Analyzing Things Fall Apart
Today the rich cultural heritage of the societies has been threatened by the challenges of changes as a result of the coming of foreigners and their values. You may not have witnessed the societies in their purity but at least you would have had the opportunity to listen to elders tell of it.
Chinua Achebe depicts the traditional life of the Igbo people of Nigeria a country that is also known as Naija, slightly before and after their contact with the Europeans. The background to the novel is the author's burning desire to correct the predominant wrong opinion of foreigners about Africa; an opinion created and sustained by some European novelists like Joyce Cary in Master Johnson and to a lesser extent Joseph Conrad in The Heart of Darkness.
Things Fall Apart is the story of a traditional Igbo clan. Okonkwo is used to express the functioning of the people, because to a reasonable extent, he is a fully realised character within the system. The story begins at the height of his popularity as a youth. He has worked conscientiously hard in order to dissociate himself from weakness and laziness of his father, which he fears might be inherent in his lineage. Although his achievements are personal, most often they are shared by his community. He defeats the famous Amalinze in a wrestling contest to bring fame to himself and his people. He also distinguishes himself as a warrior and a hard-working farmer. As a hard-working farmer, Okonkwo builds up a large barn, merits three chieftancy titles, acquires three wives and fathers many children. But he accidentally kills Ezeudu's son and exiled according to tribal laws. He lived away in Mbaino, his mother's land for seven years.
In his absence, a number of changes occur. The whitemen arrives with his religion, education, new roads and an entirely new administration. On his return to Umuofia, he meets a different society where old values are giving way for the new ones associated with the white men. He invites the people of Umuofia against the whiteman but they know better than him that times have really changed. Nevertheless, he persists and spearheads the burning of the Christian church. He is man-handled by the colonial administration. On his release, he realizes rather late that he is fighting alone. He kills the arrogant whiteman's messenger who comes to stop the meeting of Umuofia elders and hangs himself.
The plot is linear, but also complex. The novel is as much a story of Okonkwo as it is that of Umuofia, a community which projects the life style of Igbo people just before and after their contact with Europeans. On the surface, we are tempted to agree that the book could be reduced to a chapter of a kind of a sociology-anthropological piece that will talk about a man, who kills a colonial messenger and hangs himself, but the novel is a comprehensive account of a way of life disrupted by alien forces. Okonkwo is only one of the greatest men in Umuofia, as Obierika remarks on his death.
The plot is divided into three parts. The first part spans thirteen chapters, more half of the book. In this part, the author takes us back to reveal the social background of the people; the individual within the community as typified by Okonkwo, his household - wives and children; the major occupation of the people, farming; their pastimes and festivals- including the moonlight tales, new yam festivals, wrestling and marriage ceremonies; and some important cultural institutions like the place of the oracle, the system of justice, religious practices and beliefs. These are some of the major things that are shared in common and they bind society together. On the other hand, some of these practices seem to have had negative effects on some people who seek to escape from them. Therefore, part one prepares the ground for the theme of conflict. Part two, about six chapters centers on Okonkwo's exile in Mbaino, his mother's home. Part three, another five chapters on Okonkwo's return to Umuofia after long period of exile. Here we see eventual suicide. It is the section that reveals the major conflicts in the story and its tragic result.