Things Fall Apart Review ⭐

Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ remains the single best piece of literature to come out of Africa.

Things Fall Apart

Chinua Achebe

‘Things Fall Apart‘ is an immensely important novel that shines not only because of the relevance of its themes but also the poignancy embedded within its simplicity, and the greatness lying behind a seemingly basic plot. It is the work with the greatest reputation in African literature. Here we find out what makes ‘Things Fall Apart’ so worthy of this gigantic reputation.

An Important Novel

Before Achebe wrote ‘Things Fall Apart,’ students learning about Africa through fiction had to go through works like Joyce Cary’s ‘Mister Johnson,’ and Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness.’ These are supposedly serious literary works with a clean reputation that purported to accurately represent the African man.
In truth, these works only served to advance the imperialist goals of the European colonizers by representing Africans as passionate simpletons at best or as primitive animals at worst. Joyce Cary’s work typecasted the African within a very limited and specific category- that of the passionate and emotional but simple individual. What ‘Things Fall Apart’ did was to present Africans with a wider range of attributes that marked them as fully human, with typical human strengths and weaknesses. So, we get individuals like Okonkwo and Nwoye occupying worldviews and temperaments that are poles apart. We also have the likes of Obierika, who straddles a middle ground between both character types.

Achebe constructs a Umuofia society with a fairly sophisticated way of life and institutions. The people of Umuofia judged disputes under an overarching need to preserve harmony and cohesion in society. They had elaborate marriage rituals that emphasized a wider sense of familyhood and community. They buried their dead with much respect and fanfare. However, it was also a very patriarchal society that marginalized women, killed off twins, and cast away people with certain debilitating illnesses. Although this is a society that could very much do with the sophistication in medicine and technology the West had to offer, it was by no means the primitive and cannibalistic society full of blood-thirsty savages that the likes of Conrad described in their books. Achebe’s book is important because it offers a truer image of Africa that is far more respectful to Africans, and far more acknowledging of their humanity.

‘Things Fall Apart’ might seem a pretty easy read, with a style that does not appear to fulfill high Western stylistic standards, but it is no less powerful. Through the use of a structure and style that conforms to African oral tradition rather than that of the West, Achebe’s work demonstrates its authenticity and power. The work is structured in a manner that closely mimics traditional African forms. The novel is divided into three unequal parts, with the first part being as large as the second and third parts put together. The first part is only large because much time is spent on events that lay out the culture and traditions of the people of Umuofia, rather than on progressing the plot.

The narrative nostalgically goes over the community’s agricultural practices, religion, marriage, funeral customs, and judicial system, before returning to the plot at the end. This narrative structure is not consistent with Western literary forms but has its roots in the oral traditions of African storytelling. Igbo orators normally skirt around a subject by dwelling on side events before eventually hitting upon it. With the coming of the White man and his religion, the plot progresses at a rapid pace, as if to signal the rapid coming to an end of this Umuofia society that Achebe had spent so long describing.

‘Things Fall Apart’ is known not only for the originality and relevance of its themes but also its style. Achebe’s masterful use of the English language earned him praise from critics. The critic, Obumselu, praised Achebe for maintaining the literal fidelity of the Igbo words and contexts he was translating into English.
He thought Achebe succeeded in preserving the local flavor of these words and contexts. His thoughts were echoed by the critic G. Adali Morty, who, writing in 1959, succinctly posited that Achebe’s use of language “has the ring and rhythm of poetry. In the background of the words can be heard the thrumming syncopation of the sound of Africa- the gongs, the drums, the castanets and the horns.”

The novel’s reputation as an authentic work is also helped by its seeming objectivity and freedom from bias and agenda. Achebe’s decision to not go to the other extreme and oppose racist portrayals of African society with idealized portrayals of the same society earned him plaudits from the likes of Gerald Moore. Moore contrasts Achebe’s intellectual honesty and realism with the chauvinistic idealism and African mythologizing, which he seems to detect in works of contemporaries of Achebe like Camara Laye. Moore believes that Achebe’s refusal to “justify, explain or condemn is responsible for a good deal of the book’s success. The novelist presents to us a picture of traditional Igbo life as just as he can make it. The final judgment of that life, as of the life which replaced it, is left to us.”

