Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (1958)
Edition used: Anchor Canada
“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 story traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives. It provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual society. The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries.” (Publisher’s Website)
There are two lectures here: one from 2014 by Jon Beasley-Murray, and one from 2015 by Robert Crawford.
In this lecture, Jon Beasley-Murray argues that Achebe attempts to portray the life of an Igbo (Ibo) community on its own terms, not simply in its interaction with Europe. But his tragic vision does I(g)bo society few favours: Okonkwo never acts, only reacts; he is doomed both to simple repetition and because repetition becomes impossible. Ultimately, in Achebe’s account, the I(g)bo have neither history nor future—nor present.
In this lecture, Robert Crawford discusses how Achebe responds to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (among other things) by presenting a story of a society in Africa with a sophisticated and complex culture, language, religious beliefs, value system, etc. He also discusses how one might engage in a Freudian reading of the text, if one were so inclined, to connect this book to the work of Freud we had read earlier in the year.
This lecture is available, with the slides accompanying it, on the UBC Media Site system.
- Discuss the representation and/ or narration of time in Things Fall Apart. You may, if you wish, compare this aspect of the novel to another novel or philosophical work on our Arts One syllabus.
- What does the narrator think is important to tell us about characters and what effects do these decisions have on our understanding of the novel? Discuss, comparing Things Fall Apart to one other novel we have read this year.
- Can Okonkwo be a culture-hero if his suicide means that “Umuofia kwenu” cannot perform the customary burial rites?
- What do the District Commissioner’s comments reveal about the imperialist view of “Africa”? How do these remarks compare to Conrad’s assessment, via Marlow, in Heart of Darkness?
- How do issues of masculinity and femininity play out in the novel as a whole?
- Discuss one or more of the folk tales and/or proverbs told in the novel and discuss what significance they may have given their particular placement in the narrative (when and to whom/by whom they are told).
- Okonkwo’s life unravels and ends in suicide. What else is falling apart in this novel, and is it inevitable that “things fall apart” for all the people of Umuofia?
- Achebe supplies an epigraph from Yeat’s “The Second Coming.” Discuss the connections between the title of the text, the poem it’s drawn from, and the events of the novel as a whole.
- “Social relations between people appear as inverted, as social relations between things” (Karl Marx, 1859). Does this conception of “commodity fetishism” help us to understand the way in which objects are treated, valued and perceived in Things Fall Apart? You may, if you like, compare the treatment of objects in The Mill on the Floss.
- Compare the efforts and successes of Okonkwo and Tom Tulliver (in Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss) to overcome the mutual misfortune of weak fathers.