‘Things Fall Apart’ : A Novel par Excellence

Subhash Ghimire 

Nigerian author Chinua Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart in 1958, which was his first novel to be published. This book has been translated into over 50 languages, and continues to enjoy great popularity among readers all around the world. The title of this 197-page book is taken from the widely read poem “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats. Southeast Nigeria in the 1890s serves as the backdrop for this historical fiction, which is rooted on mythology, folklore, and true events. After fighting the British and failing to get his people to confront them, the book’s tragic hero, Okonkwo, is forced to commit suicide.

The book can be divided into its pre-colonial and post-colonial sections. A thorough description of Okonkwo’s life, family, community, and Igbo culture is presented at the beginning. The account of how the entire way of life in his town was shattered and the degree of the British impact on his family, community, and hamlet is presented in a very captivating manner.

Strong, powerful, and industrious, Okonkwo has achieved everything in life with sheer hard labor. He becomes the wrestling champion after emerging victorious in a contest against Amalinze (The Cat), the strongest wrestler in his community. He rises to become the leader of Umofia as well. He worries all the time that people would think of him as a useless coward, just like his father.  Unoka, Okonkwo’s father, was a terrible man throughout his life. He used to borrow money from people, use it to purchase alcohol, and never pay them back. He didn’t care at all if his actions made his family go hungry. Because Unoka drowned Okonkwo’s family in debt before he died, he was hated in the community. Okonkwo works very hard to erase the shame of his father. He farms, wrestles, and eventually climbs to the position of community leader. Ten children are born to his three spouses. He suppresses his emotions to maintain a manly demeanor. To maintain his authority over them and to keep them in line, he even beats his wife and children severely.

Okonkwo hated his father with all of his heart. He starts to worry that his son may become as useless as his father was. His son Nwoye is a simple, lethargic boy. The aggressiveness Okonkwo would like to see in him is absent from him. Rather, he sees in his daughter Ezinma all he wishes he could find in his son. If she had been born as a boy, he wonders how his fortunes could have been different.

One day, a man from Mbaino, a hamlet near Okongkwo’s Umuofia village, murders a woman from Umuofia. But Mbaino had no interest in going up against Umuofia. Consequently, the Mbaino people consent to sending Ikemefuna, a fifteen-year-old boy, and a virgin female to Umuofia as a form of penalty. Okonkwo is incredibly passionate about Ikemefuna. He looks after him after bringing him to his own house. Ikemefuna addresses Okonkwo as father. Ikemefuna is endowed with the qualities Okonkwo desires in a son. He treats Ikemefuna as though he were his own kid. The son of Okonkwo, Nwoye, gets along well with Ikemefuna as well.

Ikemefuna had become part of the Okonkwo family after he moved into Okonkwo’s house three years earlier. One day, a respected and the oldest man in the village Ogbuefi Ezeudu calls Okonkwo and tells him in private that the village gods command that Ikemefuna be slain, but since Ikemefuna feels a great bond with Okonkwo, he shouldn’t be involved in Ikemefuna’s murder. Under false pretenses of returning him home, Okonkwo takes Ikemefuna from the house. Locals from Umuofia also follow them. The locals start attacking Ikemefuna with a range of weapons while they are moving. Ikemefuna is confused since he doesn’t know anything at all. He has no idea what is going on. He approaches Okongkwo and begs for his help. But being cautious not to reveal his weakness to the villagers, Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna with a machete, Okonkwo views emotional outbursts as a sign of weakness. As a result, Okonkwo was always thought to be emotionless unless he was being furious. Nwoye is furiously distraught by Ikemefuna’s death. He begins to distance himself from his father, Okonkwo. Even though he was reluctant to admit it, Okonkwo was also extremely saddened by what had transpired. He goes without food for several days due to depression.

One day, the old Ezeudu passes away too. A sizable gathering is grieving his loss. It’s customary in Umofia village to beat drums and shoot fire arms into the air when someone dies. Ezeudu’s sixteen-year-old son dies after Okonkwo’s gunshot accidentally hits him. Since he had killed a member of his own people Okonkwo was exiled from the village for seven years. With their belongings, his family follows him out of the house. When he leaves the hamlet, the villagers kill his cattle and set fire to his home. He makes his way to Mbanta, the village where his mother was born. The family on his mother’s side is quite helpful in his establishment. They provide him housing and land for farming.

About a year later, Okonkwo’s friend Obierika arrives  to inform him that the British had plundered a hamlet named Abame close to Umuofia, and Umuofian gods had predicted that the British would also destroy Umuofia. Meanwhile, six preachers in Mbanta make an effort to convert the villagers in a similar manner. Their chief, Mr. Brown, was a wise man. He wasn’t trying to impose Christianity into the village by force. He was also a kind and generous man. But he gets sick and is replaced by the despot James Smith. The son of Okonkwo, Nwoye, eventually gets converted to Christianity and adopts the name Isaac.

The British try to acquire land from the villagers so they can build a church. But the villagers are not ready to give the British any land. There’s a resolution to the problem. In the village, there is a forest known as evil forest where the unclean and those who died from infectious diseases were dumped. The people provide the same forest to the British. The locals are amazed by the British’s prowess since despite residing in such a notorious forest, they manage to escape unharmed.

Following a seven-year banishment, Okonkwo returns home. The condition of the village shocks him. By then, Umuofia was completely under British rule. The people in the area are now Christians. The British had also built a school and a hospital there. The locals are asked to send their children to school and are threatened with being ruled by literate outsiders if they don’t. The villagers start sending their children to the school. Naturally, the kids start learning English language.

One day Enoch, a converted Christian, kills the ancestral spirit in Umuofia by revealing his identity while the locals are honoring the earth goddess. In response, the villagers set fire to the church. Six villagers including Okonkwo meet with the district commissioner to settle the dispute. The British have them imprisoned in handcuffs and would not release them until they pay a fine.

Enraged by the sense of insult and retaliation, Okonkwo summons the villagers to a meeting. Five Englishmen come to disrupt the meeting. Okonkwo kills the chieftain by cutting his throat with a sword. The last four Englishmen start to run away in fear. The villagers don’t want to confront them. Okonkwo wants to see in the villagers the bravery of warriors like himself, so he is terribly saddened to see their morale and determination declined in such a way. Okonkwo, who is depressed, hangs himself with a noose around his neck. Since suicide is viewed as a serious sin in their culture, no one in his tribe approaches him, and they ask the British to cut the noose.