Things Fall Apart

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Things Fall Apart
Written by: Chinua Achebe
Central Theme:
First published: 1958
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Things Fall Apart is a 1958 Nigerian novel (written in English) by Chinua Achebe. The events depicted take place in the late 19th century. An allusion to historical events seems to date the story to the 1890s.

Its hero is Okonkwo, a proud Igbo tribesman who watches his life change radically under the weight of his own decisions and the increasing encroachment of English colonial settlers and missionaries. The novel is considered one of the best books of the 20th century, partly because of its humanization of characters from both factions, and partly because it was one of the first novels in English to deal with African society from the viewpoint of Africans rather than the traditional Anglocentric viewpoint.

Tropes used in Things Fall Apart include:
  • Abusive Parent: Okonkwo and possibly the other tribesmen
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: Okonkwo has them.
  • Broken Bird: Ekwefi was once the village beauty and is Okonkwo's favored wife, but a long series of stillbirths and miscarriages made her very bitter until Ezinma was born.
  • Daddy's Girl: Ezinma, who Okonkwo wishes had been born a boy.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Achebe undoubtedly finds such pre-colonization practices such as exposure of newborn twins and killing of one's adopted son because an oracle commanded it to be repugnant. However, the characters who practice and/or accede to these customs are still generally given sympathetic portrayals.
    • This is a major part of his intended point in writing the book - passing judgment on the culture and practices of the Igbo people in his narrative or omitting the abhorrent parts of their society would negate his goal of establishing Igbo culture (and African culture in general) as just as legitimate, relevant, and flawed as European and Western culture.
    • The English themselves are portrayed as holding the imperialistic views of the day. While there is one missionary, Mr. Brown, who tries to work peacefully with the Igbo, he gets replaced with James Smith, who goes out of his way to provoke conflict with the non-Christian Igbo.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Okonkwo commits suicide upon seeing that his neighbors are bewildered as to why he'd kill a messenger of the District Commissioner, and won't go to war.
  • Different As Night and Day: Okonkwo's daughters, Ezinma and Obiageli. Ezinma is sensible and otherworldly, while Obiageli is spoiled and childish.
  • Driven to Suicide: Okonkwo
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Okonkwo does this after killing Ikemafuna, the political prisoner he had raised like his own son for three years.
  • Fatal Flaw: Okonwo being explicitly modeled after the heroes of Greek Tragedy, it's no surprise that his flaw is hubris, leading to the atë (rashness) that caused his downfall. The pride itself is specifically pride in his own strength, and an obsession with being manly and powerful that makes him blind to consequences.
  • Father, I Don't Want to Fight : Ikemefuna
  • Firing in the Air a Lot: Okonkwo's gun exploding when he tries to do this ends up killing someone else. The elders convict him of manslaughter and he is sentenced to seven years in exile (per the customs of the village).
  • Freudian Excuse: The main reason Okonkwo is emotionally distant and obsessed with manliness and power is because his father was a lazy weakling who preferred to loaf around and play music, instead of taking care of his family and farm.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Both the traditional Igbo society and the new colonial Christian society are presented as having positive and negative qualities.
  • The Hecate Sisters: Okonkwo's wives - Nwoye's mother is the Crone, Ekwefi is the Mother, and Ojiugo is the Maiden.
  • Ill Girl: Ezinma is this, so much so that she and her mother are famous in their village.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: At the book's conclusion, the colonialist District Commissioner considers Okonkwo's life to be maybe worth a paragraph of filler in a book he might write about pacifying savage Africans.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Okonkwo. On the jerk side: He once beat and attempted to murder his second and favored wife for cutting a few banana leaves off a tree to wrap food in, and disowned his son after the latter converted to Christianity. On the heart of gold side: He trekked to a distant and forbidden shrine four times in the dead of night after a priestess took his favorite daughter there, because he was worried about her.
  • Literary Allusion Title: "Things Fall Apart" is a line from William Butler Yeats' poem "The Second Coming".
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: A non-romanti example with Nwoye and Ezinma who are half-siblings. Nwoye is sensitive, more emotional and considered more "feminine" by Okonkwo, while Ezinma is bold and considered to be more "masculine". Even Okonkwo frequently says that he wishes Ezinma was born a boy instead.
  • Meaningful Rename: Nwoye becomes "Isaac" when he converts to Christianity. Given the whole business with Ikemafuna, his choice seems especially important.
  • The Missionary: Several, treated with varying degrees of sympathy.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: One African who acts as a translator for the missionaries is given the nickname of "My Buttocks", because in the dialect he's speaking, which isn't quite the same as that of the viewpoint characters, whenever he tries to say "myself" it comes out as "my buttocks".
  • No Name Given: Okonkwo's senior wife is only ever referred to as "Nwoye's mother."
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Okonkwo
    • In fact he's so proud that he's considered a stereotype of uncompromising masculinity among his own community.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Ikemefuna
  • Secret Identity: Tinkered with. Chielo acts and is treated as a different person on and off her job as a priestess, but everyone knows who she is. Also, while the spirits who judge the village on occasion are concealed in full-body costumes, any peculiar mannerisms or the fact that someone isn't where they usually sit are politely ignored.
  • Spiritual Successor / Take That to Conrad's Heart of Darkness
  • Sympathetic POV: Not just unique in substituting an African perspective for a British one, but the POV is pretty much that of Okonkwo and those who share his general views. Thus, while the reader is likely to sympathize with Okonkwo's son, who he abuses for not being manly enough, the narration isn't very sympathetic to the character.
  • Testosterone Poisoning: Okonkwo is very, VERY MANLY. He will never admit that he is in the wrong or show emotion.
    • Further emphasized that this isn't even a required characteristic of an Ibo man, there is mention of another Ibo man who, despite the gender roles, loved his wife so much that he could not do anything without telling her.
  • Tragedy: On the classical model, no less:
    • Okonkwo is a great, successful, powerful man,
    • However, he has a flaw (harmartia), in this case pride (hubris)
    • He rashly ignores the consequences of the actions driven by his pride, making several mistakes (atë),
    • He experiences a dramatic change of fortune, in this case, exile (peripeteia),
    • The change of fortune leads to his downfall (in this case, suicide).
    • The only possible deviation is the sense of closure (catharsis), since Achebe seems to sympathize with Okonkwo to some degree.
  • Tragic Hero: Achebe was more or less explicit that Okonkwo was supposed to be a tragic hero on the classical Greek model.
  • Tragic Mistake: A couple, actually.