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Summary of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

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Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe, depicts life among the Igbo society in Nigeria. Okonkwo is a wealthy and respected warrior of the Umuofia clan, a Nigerian tribe. He is constantly haunted by the actions of Unoka, his weak and unaccomplished father, who died in shame, leaving many village debts unsettled. To counteract his father’s bad reputation, Okonkwo became a strong warrior, successful farmer, and a wealthy family provider

Okonkwo strives to make his way in a world that seems to value manliness. He becomes stoic to a fault. His tragic flaw was that he equated manliness with rashness, anger, and violence, and this brings about his own destruction.

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For the Igbo, the storytellers that attract you and the stories that resonate for you indicate your values. Nwoye, for example, prefers to listen to his mother’s stories rather than his father’s, setting him apart from the other Igbo men. Later, Nwoye’s love of the Christians’ hymns and simple stories compel him to reject his own clan and convert, one of the first incidents of the clan’s disintegration

Nwoye is lured away from Igbo culture and toward Christianity by the affecting quality of the missionaries’ songs and tales, which speak to him more powerfully than the stories he grew up with. By choosing new stories to believe in, Nwoye in effect chooses a new society to belong to. The falling apart of the Igbo community can be traced to the fact that the Igbo consider the white people to be mere “fairy-tales.” Rather than appreciating accounts of the Europeans’ approach as factual reports, the news of their own imminent colonization strikes the Igbo as an incredible story. As the clan elders of Mbanta confer, one claims that, though they heard “ ‘stories about white men who made the powerful guns and the strong drinks and took slaves away across the seas,’ no one thought the stories were true.” Uchendu, Okonkwo’s thoughtful uncle, responds, “‘There is no story that is not true.’ ” The Igbo tell stories to order their world and to ascribe meaning to certain events. But the story of the white people is not a story they have woven, whose meanings they can control. Most of the Igbo people cannot incorporate the fantastical tale of the Europeans into their worldview because it lies so far outside their frame of reference. But by failing to appreciate Uchendu’s philosophy that every story contains some truth, the Igbo fail to realize that their authority to write their own stories—in essence, to control their own destinies—has become threatened by the colonizers.The final downfall of the Igbo people is heralded by another story—a story about them, but one that is narrated by an outsider. At the close of the novel, the Commissioner decides that he will record his own story of the Igbo. However, he declares that he must be “firm in leaving out superfluous details.” There is no room for artful, Igbo-like rhetoric in his tale of conquest. The narrative the Commissioner envisions is one that would make for “interesting reading,” that is, a written rather than oral story, which entertains rather than communicates values and customs. The Commissioner’s writing sounds the death knell for the Igbo culture, its rejection of the Igbo’s prized oral narration and elaborate rhetoric symbolizing the European conquering of Africa and subsequent uprooting of its traditions.

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Furthermore, Chinua Achebe explores the scramble for African states by the British and other colonial powers. As the reader explores the text, they get to realize that the presence of the colonial missionaries in Umuofia was an innocent missionary activity at the beginning which later changed as the missionaries later became interested in governing the people of Umuofia. The promise of a better life in Christ leads many villagers to convert to Christianity; this angers Okonkwo who sees this as a ploy by the colonialists to divide the previously tight ties between the clans (Achebe 2004 p. 55). This theme is reflected in the post-colonial era where developed countries still scramble for resources from developing countries in Africa. They do this through the provision of donor aid that enables them to gain control of the states and their resources indirectly. Okonkwo resists the entrance of the missionaries in their clan of Umuofia. He is seen as the black sheep since most members of the clan have embraced Christianity. His resistance to their entry leads him to kill one of the white administrators, and he is unable to handle the pressure he faces due to the pending murder charges (Achebe 2004 p. 88). This drives him to commit suicide and the previously celebrated Okonkwo dies an outcast and a shame to the society.

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As shown above, in general, Things Fall Apart is a great story about life, changes, and challenges

The variety of characters allows to analyze the work from different perspectives and to get a clear picture about the life in 1890s. The description of religious aspects of life makes the novel really strong. The role of gods in people’s life, men’s duties in society, importance of traditions, and family support – this is what Chinua Achebe concentrates on in his work. He did a really great job and made his masterpiece available for many people, writing Things Fall Apart in clear English.

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Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York, NY: Anchor Books, 2004. Print.

Gikandi, Simon. Reading Chinua Achebe: Language & Ideology in Fiction. Oxford: James Currey Publishers, 1991.

Mallison, Jane. Book Smart: Your Essential Reading List for Becoming a Literary Genius in 365 Days. United States: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2007.

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