When Things Fall Apart
When Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe was published fifty years ago. It caused a stir for its revelation of something up to then strange and unfamiliar in the world of literature: genuine African voices. Achebe, was not the first African book writer as he has sometimes wrongly been considered, but his use of Standard English to create believable characters who inhabited a complex and authentic world that marked two existing traditions when writing about Africa as evolutionary dead ends.
Chinua Achebe’s book focuses on Okonkwo, a hero in his Nigerian village. A very lucrative man, Okonkwo has three wives and many children because he gains social status based on his bravery and other warlike skills. Despite being a respected leader of the tribe of the Igbo Omuofia, Okonkwo fears turning into his father, a man who is known for his laziness and cowardice. Throughout his life, Okonkwo tries to be the opposite of his father. From a young age, he builds his home and his reputation as a young fighter and hardworking farmer. His efforts are successful and soon he becomes rich selling his crops and manages to have three wives. Unfortunately, Okonkwo’s obsession with showing no sign of weakness or emotion, is a tragic flaw that will eventually cause him continuous problems.
The life of Okonkwo goes haywire when an accidental killing takes place and he ends up adopting a child from another tribe. The child is called Ikemefuna and Okonkwo loves him like a son. Three years later, the tribe decides that Ikemefuna must die. When the men of Omuofia carried Ikemefuna to the forest to kill him, Okonkwo is involved in the massacre. Despite the fact that he just killed his adoptive son and the pain he feels for doing so, Okonkwo does not demonstrate his true feelings and remains strong.
Then, during a funeral, Okonkwo shoots and kills a child, accidentally. For his crime, the tribe exiles him for seven years to Mbanta, the land of his mother. There, he finds out the arrival of European missionaries, which marks the beginning of the end for the Igbo.
The reader starts to realize that while Okonkwo’s tribe is different from the Western world, it is not lacking structure. There are fair proceedings for marriage, the justice system, and religion. Despite a clear system of governing by a board of elders, they have no king or lone leader of the clans. This makes the tribes vulnerable to invasion. British colonizers soon deluge the area at first with preachers and then eventually with men determined to establish a government led by Europeans. As both the British and the Nigerians view their way of life to be superior and do not allow for the merger of cultures, great tensions befall.
Eventually, the Igbo try to speak with the missionaries but they are arrested by the British colonial government and stay in jail for a few days until the villagers pay their rescue money. The Igbo are contemplating revenge and have a meeting with the war council. Okonkwo is in favor of the most aggressive actions due to his great desire to never show weakness. However, during the meeting, a messenger of the missionaries arrives and tells them to stop the meeting. Okonkwo, enraged, kills him. He realizes that his clan won’t go to war with the Europeans.