African Writers Series
Okonkwo is a wealthy and respected warrior of the Umuofia clan, who is known throughout all the nine villages. His achievements are driven by his fear of becoming like his father Unoka, whom he considered a spendthrift and a weak man. It is this weakness that haunts him and propels him into his hard work. He’s a clansman, a farmer, a warrior and a family provider who never shows affection or any soft emotion as that is a sign of weakness. He equates manliness to rashness.
Okonkwo is very hard on his eldest son and heir Nwoye, whom he fears shows signs of being like his grandfather, and so is hard on him in order to make a real man out of him. A serious matter arises when a daughter from his village is murdered at a market in a neighbouring village. In a settlement to avoid war, the neighbouring village compensates Umuofia with a young man and a virgin. This fifteen-year old boy, Ikemefuna, is placed in Okonkwo’s care. The boy lives with them for three years and in that time Ikemefuna becomes the ideal son to Okonkwo and his influence over Nwoye pleases him. He calls Okonkwo his father and Nwoye looks up to him as a brother.
Tragedy arrives when the oracle advises that the boy must be killed. Ogbuefi Ezedu, the oldest man in that quarter of the village pays Okonkwo a visit and advises him not to have a hand in the killing of the boy as he calls him his father. When the day arrives and Ikemefuna is taken away, Okonkwo is one of the men accompanying him to his fate. As the other men attack the boy he pleads to Okonkwo for help but he does not wish to look weak before all those men, and so he kills the boy. He sinks into depression.
Another tragedy follows when on the day of Ogbuefi’s funeral, Okonkwo’s gun accidentally explodes and kills Ogbuefi’s son. This is a crime against the earth goddess and Okonkwo must take his family into exile for seven years for atonement. He goes to his mother’s natal village Mbanta, leaving behind his buildings which are burnt and his animals are killed, in order to cleanse the village of his sin.
Later on, the arrival of missionaries begins. Their leader Mr Brown tells them that their gods are false and that worshipping more than one god is idolatrous. Mr Brown’s aim is to convert the locals but does not do so aggressively. He is later replaced by a completely different man to him, Reverend James Smith who is intolerant and strict. While he is in charge, a lot of things happen such as elders being thrown into prison. Okonkwo is furious with all that his happening and seeks war, they must fight.
His years of exile come to an end and he returns to his village but he finds that a lot has changed. His clansmen are not willing to go to war. He later kills a leader of the court messengers, leading to an unexpected end.
Things Fall Apart is a portrayal of the clashes between the Igbo people and Nigeria’s white colonial government. Chinua Achebe did a fine work in showing a clear picture of Africans, different from what we read most of the time as a colonial account of Africans. At the end of the novel it says that the District Commissioner plans to write a book where he would write a paragraph on Okonkwo and he says how “one must be firm in cutting out details”. This shows the different perspective or account of stories before and during colonial times and writers like Chinua Achebe do justice in revealing details fairly by representing both Africanism traditions and history, and colonialism in a clearer and balanced light.
Things Fall Apart shows a struggle between change and tradition. It is still something that many individuals face, whether one should abandon traditional values and practices in the name of change. Some of the village members are excited about the opportunities that come with converting to Christianity and so they abandon their traditional beliefs and practices. The story also shows us the perceived idea of manhood through Okonkwo’s character in how he thinks rashness and anger equate to bravery, strength and manliness. The story is a true window through which we get to learn about the difficulties of abandoning ideals and beliefs and adopting new ones, about culture, traditions and language as important parts of identities and how history has been shaped.