Things Fall Apart

ISBN: 0273012169
ISBN 13: 9780273012160
By: Chinua Achebe

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About this book

Things Fall Apart is an English-language novel by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe published in 1958 by William Heinemann Ltd in the UK; in 1962, it was also the first work published in Heinemann's African Writers Series. Things Fall Apart is seen as the archetypal modern African novel in English, one of the first to receive global critical acclaim. The title of the novel comes from William Butler Yeats' poem "The Second Coming".Set in pre-colonial Nigeria in the 1890s, Things Fall Apart highlights the clash between colonialism and traditional culture. The novel shows the life of Okonkwo, a leader and local wrestling champion in Umuofia—one of a fictional group of nine villages in Nigeria, inhabited by the Igbo people (in the novel, "Ibo"). It describes his family and personal history, the customs and society of the Igbo, and the influence of British colonialism and Christian missionaries on the Igbo community during the late nineteenth century.

Reader's Thoughts

Hayden Casey

SparkNotes SparkNotes SparkNotes SparkNotes SparkNotes SparkNotes SparkNotes SparkNotes SparkNotes SparkNotes SparkNotes! I really enjoyed this one.

Clif Hostetler

This is a novel about the clash of Nigerian traditional culture with British colonial power at the turn of the 20th century. The author is Nigerian and wrote the book about what would have been the experiences of his grandfather's generation. This book does much to do away with the perception of African traditional societies as being primitive, simple and backward. The first part of the book is filled with numerous short stories that show how Nigerian society functioned prior to the arrival of the Europeans. It elaborated on their religion, government, system of money, art and judicial system. However, it is an honest description of traditional society that includes its less desirable features such as infanticide, mistreatment of women, ritual killings, and patriarchal traditions that honored and praised male violence. When this traditional culture begins to be changed by colonial intrusions, some native Nigerians were open to change and others indifferent. The main character was a rigid fundamentalist and refused to change.The second and third parts of the books tells the story of British colonial powers gradually replacing traditional Nigerian governance with their own system of laws. Some of the British were flexible and sensitive in dealing with traditional culture. Others were rigid in their dealings with Nigerians and showed no respect for traditional ways. I appreciate that fact that the book portrayed the two sides as neither all good or all bad. It provides another example of the fact that change happens, and the story of life is dealing with it.When it comes to colonial power versus traditional African culture, we all know who came out on top at least in the short term. Of course Nigeria eventually won its independence in 1960. But it could be argued that some of instability and internal violence that country has experienced since then may have been caused by the loss of traditional social structures.


Achebe's acclaimed novel explores what happens when two cultures collide. In this case, western colonialism under the veil of Christianity confronting an animistic tribal system in a rural village in Nigeria. The result is a fascinating exploration of how one man, Okonkwo, who has invested his whole life into attaining a position of authority within the tribe, finds his whole world forever altered and his quest for achievement meaningless in this new Africa. Okonkwo is not a man who embraces change. His whole life he has struggled against a legacy of failure and shame left to him by his father. Unoka, his father, was a lazy man known for the "weakness of his machete" throughout the tribe. Okonkwo in contrast, clings to hard work and almost an obsessive drive to achieve success that is fueled by his hatred for his father. As a result, he lacks compassion and shows little joy or pleasure revealed in the "manly" expectations he forces on his sensitive son, Nwoye and the beatings he inflicts on his three dutiful wives. There is nothing worse in Okonkwo's world than being called a "woman".Achebe's talent reveals itself in his ability to create complex, multi-dimensional characters. Okonkwo is hard and brutal. He even participates in the murder of a young boy, Ikemefuna, in spite of the fact that he has grown fond of the boy. But Okonkwo must be admired for rising from nothing and the wisdom he shows in his farming of his yams. In spite of his gruff appearance he waits all night by the cave, waiting for Chielo to return his daughter, whom he loves.Achebe's treatment of the church and of the the animistic religion practiced by the tribe also shows a complexity that forces the reader to acknowledge good qualities in both cultures, while also seeing the atrocities and injustices that both systems seem to promote. The tribe is more than willing to mutilate the bodies of infants and leave healthy twins in the Evil Forest to die. Those who are sick are often seen as having offended the earth goddess and are therefore tied to trees and left to slowly die, painful miserable deaths. Yet the tribe also strives to avoid bloodshed with other tribes. Ikemefuna is sacrificed only to reduce the likelihood of a more violent war with Mbaino where many other lives might be lost. Christianity under the first missionary is compassionate. It seeks to destroy the superstitious beliefs that led to the needless deaths of infants, the cruel treatment toward outcasts, and the embracing of women. But under Christianity, we also see the arrival of a brutal colonialism that puts one tribe member against the other, fuels the injust enslavement and humiliation of tribal leaders and the corruption of government officials.Okonkwo struggles with the adjustment to this new world. His struggle represents the struggle of Africa under colonialism and the inability of the tribal system to survive in the "New Africa".


