Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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In Search of the Novel: Ten Novels

Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe


Chinua Achebe

It is late-nineteenth-century Nigeria, and life is measured by ancient rhythms of market weeks, dry and wet seasons, and war and rituals. Men grow in stature as they become strong and generous. Through transition rites, they grow closer to their ancestors. Okonkwo’s life flourishes in this rich and sometimes violent culture until events overwhelm him—an accidental murder, his subsequent exile, and the arrival of Europeans, with their Christianity and government. Tribal customs are disregarded and outlawed, prisons are built, and clans are thrown into confusion. Men lose their manliness and their very lives: “Our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”


The story of Okonkwo and the Ibo people of Nigeria is the story of British colonization and the collapse of the indigenous culture. The first to arrive were the missionaries, who appear to the village outcasts as having a superior faith. Then came the army and the government. The disintegration of the culture becomes complete when Okonkwo hangs himself and the Commissioner appropriates that fact for material for his book, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger. Obviously, the tribes had been peaceful; it was the British who had brought violence. As Reed Way Dasenbrock writes, “Colonialism in a sense deprived Africans of both their past and their future. They were assured that they had no past worth bothering about, only a past of brutish savagery. Europe was the continent with the glorious, rich past, and the history they studied in school was the history of Europe and the European presence in Africa… And when today we speak of developed and underdeveloped countries, we are of course subscribing to the same sense of history.” (“Creating a Past: Achebe, Naipaul, Soyinka, Fara,” Salmaguni, Nos. 68 BS 69, Fall 1985 and Winter 1986, pp. 312 ff.)

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