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How Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is Structured

Updated on August 10, 2017

Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, is structured around the life and culture of an African Tribe, the Ibo.This tale is of how the Ibo lost their way and themselves, at least to the main character of the story It is different from many novels in the fact that the conflict, does not come in the middle of the story, but rather the end. Most stories and novels tend to center around the conflict and how it was resolved. Achebe breaks from this tradition, and this difference gives the novel a unique feel. It could almost be compared to the history of Africa, where the conflicts are still not resolved. This tale is of how the Ibo lost their way and themselves, at least to the main character of the story. These facts do play an important role in the novel. The plot is broken into three parts, each with differing circumstances and points of focus.

Part 1

The first part of this novel is focused on the life of the people in the tribe, their customs and traditions, the structure of the power, their religion. This part is how the tribe was well before the white men arrived. The life of the village is based around these, as much as any other community. Okonkwo, the main character of the story, is a strong, harsh man who built himself, molding himself into the exact opposite of his father. He is a great warrior, who takes pride not only in his success, but also in the ways of his people, as well as their strength and traditions. He is very much an "old school" traditionalist. He is extremely stubborn,and used to getting his own way. He places his whole life on the traditions of his people. Even in his day to day life, he is doing his work the traditional way. He goes so far as to sacrifice a boy he thought of as his son to these customs. In his tribe he is a well-respected man, a hard worker who is deserving of a title.He is listened to when he speaks, and is something of a leader. The reason that this part focuses in so much on the culture and traditions of the tribe is for the later juxtaposition between what the tribe was, and what the tribe becomes later on.

Chapter 10 shows a form of government, a respected court that not only represents one village, but many. This is one of the most important chapters in the book. The Egwugwu, the closest thing the tribes have to a central government. They are the highest form of government, and a way to settle major disputes between clans. It also marks the ending of part one. After this part, not only is Okonkwo exiled to his motherland, the tribe that his mother hailed from. This is a huge insult to Okonkwo. He is not mature enough to be away from the motherland. In essence, this decision means that the tribes no longer believe him to be an adult, and thus needs to be treated as a child would be. This marks a period of change in the book. It's here that the book shifts to the second half.

Part 2

In Part Two, rumors begin of the white people that destroyed an entire village. Instead of action, which is what Okonkwo advocates for, there is only talk. Here he is not nearly as respected, and few will listen to him. Things slowly begin to change in his motherland, at first subtly, then not so subtly. The white men begin to move in, bringing with them strange customs and religions. Some of his mother's tribe convert to their religion. The cultural shift is now in full swing.

Okonkwo plans to return to his village, believing that they would not be fooled by the white man’s trickery, that they would remain true men and force the white man to flee. He focuses on regaining his title in his village, knowing that things changed, that someone has taken his place. Okonkwo is attempting to regain his authority, and rebuild his life

Part 3

The third and last part of the novel is Okonkwo’s return to his village. There, the white man had taken root, and begun to spread rapidly. They had brought a church and government to them, to civilize the savages, unknowing of the ties they were breaking.The people saw the change as good. After all, it was progress. They would be able to join the outer world. While Okonkwo rages for war, he is silenced by his own clan and the white man. They no longer want the old ways. The saw how erroneous their old ways had been. The Ibo people were broken. Their ways lost. The final betrayal, for Okonkwo, comes when his own son joins the white people. Unable to take his, and his tribes weakness and failure, Okonkwo takes his own life.

In Conclusion

The main reason for the structure of the novel is to accentuate the downfall of the Ibo people. It would not have been as pointed if the book had followed a normal structure. The loss of their customs would not have had the same impact if only a little was known about them. Under a normal structure, the novel would not have had the same impact on the readers. Achebe wanted the readers to feel at least an echo of the loss the was shared by a majority of the continent at the time. This novel also touches on some contemporary problems. How much tradition do we keep as we progress? Is sacrificing everything worth the progress? How much of our own self is locked in our history and what happens when we forget this history? There will always be those who push so hard for progress and the forgetting of traditions, and those who never want to change at all. Here, we can see what happens to those two extremes. The tribe seems to lose their identity, and Okonkwo takes his life.

© 2011 Jackie S


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