Colonialism and Independence in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart
Length: 867 words (2.5 double-spaced pages)
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Things Fall Apart - Colonialism and Independence
"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The Falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world."
~W.B. Yeats, "The Second Coming"
This excerpt is almost a summary of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. Things Fall Apart is a novel about nineteenth century Nigeria, before colonialism and the granting of independence. It is a story of a great wrestler and elder of a Nigerian clan comprised of several villages. It tells about his life from start to finish in great detail. Towards the end of the novel, the reader is introduced to colonialism. This colonialism is what the anarchy is the above quote is referring to. The falcon represents the young generation of the clan; the falconer represents the elders. This is a story of how things really do fall apart. The story is centered around Okonkwo, a great wrestler and elder of the clan. He is the son of an indolent man, who was constantly in debt. Okonkwo's father was often referred to as a woman, which was a great insult. Growing up, Okonkwo develops a phobia of becoming his father, and does everything is his power not to. With this phobia came an abominable stubbornness. His first step in becoming a "real man" (opposed to his father) was to prove his strength, in doing so he became the great wrestler of his clan. Doing so earned him a lot of accolades and honours. He earned a lot of land, and married three different wives. However, with all of his fame and fortune, he was unable to escape his internal conflicts due to his stubbornness and his becoming frustrated easily. One example of this was when a young male warrior and a young virgin girl were sent to Okonkwo's village in exchange (as a sacrifice) for a heinous crime committed against his clan. This was a crime that otherwise would have resulted in an all out war; a war which Okonkwo's clan and village would have earned an easy victory. The young boy is sent to live with Okonkwo and his family for quite some time. During this time Okonkwo becomes very attached to him, so attached that it seems as if the boy is one of his own.
However, when the time comes for the sacrifice of the boy to be made, the other elders excuse Okonkwo from the "hunting trip." Yet, because of Okonkwo's hubris and fear of looking like a woman, he is determined to go on the mission. Okonkwo's determination wouldn't have been so bad, but he worsened the situation by making the first strike on his "son" and then proceeded to watch the other elders brutally massacre the little body. Achebe does this to let the reader know of the significance of the gender roles among the Ibo people, and to alert the reader to the types of sacrifices and the types of cultures that are experienced among the Ibo people.
Later on in the story Okonkwo really pays for his stubbornness. During a large gathering in the center of Umuofia (Okonkwo's village), he shoots his gun off into the air. The action had a very tragic reaction. In reaction, the stray bullet fell down from the sky and struck an innocent bystander. This was an accident of fatal consequences. The bullet ended up killing the unsuspecting civilian. This incident resulted in the exile of Okonkwo and his family to his motherland for seven years. Things took a drastic turn for the worse while Okonkwo was absent from his village, resulting in a return to a place he barely knew.
During part one of the story, Achebe takes the reader through the daily lives of the Ibo people. It is not until part two that the reader is introduced to the European missionaries. The purpose of Achebe's waiting until part two to introduce that missionaries was to wait and immerse the reader into the everyday life of the Ibo people, so he or she could feel as though he or she was a part of the clan, then the author shifts the momentum of the story. Part two displays the affect the societal changes have on the members of the Ibo clan. The author concentrates the attention on the conflict between the people of Umuofia (Okonkwo's village) and the Christian missionaries. The missionaries succeed in taking over Umuofia and transforming the once Ibo tribe in a Christian one. As a result, Okonkwo is so distraught with the result of his village he ends up committing suicide.
Things Fall Apart is a novel displaying the effects colonialism plays on a region. It was published and released at the time when Nigeria was acquiring their independence. It serves as a reminder to the people of Nigeria of their heritage and of what once was. It is an accurate display of how society deals with change; the affect change has on individuals, and the harm a resistance to inevitable change plays on a village. If only the falcon could have heard the falconer, maybe things would not have fallen apart.