Things Fall Apart Book summary
Things Fall Apart is a post-colonial book that seeks to dispel the unfair and inaccurate yet popular narrative that Africans had been savages before they were colonized by the white man. Achebe presents a detailed view of Igbo society, as he expounds on their complex rituals of marriage, farming, and even justice. He depicts the first interactions of the white missionaries with the natives of Nigeria and demonstrates how the Europeans interacted with the Africans without truly ever making an effort to recognize or understand their culture. Achebe attempts to provide a neutral view of both cultures, which allows the reader to glimpse both sides of the conflict that the Europeans had with the Igbo people.
Things Fall Apart follows Okonkwo, a powerful wrestler from the village of Umuofia who first rose to fame in the villages by defeating a champion wrestler. Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, was an unsuccessful man who could not provide him with any amount of comfort or even inheritance. Okonkwo’s friends made fun of him and called his father, Agbala, the word for a woman or a man without titles. Unoka died a painful death and abandoned his son with a large amount of debt. Yet, Okonkwo persevered through his hard work and won the confidence of one of the richest farmers in the village. He tied all his hopes to that one harvest, but the gods thought fit to test his patience a little longer. The year saw the most disastrous weather patterns and it nearly ruined Okonkwo altogether. Later, he claims that he fears nothing in life since he had managed to survive that disastrous year.
Okonkwo continued to grow despite hardship, he built his compound and married three women with whom he had several children, his eldest son was called Nwoye. Okonkwo had a hard reputation as a warrior, and so when one of the neighboring villages offended the people of Umuofia, Okonkwo was sent as the emissary of war. He returned from the village with a virgin girl, and a young boy, Ikemefuna. Okonkwo’s high status in the clan meant that Ikemefuna was given to his care while the council of elders decided on the boy's fate. Ikemefuna soon came to call Okonkwo father and formed an especially close bond with Nwoye. However, this time of happiness was short-lived, as the oracle of the village decided that Ikemefuna’s life had to be sacrificed. The elders of the village informed Okonkwo and advised him to stay away from the killing since the boy called him father. However, Okonkwo doesn’t wish to be seen as a coward, so he strikes the killing blow to Ikemefuna. The loss is devastating for Nwoye, who is forever alienated from the harshness of the Igbo culture, and even Okonkwo is significantly affected.
Okonkwo suffers a great tragedy as he accidentally kills the son of a recently deceased elder when his gun misfires during a funeral. He is exiled from the village for seven years as he has sinned against the gods by spilling a clansman’s blood. Okonkwo’s property is destroyed, and he is forced to rebuild again in his motherland, Mbanta. He grows demotivated and begins to appear despondent, but his spirits are fortified by the support of his mother’s brother, Uchendu. While Okonkwo is in Mbanta, the villages begin to host a set of missionaries that are led by a white man. Okonkwo watches how the religion of the white man spreads among his people and births a conflict between the followers of the two separate religions. Okonkwo’s feelings towards the missionaries are particularly soured when Nwoye abandons his father’s religion to embrace Christianity.
Okonkwo spends the seven years in Mbanta with great impatience for his return to Umuofia. He thanks his maternal relatives with a large feast, and makes ready to return to his village with a great number of arrangements to mark his arrival in Umuofia. However, nothing goes according to plan as the things in Umuofia are far worse than what they were in Mbanta. The white religion has increased its influence in Umuofia’s affairs as it has brought along a government that is headed by a white district commissioner. Okonkwo watches from the sidelines as the conflict between the natives and the white missionaries worsens. He becomes involved as the elders are taken prisoner for burning down the church in retaliation for a sacrilegious act that had been committed by one of the converts. Okonkwo is deeply shamed by the experience of imprisonment, and he lashes out by killing one of the court messengers. The murder causes upheaval, and Okonkwo realizes that the people of Umuofia will not fight the white man’s government. He commits suicide, even as he understands that this will mean that he has sinned against his gods. He would rather sin against the gods than suffer the punishment of the white man.
Post Colonial Literature, African Literature
William Heinemann Ltd.