My God, this book is depressing. If you ever need an example of how colonialists and missionaries can destroy a native village, this is Exhibit A. The first part of the book follows Okonkwo, who grows up to be a strong leader in his clan in Nigeria, but several events change his course. The stories are beautifully told and are filled with descriptive imagery, but Okonkwo is such a stubborn man and he bullies everyone around him that it is impossible to like the character. The final part of the book tells what happens when British missionaries come to the area and impose their customs and Christianity on the villagers. This is an exchange between Okonkwo and a friend:"Does the white man understand our custom about land?""How can he when he does not even speak our tongue? But he says that our customs are bad, and our own brothers who have taken up his religion also say that our customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us? The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and 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."Chinua Achebe died last week. In his obituary in The New York Times, there was a quote from Kwame Anthony Appiah that made me want to read this book: “It would be impossible to say how ‘Things Fall Apart’ influenced African writing ... It would be like asking how Shakespeare influenced English writers or Pushkin influenced Russians.”


I'm a compulsive book marker. I underline and annotate so intently that, after a few reads, a book becomes fairly worthless to me for anything but study. My copy of TFA has, over the years, become such a text--a palimpsest in which I can no longer read the text itself and am forced instead to read what remains, the records of my previous readings of the text. This year, I was briefly without my well-worn copy and purchased a new one--crisp and freshie fresh. The result is that I was able to give this text what is perhaps my second first reading. Once I directly confronted the text itself again, it struck me with the wamping, whumping force that made me love this novel the first time. Few books infuriate me as effectively and fewer still stir up the storm of emotions this one does. By the time I was done, I was so emotionally spent that a bowl of pounded yams could have thrown me in a wrestling match.


How To Criticize Things Fall Apart Without Sounding Like A Racist Imperialist:1. Focus on the plot and how nothing very interesting really happens. Stress that it was only your opinion that nothing interesting happens, so that everyone realizes that you just can't identify with any of the events described, and this is your fault only. 2. Explain (gently and with examples) that bestowing daddy issues on a flawed protagonist is not a sufficient excuse for all of the character's flaws, and is a device that has been overused ad naseum. 3. Also explain how the main character is a generic bully, with no unique characteristics that make him interesting to the reader. Crack joke about Achebe stealing Walt Disney's How To Create A Villain checklist and pray no one beats you to death for it. 4. Do not criticize the rampant misongyny present in the book. It is part of the culture, and is therefore beyond criticism by you because you are not in a position to understand or comdemn what you have not experienced directly. 5. Do not say that the frequent use of untranslated words and confusing names that were often very similar made the story and characters hard to keep track of at times. Achebe is being forced to write in English, a foreign tongue, because he is a post-colonial writer and the fact that the book is written in English stresses his role as a repressed minority, something that you are incapable of understanding, you racist imperialist! Read for: Perspectives on Literature


I enjoyed reading Things Fall Apart. It introduced me to a beguiling world of the completely foreign Nigerian tribal culture and practices - their stories, superstitions, gods, working and family set-ups. Simply and witchily presented, it made me think a lot, and it was honest in its presentation of people and sides, flaws and positives both. Halfway through the book showed the introduction of Christian missionaries and the tensions and conflicts with the native practices and way of life. The Christian missionaries ultimately broke a lot of that, pushed themselves dominantly into it to overcome and conquer the locals, and it seems a shame. I didn't like the Christian missionaries - I just don't get it - but at the same time I realise that as an agnostic-atheist there is something missing in me that means that I just cannot 'believe', and if you believe strongly in something, then it seems a natural conclusion to want to convince others of it. But having said that, I didn't like the traditional side of things much either. A lot of tradition is very conservative which is not a good fit for me either, although I am not saying that the Christians are that much better - lots of sexism, arguably irrational practices like that of throwing away twins because they were seen as an abomination. Both religion and tradition have a hard time moving with new understandings and sometimes even compassion and sensitivity for difference. In terms of the traditionalist side, this was why the protagonist Okonkwo alienated his eldest son Nwoye to the missionaries - because Okonkwo was not sensitive enough to difference and wanted to push his idea of what his son should be like onto Nwoye. This book kept me awake wondering just on what side to fall and then I remembered the words of Krishnamurti who would argue that religion and family and all that kind of stuff is not healthy and just causes division and conflict, so of course then, I came to the rather cool and possibly unexciting and uninteresting conclusion that the solution may lie in simply not having religion, not having superstitions, not having restrictive family set-ups, not having divisions but simply living as people with order and consideration for others. But are humans even capable of that? (I have been told that I am a dreamer !)

snackywombat (v.m.)

