Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart was published in 1958 and influenced Nigeria’s literary renaissance in the 1960s. As the title suggests, Things Fall Apart is about the tragic downfall of a community and culture as an indigenous way of life crumbles from being assailed by foreign forces they do not understand and are unprepared for. The novel’s first half offers an anthropological representation of the Igbo culture and life by detailing the life of Okonkwo, the community’s leader and the protagonist in this story.

The second half chronicles Okonkwo’s banishment from the community after he accidentally kills a clansman when his faulty firearm goes off. Seven years after exile, Okonkwo returns to Igbo and warns his people of an emergent African issue likely to destroy the community as colonial governments and white missionaries continue to intrude on communities. The two-part structure allows the author to confront the impact of colonialism on indigenous communities.

A Stable African Community

Chapters 1 to 19 of Things Fall Apart depict the culture of the Igbo with vibrancy and specificity. The embedded descriptions of the community’s seasonal rituals, daily routines, and interaction patterns overwhelmingly create the impression of shared culture and a sense of community. The reader unarguably sees an established system of norms and cultures that regulate the Igbo’s collective coexistence and how it is interwoven into the natural environments and cycles.

The book is traditionally structured and filled with proverbs, stories, and sayings showing that the Igbo had moral values that guided their way of life and depicted a sustaining and comprehensive social, economic, legal, political, and spiritual order. However, Achebe highlights a downside to this community despite the internal cohesion, especially the inflexibility of social norms and repression of the individuals by showing the discrimination, dehumanization, and violence against vulnerable groups, such as the abandonment of newborn twins. Nonetheless, despite the cultural demands for conformity that enacted certainty and a sense of duty, the Igbo had a solid system that maintained order and preserved their way of life.

Disruptive Colonial Invasion

Following the disruption of this order by colonial domination, the novel maintains a powerful anti-colonial position. Chapters 20 to 25 confront the colonial process from the establishment and the resulting disintegration of the Igbo society and culture. The colonialists arrived in Umuofia to bring civilization to Africans because they considered themselves inherently superior and wanted to achieve maximum control by replacing the Igbo culture and religion with their own (151). Achebe presents the British colonizers as cunning because they quietly arrived non-confrontationally with the Igbo culture, prompting the clans to mistake the silence for peaceability. 

In one of the sayings, Achebe emphasizes the preference for people who reveal their intentions because there is danger in those who remain silent. Similarly, Obierika notices how the colonialists’ strategy hides their intentions and allows them to fortify and increase. The political consequences for the Igbo were significant division by the new religion, and the people could no longer stand united. The division makes the community susceptible to more British encroachment and control of vital institutions.

Violent Domination

The book also explores violence and fear as prevalent tools for dominance and oppression for colonialists. In chapters 20 and 22, Achebe details how only a handful of the Igbo had converted to Christianity, a factor attributable to the community’s religious tolerance. The slow development delayed the colonialists’ primary objective of cultural erasure and displacement as they were adamant about imposing their rule by labeling the Igbo as primitive. Since Christianity lacks appeal for this community in a well-integrated community, education is considered a new strategy for a frontal attack against this cohesion. When total assimilation became impossible, the British began using force to keep the Igbo unresisting and submissive. Chapters 15, 20, and 23 detail how the British imposed foreign rule on the Igbo and applied standards they did not recognize to judge them, making the District Commissioner’s version of justice hypocritical and corrupt. For instance, when the Igbo elders are wrongly imprisoned, the District Commissioner says what they have done “must not happen in the dominion of our queen” (141). 

As such, the colonialists combine occupation, personal corruption, and a state of hegemony and paternalism to assert control over a society that previously had its functioning structure. Reverend Smith, a fanatical partisan in this injustice, encourages fanaticism among those that convert and motivates them to humiliate and insult the clan. The Reverend’s wrathful methods make the colonial agenda undoubtedly aggressive.

The book’s final episodes document a painful period of crisis that depicts collective trauma and the community’s grief after the colonialists gain entire control of their institutions. In the end, the Igbo suffer under brutal colonial rule, placing them at the mercy of a rigid overshadowing authority and losing touch with their culture. Supplanting and erasing the Igbo’s indigenous way of life is the greatest tragedy that befalls this community, as described in the author’s account of trauma and grief of colonial imposition.

Personal Assessment

Things Fall Apart is a broad literary work that bravely confronts the evils of colonialism and the value of lost indigenous cultures. The book reveals the history of colonialism as one of brutal subjugation of indigenous communities. Although the old order has already collapsed, the novel’s principal character cannot accept the new order due to its trauma and pain, as seen in the subsequent sequel, No Longer at Ease (1960). The British, like other colonial power, justified their conquests by asserting a religious and legal obligation to take over the culture and land of an indigenous people, even if it meant using forced assimilation and coercion. Achebe, therefore, plays an essential role in highlighting the harms of colonization, including human rights violations, ethnic rivalries, economic instability, environmental degradation, culture erosion, and the spread of diseases, among other social, political, and economic issues that can long outlast a country’s colonial rule.

Conclusively, by considering and reflecting honestly on the beliefs, values, customs, and practices of the Igbo, Things Fall Apart is a frank articulation of the African cultures in the past and post-colonial periods, as well as their relevance today and in the future. Achebe seeks to highlight the Igbo culture and colonial prejudices to identify how most elements of the community’s integration and practices were valuable in defining the people’s identity and providing social, political, and economic stability. Overall, the author argues that the loss and erasure of the Igbo culture and the resulting dependence on a foreign economy was the greatest tragedy to befall the Igbo and other African communities. 

Work Cited

Chinua, Achebe. “Things fall apart.” (2021).

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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