Things Fall Apart tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society.
The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. These twin dramas are perfectly harmonized, and they are modulated by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul. Things Fall Apart is the most illuminating and permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within.
Things Fall Apart has been on my gotta-someday list, and recently someone pushed me to read it. I’m glad he did – this book a classic for a reason and makes for great discussion.
The story isn’t happy but it’s beautifully told. In short: Okonkwo is a strong man with a nasty streak fueled by fear. He’s become a powerful figure in his own village but a series of events, both of his own doing and not, lead to…. things falling apart. (I couldn’t resist.)
There are all kinds of themes that can be examined endlessly but here are some that resonated with me:
- the friction between African and Western cultures meeting, not only in the story but in the form of the novel. For example, the title is taken from a Yeats poem, and Igbo proverbs and storytelling feature throughout.
- sons who are determined not to become their father and take it too far
- how women are treated and viewed in society
- justice – how it is meted out and by whom
Just as good as I hoped it would be, with lots to think about.