Chinua Achebe’s 1961 debut novel “things fall apart” concerns itself with the events surrounding the start of this disastrous chapter in African history.
Things Fall Apart is a narrative that follows the life of an Igbo tribe on the very cusp of the time when the wave of colonization washed over Africa.
It tells the story of Okonkwo, a proud and highly respected Igbo from Umuofia, somewhere near the Lower Niger. Okonkwo’s clan are farmers, their complex society a patriarchal, democratic one. Achebe suggests that village life has not changed substantially in generations.
But then the English arrive in their region, with the Bible – rather than the gun – their weapon of choice. As the villagers begin to convert to Christianity, the ties that had ensured the clan’s equilibrium come undone. As Okonkwo’s friend Obierika explains: “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.” Unwilling to adapt, Okonkwo finds himself the protagonist in a Modern Greek tragedy.
Just as the title predicts, Okonkwo’s plans for a perfect life go astray. Change is inevitable, and even the best laid plans go astray. In the turbulent time setting, Okonkwo is doomed to lose the traditions he cherishes as his society slowly falls apart.