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Things Fall Apart, published in 1958, is the seminal African novel in English. Its author, Chinua Achebe is trying not only to inform the outside world about Ibo cultural traditions, but to remind his own people of their past and to assert that it had contained much of value. 1 All too many Africans in his time were ready to accept the European judgment that Africa had no history or culture worth considering. 2
Okonkwo, the son of the effeminate and lazy Unoka, struggles to make his way in a world that values manliness. In so doing, he rejects everything for which he believes his father stood. Unoka was idle, poor, profligate, cowardly, gentle, and interested in music and conversation. Okonkwo consciously accepts opposite ideals and becomes wealthy, productive, thrifty, violent, and brave.
Okonkwo achieves great social and financial success by embracing these ideals. Nevertheless, just as his father was at odds with the values of the community around him, so too does Okonkwo find himself unable to adapt to changing times as the white man comes to live among the Umuofians. As it becomes evident that compliance rather than violence constitutes the wisest principle for survival, Okonkwo realizes that he has become a relic, no longer able to function within his changing society.
As a story about a culture on the verge of change, Things Fall Apart deals with how the prospect and reality of change affect various characters. The tension about whether change should be privileged over tradition often involves questions of personal status. Okonkwo, for example, resists the new political and religious orders because he feels that they are not manly and that he himself will not be manly if he consents to join or even tolerate them. To some extent, Okonkwo’s resistance of cultural change is also due to his fear of losing societal status. His sense of self-worth is dependent upon the traditional standards by which society judges him. This system of evaluating the self inspires many of the clan’s outcasts to embrace Christianity. Long scorned, these outcasts find in the Christian value system a refuge from the Igbo cultural values that place them below everyone else.
- Paul Brians. Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart Study Guide. Retrieved at: http://www.wsu.edu:8000/~brians/anglophone/achebe.html
- Paul Brians.
- Paul Brians.
- Achebe, Chinua, Things Fall Apart (London; Heinemann, 1958), reprinted 1985