The importance of this text can be seen in its worldwide distribution as an authentic narrative about the horrors of the colonialist experience from the eyes of the colonized. This daring perspective brought to the world the figure of Okonkwo, a powerful and respected village elder who cannot single-handedly repel the invasion of foreign culture into his village. The book has been taught in a variety of contexts from cultural history to anthropology to literature and world history classes. Its application to such a number of fields reveals its historical importance in the world.
Things Fall Apart is a tragic and moving story of Okonkwo and the destruction of the village of Umuofia by the colonialist enterprise. This novel reveals colonialism as a traumatic experience common to all former colonial territories. The administration that was implemented endeavored to shift the people away from the superstitious and what they saw as primitive practices of their culture to the supposedly more “civilized” precepts of Christianity. Achebe does not gloss over the cruelty and superstition that prevailed in Igbo culture; in fact, he even shows that it was partly many of the elders’ rigid adherence to traditions that seemed inhuman and outdated that paved the way for the disintegration of the tribe and their ultimate fall.
In Things Fall Apart, Achebe carefully makes the readers aware that the traditional Igbo culture that Okonkwo claims to represent varied from clan to clan and was very dynamic. Okonkwo’s flaw is his rigidity. Achebe is critical of any culture that is stagnant. Where preservation of the clan or group is the first priority, obsession with cultural traditions can be dangerous.
In truth, Things Fall Apart, was not only educating his African readers but Western readers as well. Achebe’s achievements in fact was that he communicated meaningfully both with his Western readers, who were for the most part ignorant of the material he was handling, and with those who knew it very intimately. He is perhaps the only African writer to have bridged this gap with complete success as well as delicacy and tact.
An interesting trend of literature that has emerged in the past thirty years is post colonialism. It is not just a trend but can also be considered a literary style. This kind of writing emerged after the de-colonization of various African, Asian and South American nations by erstwhile European colonial powers Portugal, Spain, France, Germany and Britain and hails from those nations that were colonized. The colonizing experience that the colonized (i.e. the natives) and the colonizers undergo is narrated in such texts. The colonized mainly speak of the trauma, humiliation and slave mentality induced in their psyche. The colonizers write of their own experience which, according to them, is no less traumatizing. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe writes of the actual moment of colonization with the arrival of missionaries and the administrative apparatus of Britain at the turn of the century. In No Longer at Ease, the legacy of colonization is brought out. His other works describe issues connected with colonization. His peculiarity is that he works in the genre of the English novel although his concerns are mainly African. Another celebrated Nigerian writer is Wole Soyinka, who uses theater as a more traditional form to vent his views on the same issues.
Africa has been seen by the Western world as a ‘dark’ continent and very little was known about its land or people. Geological explorations showed that the Sahara desert was initially a fertile area, overflowing in lush vegetation, animal and men. Climatic changes were responsible for the formation of the desert. Africa, therefore, came to be known as an inhospitable place, in spite of areas of with great rivers, thick forests and vast green-lands. This was mainly because the greater part of the continent was separated from Mediterranean civilization and was not open to outside influences.
The people in Africa learned to live in harmony with Nature’s changes. They developed a culture based on religion and nature. They worshipped many different gods and goddesses who represented elements of the natural world. They had priests who were capable of physical and psychic healing, oracles who could foretell the future, and spirits of ancestors who controlled traditions, gave orders and guided the tribe at time of crises. This system of control worked very well for centuries.
But changes occurred with the exploration and eventual economic and social exploitation of Africans by the Western colonizing mission. First came the slave trade where Africans were picked up from the West Coast of Africa and shipped off to distant places where they were sold off as slaves. This disrupted tribal life and also impoverished the land, for now there were no able-bodied men to carry on the hard work of crop-raising.
Then came the expansion policies of many countries, like Portugal, Holland, Germany and Britain who all began to carve out areas of Africa in order to build colonies for themselves. This was a major factor in destroying what was left of African civilization. Finally came the activities of Christian missionaries, who did not care to understand the religion of the people of Africa, whom they considered uncivilized and savage, and proceeded to convert them to Christianity.
Today African countries are self-ruled due to the widespread movement among countries in the 20th century to seek independence from colonial rule. Although these were bloody conflicts, the end result was the formation of a country with an agenda that was African rather than European. Chinua Achebe, in his novel, has brought to the reader a very realistic picture of traditional Africa as well as its demise with the onset of colonialism. In Things Fall Apart, he has attempted to vindicate the ways of tribal life in Nigeria - in particular among the Igbo tribe to which he belongs by showing the reader the rich and complex traditions that made up African society before the invasion of the continent by Europeans.
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