bags of cowries.
The Big Sin
After their release a meeting is called and Okonwo goes prepared and dressed as if going for a war. The villagers are very upset about the turn of events and want to put an end to the high handedness of the missionaries. But before long the five court messengers come there and order them to end the meeting. No sooner the leader utters this order Okowno kills him with the machete. The crowd is agitated but nothing more happens and all go back home. Okowno is sad that his clan is not prepared to fight and goes away disappointed. As expected the District Commissioner comes to see Okwono but is met by a group of people.
They lead him to a tree where Okwono is hanging. According to their custom suicide was a sin and no one in the village could touch a sinner’s body. They were awaiting people from other villages and request the District Commissioner to lower the body as he was an outsider. He orders his messengers to do the job and leaves the place with pride. He was writing a book on the traditions and culture of Africa and he learnt a new custom about suicide and was happy with the new information and this would add pages in his book. With this total disregard by the whites the book ends.
Some customs were bizarre and we have Nwoye who cannot understand why people were left to die in the Evil Forest if they had swollen bodies. Babies were also left in the forest to die. So also killing of Ikemefuna is totally unwarranted and Nwoye is shocked. When the Christians came into the village with the message of love and peace Nwoye was the first to convert. Things Fall Apart describes the crude customs of the villages in Nigeria, Africa and the beginning stages of the missionary movement.