Let’s Discuss — Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo’s fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father (13)

Things Fall Apart tells the story of Okonkwo, a much respected man in his community. Okonkwo, a very authoritarian-like figure, is driven solely by his preoccupation with power and rank. This is traced back to his relationship with his father, a lazy and non prosperous man. Regardless of circumstance, Okonkwo is able to hold everything together…that is until things fall apart.

It’s easy to read this novel and admire its simple and folkloric prose. If you’ve ever wondered why a tortoise shell is uneven and lumpy, this book will tell you why. There’s definitely something fable-esque(?) about it.  At times the story is so straightforward and uncomplicated, I found myself wondering when any actual conflict would ensue. Okonkwo seems to have everything under control. He’s a stern man–mean even. And he won’t be overcome by any other.

It’s also easy to read this novel and conclude Okonkwo holds a negative attitude toward women. He associates questionable* traits and actions with women. Accusations and criticisms of men behaving femininely are thrown around frequently. So…I would say in order to “enjoy” this book, the reader may have to step out of the mindset which tells them to be offended (if offended) and realize that’s just how it is… e.g:

It was a crime against the earth goddess to kill a clansmen, and a man who committed it must flee from the land. The crime was of two kinds, male and female. Okonkwo had committed the female, because it had been inadvertent (124)

So when do things fall apart? Ironically, they begin with Okonkwo doing something considered feminine and then being sent away for seven years. Okonkwo being the thriving creature he is, fairs well during his absence, but what he returns to is too much, even for him. His village has been divided in two by a new threat; men who look and live nothing like Okonkwo.

It’s hard to read the last fifty pages of this book and not feel resentment towards the white men who come and take over their villages. The thing is, despite how extreme or violent the penal system seemed for Okonkwo and his fellow villagers–it was their system. Their system eradicated the imbalances. It functioned…until the white man arrived, like a virus, spreading their faith and governance. Okonkwo cannot overcome this power struggle, but he refuses to let another man tell him how to lead his life. And so Okonkwo becomes a martyr.

*By questionable, I mean generally perceived to be bad. I say questionable because for obvious reasons I beg to differ.

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