For me this book was too parable-esque. It read a lot like Paulo Coehlo's The Alchemist, which I definitely enjoyed when I was like 16, but I'm looking for something a little deeper at this point. Things Fall Apart shows up on so many "modern classics" lists, and its depiction of tribal life and customs in southern Nigeria definitely gives a formidable cultural and anthropological education, but I was a little underwhelmed by the preachy tone. The destruction of the clan at the hands of white European bureaucrats working in concert with Christian missionaries is a sad tale indeed, but the lack of character development and over-simplified moral of hubris prevented it from being gut-wrenchingly moving. I can appreciate a universally sad story that whips up storms of tears and clenches my heart in anger, but I just didn't get it here. Maybe because the main character, Okonkwo, was just not sympathetic enough -- he was the falling Achilles instead of the star-crossed Oedipus.

Violet Crush

I loved this book. Chinua Achebe writes a sad and melancholic tale about a man called Okonkwo in a small African tribal village called Umuofia. Okonkwo is a man feared and respected by everyone in his village and beyond. He is a wrestling champion and man who enjoys fame and respect because of his hard work. He is a self made man. His father was considered a looser because he did not work very hard to sustain his crops and did nothing else but play music and laze around. He died as an outcast.The only thing Okonkwo fears is failure and being compared to his father. So he works hard, becomes prosperous and lives comfortably with his 3 wives and children.But life is not fair to him. After working hard in his village to gain a title and a good life, he is exiled from his fatherland because he kills a boy by mistake. When European colonists come to his village and build a church and start converting the villagers into Christians, Okonkwo wants to take action, he wants to fight the Europeans and preserve his culture and religion and his gods. But no one else wants to fight. Okonkwo watches his son join the Europeans and turn into a Christian and he is in utter despair because he cannot do anything about it.This book has a sad and tragic end.What I liked about the book was the simple descriptions of the day to day life of the people in a tribal village. I enjoyed reading about how their lives revolved around the growing and harvesting of Yams, how their beliefs in their gods affected the men and women in the village and their unease and anger when Europeans come and build a church in the village.I enjoyed reading about folk tales passed down from generation to generation.Even though I like the book I would like to mention a few points here as I have heard a lot of criticism and bad reviews for this book.‘Things fall apart’ has been termed as a literary masterpiece. But if you looking for outstanding language, this book is not for you. The language is as simple as it can get, which I think is the beauty of it. If you want to clear your prejudice that African villages are backward and primitive and you think reading this book will give you an insight into why they what they do, do NOT read this book. I thought the tribal customs and beliefs were down right against humanity and whatever way the author would have put it, I wouldn’t have believed otherwise. Would you approve of leaving new born twins in a jungle because twins are considered evil? Mutilating a dead infant’s body so that it isn’t born again? Out casting a man from his village and his loved ones because he has a disease?If you are looking for a good plot and well rounded and lovable characters, again this book is not for you. I hated Okonkwo. He was a tyrant and he repeatedly beat his wives and kids. I couldn’t sympathize with him no matter what.I couldn’t take sides with the European colonists either. Though they brought good things in the village, they brought law and order, I hated the fact that they thought their God was the greatest. Trying to undermine any religion is always wrong. Every religion has its good and bad points, what you can do is point out the bad points or the bad interpretations of it. Sorry, but I am against statements like, ‘There is no God except our God’. I believe God is one, whether he is in the form of Christ or Allah or Krishna, everyone is the same, there are just different names given by humans. I don’t want this to turn into a religious discussion, so I’ll stop.All I can say is I loved this book. Read it if you want to live and experience a culture very different from your own. ‘Things fall apart’ is distinctively African.

