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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe
Chinua Achebe, the author

Born in Eastern Nigeria (raised in a village named Ogidi) in 1930
into a Christian family

Father taught in the Church Missionary school and was an early
Christian convert of the Igbo people

1954 Joins Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, which takes him
all over the country of Nigeria: where he gets lots of his stories
and ideas for the novel

1958 Things Fall Apart published

1960 October 1, Nigerian independence


Historical Context
Conrads Heart of Darkness
(1902)
Fictional - European
colonialism
Longest sentence spoken by an African
was 8 words long: Catch him. Give
him to us. Eat him.
Denial of African language
Africans as animalistic and
cannibalistic

Achebe presents Africans as
full human beings
Gives credibility to the
language
Gives a more complete
perspective on African life
than was available before
Cultural Information
The novel is loosely based on events that took place in the time of
Achebes grandfather, Okonkwo, on whom the central character in
the novel is based.
Written from the point of view of the indigenous African.
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The importance of ceremony in every aspect of life: eating,
drinking, marriage, war, religion.
The way in which life is underpinned by the rhythm of the seasons,
marked by festivals: Peace week, The Feast of the Yam etc.
Rites of passage that are based on tradition: birth; initiation into
adulthood; betrothal; marriage; death.
The overriding importance of kinship: extended family duties and
responsibilities.
The security and emotional attachments that kinship entails.

Cultural Information continued
The all-pervasive influence of the
gods, who on occasion possess
certain individuals to express their
commands (the egwugwu, the
priestess and so on).

The extraordinarily rich language:
folk tales; proverbs; conversational
formulae; vivid and varied use of
metaphor.

The strictly observed conventions
of war and peace within the nine
settlements, which are rendered
powerless by the arrival of the
white people.
A society that appears to be male
dominated, but worships an earth
mother.

An economic system: based
principally on barter.

A hierarchical system of respect
based on a meritocratic system of
rewarding the most successful, not
the highest born; a rigid sense of
justice and fairness; and total
obedience to both human and
spiritual authority.
About the novel:
Set in 1890-1900

Triadic Structure: conventional drama in three acts

It shows the gradual disintegration of this culture when it is
attacked by another.
He wished to teach his (African) readers that their past
with all its imperfections was not one long night of
savagery from which the Europeans acting on Gods behalf
delivered them.

He says his goal was to offer an authentic and credible
account of Igbo society with its strengths and weaknesses.
Reading the novel
This is a complex novel which can be read at a basic level as the
story of the rise and fall of a central hero in a rapidly changing
culture which contributes to his fate.
The language is simple and accessible.
Achebe successfully recreates the simple, concrete non-literary
language of the Ibo in English.
It is relatively short.
All the chapters in the first section and most in the second section
can be treated as individual units: only the third and shortest
section needs study as an entity in its own right.
The denouement and irony are swiftly and clearly achieved.
BUT:
It is equally challenging at a much more sophisticated level.
The development of Okonkwos character is complex.
The portrayal of Ibo society challenges us to make value judgments
about it and about our own culture and society.
We are challenged, too, by the way in which we are presented with
a spoken language with its own oral traditions which pass on
centuries-old proverbial wisdom in speech patterns and folk tales.
The style is susceptible to detailed and penetrative analysis. Both
the overall structure and individual detail repay close attention.
There is a deceptive simplicity of style, subtle use of irony, and
numerous contrasts.
Structure of the novel
Part 1 = Focus on Manliness, Okonkwo and his family, Igbo society
and Igbo parables

Part 2 = Focus on Women

Part 3 = Focus on the conflict & final catastrophe, reversal of
traditional roles

Notice how the language changes as well:
Part 1 = poetic
Part 2 = poetic
Part 3 = informative prose
Chinua Achebes Writing Style
Attention to the oral tradition

The centrality of the folk tale

The proverb

Authentically represent the culture, and as integral
component of the narrative mode

The palm-oil with which words are eaten
Themes, Symbols, and Motifs
Individuals derive strength from
their society

Ambition

Change versus Traditions

Masculinity

Success versus Failure

Symbols:
Fire
Locusts
Folk Tales
Yams
Egwugwu

Motifs:
Chi
Animal Imagery