October 17, 2012 In Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the reader is taken on a literary journey to a Nigerian tribe, the Umuofia, to experience first-hand the struggles of a warrior named Okonkwo. At first glance, the novel appears to be written for a very specific audience: scholars familiar with Nigerian history, traditions, and culture. However, upon further examination the novel reveals itself to be a striking chronicle of human experiences, universal themes, and timeless struggles that appeal to every human, regardless of familiarity with Nigerian culture.
Taken as a whole, the novel appears to be much more than the sum of its parts: syntax, diction, figurative language, imagery, repetition, and symbols. Things Fall Apart is definitely a novel with literary worth. As a story about a culture on the verge of change, Things Fall Apart deals with how the viewpoint and reality of change affect a number of characters. The tension about whether change should be privileged over tradition often contains questions of personal status.
Okonkwo, for example, resists the new political and religious orders because he feels that they are not manly and that he himself will not be manly if his agreements to join or even tolerate them. To some extent, Okonkwo’s resistance of cultural change is also due to his fear of being like his father, or in other words, loss his societal status. His sense of self-worth is dependent upon the traditional standards by which society judges him. This system of evaluating the self inspires many of the clan’s outcasts to embrace Christianity.
Long scorned, these outcasts find in the Christian value system a refuge from the Igbo cultural values that place them below everyone else. In their new community, these converts enjoy a more elevated status. The villagers in general are caught between resisting and embracing change and they face the dilemma of trying to determine how best to adapt to the reality of change. Many of the villagers are excited about the new opportunities and techniques that the missionaries bring.
This European influence, however, threatens to extinguish the need for the mastery of traditional methods of farming, harvesting, building, and cooking. These traditional methods, once crucial for survival, are now to a degree, dispensable. Throughout the novel, Achebe shows how dependent such traditions are upon storytelling and language and thus how quickly the abandonment of the Igbo language for English could lead to the extinction of these traditions. In addition to cultural clash, Achebe explores the theme of masculinity versus femininity, and reveals Okonkwo’s fatal character flaw: hyper-masculinity.
Okonkwo is motivated by a desire to prove himself superior to his father, who was cowardly and careless and died a poor man with many unpaid debts. He viewed his father as overly pensive, slow to act and womanly. For this reason, he frequently beats his wives, even threatening to kill them from time to time. Therefore, Okonkwo adopts opposite traits; Okonkwo is rash, quick to act, and excessively violent. Okonkwo always associated violence with masculinity.
Achebe uses figurative language like metaphors and similes to compare Okonkwo to a fire. during this time Okonkwo’s fame had grown like a bush-fire in the harmattan” (1). Okonkwo gained power and importance in Umuofian society by burning lesser people as fuel. Just like a brush-fire, Okonkwo’s fame, importance, and prestige grew stronger the longer he burned. He continued to burn strong into adulthood. “[The drums] filled him with fire as it had always done from his youth. He trembled with the desire to conquer and subdue” (42). Okonkwo’s inner fire is what allowed him to conquer Umuofian society and rise above the disgrace of his father.
As his fame and popularity increased, Okonkwo pursued his ideal of masculinity. Okonkwo constantly distanced himself from anything even remotely feminine. He constantly reminded himself of his masculinity and strove to make sure all his clansmen knew of it as well. “Okonkwo was popularly called the ‘Roaring Flame. ’ As he looked into the log fire he recalled the name. He was a flaming fire” (153). The metaphor of fire is perfect to describe Okonkwo’s character, and yields a deep analysis of human feelings and personality. Like a fire, Okonkwo is violent, and burns whatever he touches.
In many cases, he “burns” his own family. Throughout the novel, Okonkwo harasses on his wives and son, beats his family, and kills three innocent people not including him. In many cases, he hurts his family for trivial reasons. For instance, Okonkwo chastised and beat his son, Nwoye, for merely listening to his mother’s stories. He beat Nwoye again when he discovered him helping women with their household tasks. Okonkwo saw within Nwoye the same “effeminate” essence of his the father whom he hates so much. Ultimately, the success of Things Fall
Apart as a novel of literary merit is due to Achebe’s use of universal literary themes like self-exploration, change, tradition, cultural clash, and masculinity versus femininity. No matter what language is spoken by the reader or what time period they come from, Achebe’s writing about the human experience is relevant and significant. Mankind has many different faces. Although fear and anger are reactions that all men have, if left unchecked, they will consume all one has worked for and eventually destroy everything that one holds dear.
Because of that, before actions are taken, much consideration should be taken to make sure that personal flaws as well as flaws in society do not interfere with one’s judgment. Of course, not all scholars agree with the assertion that Things Fall Apart has literary worth. Achebe’s skillful use of literary devices like metaphor, simile, imagery, and repetition demonstrate the quality of writing. Achebe’s understanding of the “human experience” demonstrates the relevance of theme. And the number of copies of the novel sold, over two million worldwide, demonstrates the universality of the story. It is safe to say that Things Fall Apart has earned widespread acceptance as a quality piece of literature.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor, 1994. Print. “Things Fall Apart.
” Enotes. com. Enotes. com, n. d. Web. 29 Oct. 2012. <http://www. enotes. com/things-fall-apart>.
“Things Fall Apart Summary. ” Study Guides & Essay Editing. N. p. , n. d. Web. 29 Oct. 2012. <http://www. gradesaver. com/things-fall-apart/study-guide/short-summary/>.
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