Things Fall Apart, published in 1958 before Nigeria got her independence, was inspired by earlier works, mainly novels by expatriate writers of European origin, which had misrepresented Africa and distorted her image to the outside world.
So in the novel, Achebe tries to present African life in a realistic and objective way, balancing the good and the evil. The result is serious, if not profound, and yet one of the most interesting novels ever written.
The title Things Fall Apart is taken from a line of a poem titled, The Second Coming by the Irish poet and dramatist, W. B. Yeats.
The title begins to make sense when many things start going wrong, both in Okonkwo’s household and in the entire clan or society. At first, Okonkwo’s home is quite happy and prosperous, and his village and clan united.
Then misfortunes strike. Okonkwo, the hero and protagonist of the novel, accidentally kills Ezeudu’s 16-year-old son, and is forced into exile to his mother’s homeland, Mbanta, for seven years. His home is burnt to the ground. Okonkwo loses his place in his clan. Then the Whiteman sets in with his strange ways: religion, government, and culture.
Families and clans get divided. Okonkwo’s own son, Nwoye, makes haste to embrace the new faith. Some black people go to work for the Whiteman and assist him in establishing his government, religion and in carrying out trade. It then becomes difficult to keep the tribe united and coherent, or to mobilise it against the infiltration of the Whiteman. To attain his own end, the Whiteman has cleverly divided the people. Obierika explains:
“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peacefully with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”
So, we see even the diehard Okonkwo lose his eldest son to the new faith, which makes him furious. And on his return from exile, he finds that it is really too late to put the pieces together.
The same dilemma and fate face other villages such as Abame and Mbanta. Other converts became quite aggressive in their mode of professing the new creed, for example, Enock, who ‘killed’ an ancestral spirit or egwugwu.
In the end some people in the tribe are forced to fight in defence and honour of their ancestral spirits and gods. They destroy Enock’s compound and even burn the new church in Umuofia to pacify spirits.
An enraged Okonkwo kills the Kotma or court messenger sent to arrest him. But the last pieces in his falling life is yet to come as he commits an irredeemable crime against the gods.
Things Fall Apart explores the dilemma that confronted the Ibo men when the white man came with new cultural values. The story of Things Fall Apart is probably the rain that beat Chinua Achebe.
The writer is an educationist and publisher