Nationalist Criticism

Another way in which critics have looked at Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart,’ and indeed most of his other works, was within the lens of the anti-colonial and pan-Africanist demand for African writers to throw away every vestige of western forms in their works. One such form is the use of the language of the colonizers, such as English. For the subscribers of this school of thought, African writers ought to write in indigenous African languages and not in English. These critics believed that the use of English by African writers would limit the ability of writers to do justice to the complexity and originality of the African imagination.

Several anti-colonial writers like Ngugi Wa Thiong’o have criticized Achebe for writing in English. To them, it was impossible to fully convey an authentic African experience while writing about it in a foreign language. But their criticisms ring hollow in the face of Achebe’s masterful use of the English language in such a way that it clearly and effectively transmits this authentic African experience. The original Igbo feeling, humor, and depths behind the dialogues are effectively conveyed.

Critics like Obiajunwa Wali believed that African writers writing in English were subjecting their work to European standards, with their novels being only a continuation of Western literary and philosophical traditions rather than being part of the evolution or maturation of a truly African one. For him, novels like ‘Things Fall Apart’ cannot be entirely African since they borrow from European stylistic and narrative strategies. Achebe’s response to this position was the argument that it is not actually about the language one uses but how one uses such language. In his essay, ‘The African writer and the English language,’ written in 1965, Achebe explained that there is nothing inherent about the English language that negatively restricts the originality and authenticity of the African novel. He maintained that the African writer could pass his message accurately and authentically convey the African experience through creative and masterful use of the English language. 

Feminist Criticism

Although Achebe locates ‘Things Fall Apart’ within an obviously patriarchal Igbo society, one true to the times, he nevertheless came under fire for his portrayal of women in the novel. Critics like Ifi Amadiume and Florence Stratton argued that Achebe’s portrayal of women displays deep-seated prejudicial sentiments towards them. They argue that Achebe often went beyond what was obtainable in pre-colonial Igbo society to disempower and silence the voice of women. Stratton observed that Igbo women did have considerable influence and power in pre-colonial Igbo society and that Achebe’s failure to capture this sufficiently reveals his bias against women.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is easy to see why ‘Things Fall Apart’ has sustained the reputation it has so far. It is easy to see why, despite the simplicity of narration and language, it continues to retain the reverence of some of the most prominent writers and critics, as well as readers from around the world. It is an important historical work, an important ammunition against racist literature, a successful representation of the possibilities of utilizing indigenous African forms, as well as a great demonstration of an authentic way to use the English language to accurately convey African thought, sentiments, and events.

Things Fall Apart Review
  • Story
  • Characters
  • Dialogue
  • Plot
  • Influence
  • Style
4.8

Things Fall Apart Review

Things Fall Apart’ is not only an important novel that successfully counters racist portrayals of Africans in Western literature but is also a disarmingly rich work that incorporates traditional African forms in a revolutionary way. The structure might be unusual, but that is only because it is staying true to the African oral tradition, rather than Western standards. ‘Things Fall Apart‘ owes a lot of its success and acclaim to the nuance and maturity with which it carries out its task of rehabilitating the butchered image of Africa, refusing to go the other extreme, but to rather present things as they were.

Pros

  • Quite accessible
  • Great depiction of traditional African society
  • Revolutionary use of traditional African styles and forms
  • Ability to accurately translate the original Igbo contexts into English
  • Very influential to subsequent African writers

Cons

  • Needlessly stripped female characters of power
Israel Njoku
About Israel Njoku
Israel has a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication. He loves entertainment, pop-culture and the arts and tries to extract themes with wider reaching implications from them through rigorous analysis.
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