Objective: In this paper I will discuss the text Things Fall Apart while analyzing the characters, events, and the historical relevance of the story. Also, I will summarize the story while expanding on the major themes of the book. Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, is a tragic story about the rise and fall of Okonkwo. The story takes place in Umuofia, a cluster of villages in Niger during the 1890’s. the Umuofians are known for being a notorious war clan with many members, advanced social institutions, and phenomenal traditions.
Chinua Achebe educated his readers throughout the novel by capitalizing on historical importance’s in Nigerian history, like when the Europeans invaded Niger as well as basic history about African culture and traditions. In the beginning of the novel, Okonkwo and his father are the general focus and the readers begin to see their father – son relationship. Okonkwo is always criticizing his father as being lazy, weak, and unmotivated to do things. Okonkwo views these characteristics as feminine, so he never really sees his father as a real man.
Ever since he was younger, Okonkwo has known he never wanted to grow up to emulate his father. He wanted to be a better man and respected by everyone in Umuofia and beyond. Since then the only emotion he has expressed is resentment and anger. Growing up, his success came from defeating an undefeated wrestler in their community named Cat. The novel really picks up after Okonkwo’s fathers death, which has left an enormous debt to his neighbors. Okonkwo never felt any remorse about his father’s death because he does not express any emotion now besides anger and aggression in his quest to become a great, well-respected man.
As the novel continues, Okonkwo not only has evolved into a well respected man but his village is also respected by their neighboring clans however, one night his village and another village were put to the test. All of the men in Okonkwo’s village were asked to meet to discuss an unknown matter. The men were then informed that a woman from their village had been kidnapped and murdered. The village concluded to send Okonkwo to confront the neighboring village. He was to give them an ultimatum, either they were going to war or they were to give them a virgin and a young boy.
Okonkwo’s village received a virgin who was given to the man whose wife was murdered and the young boy was given to Okonkwo and his family until he was to be executed in three years. Through out the novel Achebe provides the readers with explicit imagery of the African village Okonkwo lives in. he exemplifies their traditional customs, natural beliefs, and economical ways of the villages. In the African villages, the most successful and wealthy a man is shows his status in the community. Okonkwo will do anything to have a high status in the village.
This intense work ethic he uses to strive for the top also shows his weaknesses like how he is afraid of failure and ending up like his father. Achebe shows the work the people did in the village and how important their agriculture was. Farms were their main source of work and food. Yams were their main crop and were kept alive for many generations. Men of the household would leave their sons with a barn of yam seeds to get them started so they would be able to provide for themselves once they died. Unfortunately for Okonkwo he was never left any seeds from his father.
He had to work harder then everyone else to harvest as many yams. He was able to borrow some seeds from his friend, but that year ended up being a bad year for harvesting so he was left with little to show for his friend’s generous deed. This took a toll on Okonkwo and he became even more hostile towards his family. He assumed they were just as strong and determined as he was, but they were not. When this came to light, he chose to take it out on his children and wives. Ikemefuna was the boy given to Okonkwo and his family from the neighboring village peace treaty.
Nwoye, the oldest son in Okonkwo’s family received most of Okonkwo’s anger because it was important for his sons to grow up and be strong men. The two boys became very close and considered themselves to be real brothers. They were inseparable and did all their chores together. Nwoye was not the only one who became fond of the new addition to the family, but Okonkwo has also grown to enjoy the boys company but tried not to show it so he would not be perceived as weak. Ikemefuna had the privilege of experiencing a very important celebration,
The Week of Peace, in the village during his stay with Okonkwo. During this week there was supposed to be no negativity throughout the village. No one is to look down on anyone, speak harshly, or hurt anyone in any way. Okonkwo breaks the traditions of The Week of Peace when he attempts to shoot his youngest wife because she did not fix him dinner. He accepts the consequences but still does not really believe he has done anything wrong. Achebe shows the reader the gender roles present in the village through the way Okonkwo reacted.
After this incident, the story began to pick up. Okonkwo’s second wife, Ekwefi, is introduced and we learn that she loves wrestling and her daughter Enzima. Okonkwo is also very fond of Enzima and tries his best to show her love . He does not treat her harshly like the boys because he does not want her to grow up strong like a man should. However, at times he does wish that she were a boy so he could treat her the way he treats his sons and have her work in the fields. At this point in the novel, one could say this was the beginning of the end for Okonkwo.
The second testament to Okonkwo’s demise happens when he is told it is time for Ikemefuna to be killed. Okonkwo is advised by an elder not to have anything to do with the execution because the boy looks up to him as a father. Ikemefuna is walked into the forest with the notion that he is allowed to go home to his old village. As he arrives at the forest he begins to be beaten and he runs to his “father” Okonkwo. But Okonkwo shoots him to death once he sees what is going on because he does not want to be perceived as being weak and a failure since Ikemefuna has shown this affection towards him.
This is the first time Okonkwo ever questions his mannerisms towards affection and his problem with anger and he begins to feel ashamed of himself. He could not believe that he had killed someone that was loved by his whole family including himself. Okonkwo’s emotions are tested again when he hears that Enzima is dying. He actually shows emotion and rushes to get her medicine to help her get better. She recovers and is taken away by the oracle. Her parents follow them because they are worried about her. Okonkwo had taken the gun with them and planned on killing anyone who would put Enzima in danger.
This was a new side the reader saw of Okonkwo’s emotions and it also caught him off guard. It becomes clear that he is falling apart after he kills a sixteen-year-old boy at a funeral. The boy is the son of the man whose funeral they were attending. Okonkwo and his family are banned from the village. They have nowhere to go so they go to a neighboring village to stay with his mothers relatives. They were welcomed with open arms but Okonkwo does not notice because he is to wrapped up in his own emotions of feeling ashamed. He has nothing under control right now so he feels powerless which is very unmanly.
While in this new village he visits his old friend Obrieka who shares with him some disturbing news. White men have invaded a neighboring village and it has been destroyed. Two years later Obrieka shares new enlightening news that the white men have invaded Okonkwo’s old village. They have built churches and are attempting to recruit the village inhabitants to convert to Christianity. The worst part being that Nwoye is one of the recruiters. The Christians now control most of the village turning it into a center for trade. Okonkwo’s banishment was up so he hoped to return and be the great leader he was.
He was furious with the people for not burning down the churches and killing the white men because this is what he would have done, so he urges people to do it now. Once the churches are destroyed he and other suspects are thrown in jail but he does not understand how the white men have so much power. After he was released from jail of course he was furious and kills a white men causing the other white men to leave. The District Commissioner of the white men arrives and sends orders for Okonkwo. When the towns people explain that he is not home he does not understand.
They then show them a man hanging from a tree, Okonkwo. Okonkwo took his own life. He had nothing else to live for since he had lost everything, his son, home, his power, and control. But the one thing he would never let anyone else take away, his life. The title of the book is very foreshadowing and appropriate for the novel. The main themes of the novel were masculinity, fate, free will, and justice. Achebe took us on journey through Umuofia with a man to find himself to only loose himself. Bibliography Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books, 1991.