Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart has been regarded as one of the greatest African novels of all time. The story, set in the late 19th century, in what is now modern-day Nigeria, has touched readers from various cultures around the world. The work explores the changes brought by British colonialism, and how it affects the African society. Things Fall Apart is packed with universal themes that still resonate today - this is a deep-dive into some of them.
One of Achebe’s most prominent themes is the struggle between old and new cultures. This is expertly illustrated through the experiences of the protagonist, Okonkwo, as he struggles to adapt to the changes brought by British colonialism. Okonkwo is a man who values tradition, deeply rooted in the customs and practices of his Igbo people. However, as the British colonizers introduce their religion and laws, the Igbo’s traditional way of life begins to crumble.
Achebe masterfully portrays the clash between the Nigerian tribes and their British colonizers. The missionaries aim to “civilize” the Africans, disregarding their rich culture and history. This clash ultimately leads to the destruction of the Igbo society and its people.
Relevant quote: “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”
Here at BookishBounty, we’ve also explored other literary works that delve into themes of cultural conflict, such as the search for meaning in Albert Camus’ The Stranger and the power of friendship in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Masculinity and Power
In Things Fall Apart, masculinity plays a crucial role in shaping the beliefs and actions of the characters. Okonkwo is the embodiment of the traditional Igbo man: strong, powerful, and fiercely loyal to his tribe. He is expected to provide for his family and defend his village, and he prides himself on being able to do so. Okonkwo associates his sense of self-worth with his ability to fulfill these roles, and when he is unable to do so, he perceives himself as weak and powerless.
Achebe delves into the complexities of masculinity and the pressure placed on men to uphold societal expectations. This theme becomes even more relevant when we consider the world we live in today, where men continually grapple with societal expectations and the consequences of toxic masculinity.
Relevant quote: “Perhaps down in his heart, Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness […] It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father. Even as a little boy he had resented his father’s failure and weakness, and even now he still remembered how he had suffered when a playmate had told him that his father was agbala. That was how Okonkwo first came to know that agbala was not only another name for a woman, it could also mean a man who had taken no title. And so Okonkwo was ruled by one passion — to hate everything that his father Unoka had loved.”
The Struggle between Fate and Free Will
Achebe introduces a timeless theme that resonates with readers in Things Fall Apart: the question of whether our lives are predetermined, or if we have the power to control our destiny. His approach to this theme is twofold - on one hand, he presents the Igbo culture with its belief in the supernatural, where characters believe their fate is guided by the gods. On the other hand, he shows the characters making choices that ultimately shape their destinies.
Okonkwo’s life is an example of this struggle, as he is determined to emerge from his father’s shadow, and works tirelessly to achieve success. However, his attempts to assert control over events only lead to tragic consequences.
Relevant quote: “When a man is at a peace with his gods and his ancestors, his harvest will be good or bad according to the strength of his arm.”
In our exploration of literary works at BookishBounty, this struggle between fate and free will can also be found in other classics such as the tragic irony of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.
Inevitability of Change
Finally, Achebe tackles the theme of the inevitability of change. No matter how much a society tries to resist change or hold onto its traditional ways, progress is unstoppable. As the British colonizers gain influence, the Igbo way of life is disrupted, and the tribe’s demise is sealed.
This theme serves as a reminder that accepting change is a vital part of human growth, and that resisting it often leads to more significant harm. Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a testament to the fact that change is a universal theme that continues to impact our lives today.
Relevant quote: “There is no story that is not true, […] The world has no end, and what is good among one people is an abomination with others.”
Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is not only a beautiful piece of literature that exposes the complexities of African culture, but it also highlights universal themes that remain relevant in today’s world. The novel underscores the importance of understanding different cultures and embracing change to unite humankind in a more harmonious existence.
We highly recommend exploring more themes in the realm of literature, such as the magic realism and vibrant imagery of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and the timeless lessons of *To Kill a Mockingbird: Revisiting Harper Lee’s Classic.