M.L. Rudolph

1959. Love it or hate it, Achebe's tale of a flawed tribal patriarch is a powerful and important contribution to twentieth century literature.Think back to 1959. Liberation from colonial masters had not yet swept the African continent when this book appeared, but the pressures were building. The US civil rights movement had not yet erupted, but the forces were in motion. Communism and capitalism were fighting a pitched battle for control of hearts and minds, for bodies and land, around the world. Africans would suffer under the proxy wars waged there to keep the Cold War cold.Achebe tells the tale of Okonkwo, a young man of some fame throughout the nine villages and beyond, for his wrestling prowess. He is a product of his land, his culture, his religion, and his people. He represents a way of life which admires and rewards strength, loyalty, hard work, a strong hand, and strict adherence to a social code.He builds his life, takes wives, works his land, produces boys and girls to honor and carry on his legacy. When duty to the tribe makes demands, he must respond even if that response requires great personal sacrifice.You can't read this book through the prism of your own experience. Part of the mystery of fiction from cultures far afield from your own is the chance it affords to consider how men and women of a certain time and place grappled with the very human issue of living within an exotic social group.Consider your own social group, and imagine how you would explain your daily and exceptional actions to someone from another religion, from another country, from another language group, from another generation, from another century. Where would you start? Perhaps by considering how you spend a normal day, then how you arrived at the great choices that formed your life. That's a helluva task to set yourself. In my humble opinion, that was the task Achebe set for himself in writing this book.

Robert Beveridge

This is another classic example of "what in the world are you thinking assigning this to high school kids?" It's a pretty durned fine book, and there is much therein upon which to reflect, but I'm guessing the adolescent and recently-postadolescent crowd is going to feel a book like this is being rammed down their throats. And they're probably right.Thankfully, I'm a year or so too old to have been assigned this in school, and I picked up a copy vaguely remembering classmates below me had had to read it. Perhaps my lack of memory about much of my high school and college days is a good thing, because I went into this novel without any preconceptions. I also went into it having read a few books from Heinemann's African Writers Series over the past few months, so I have something of a grasp on what African novelists were doing in the late fifties. (Not a bad idea, actually, since the "storytelling" nature of such tales can be jarring to someone who's used to modern American lit-- for example, your typical high school student.) All this being the case, Things Fall Apart, considered by many western critics to be the premier work of African literature of this century, may be quite deserving of its laurels.Okonkwo is a tribal elder in Umuofia, a large village in southern Nigeria. He's the very essence of a self-made man, having inherited nothing from his father. Of course, events can't just go on day to day as we want them to, and a series of stumbling blocks face Okonkwo after he is given the care of a teenager the village has taken as a spoil of war.The book is compared to classical Greek tragedy, and there are certainly elements of it here. However (remembering recent reading in Abel), to cast this as a true Greek tragedy would force a reading that says the tribal gods sent Christian missionaries to Umuofia in order to punish Okonkwo for various transgressions. I'm about halfway to accepting that this is what Achebe was after, actually. Otherwise, one is forced to read this in kind of the same way as the old joke whose punchine is "Job, something about you just sporks me off."One way or the other, the writing is fluid, easy, and captivating, and the storytelling style is one I've always been drawn to (as opposed to the missionaries-- one white person, at the very end of the book, thinks to himself that one of the most annoying things about the tribe is their "superfluity"). I liked this one, surely more than my schoolmates who were assigned it. Those of you who were, and hated it, might want to try cleansing your palates with something by, say, Cyprian Ekwensi, or a different, lesser-known book by Achebe (A Man of the People would be a good start). Then tackle this one again. It's worth it.


This has been on my list for a while. I enjoyed the economy of style and Achebe's choice of a decidedly unlikable protagonist, which was brave and made for a powerful rendering of a fascinating period of history. Chinua made a clever decision not to fall prey to the temptation to embrace a phony dichotomy - Africa good - Europe bad. He tells the story of the missionary and colonial movement in Nigeria in an unflinchingly dispassionate way. Okonkwo is an anti-hero, proud, cruel, misanthrope, and I found myself hoping for his demise. In the same way, tribal life in Umuofia is certainly not utopian. It doesn't take a feminist reading to criticize the culture for the dispicable way women and children are treated, it's pretty obvious - newborn twins thrown away like pieces of garbage, women bought and sold as property, teenage boys slaughtered for the sins of their fathers. All this leads the reader to ask whether colonial law isn't such a bad thing after... Of course, it isn't as simple as that because one is left with a sense of sadness and dismay for the decay of tribal culture, and a bad taste in the mouth for the arrogance and superioity of the colonial mind. I think this is why this book is considered a masterpiece.


I think Achebe definitely did a brilliant job in convincing the reader to sympathize with all the characters. I did have to go over a few passages twice or thrice to understand their culture, and God, the sexism is difficult to stomach, but I think, I'm not sure, I think I loved it. It is always so interesting to read up on cultures on practices which are viewed as disgusting and wrong in today's time, especially when they're written so well. I enjoy hearing the other side's story immensely. I was left with this dull ache because of the death of traditional African culture due to "white people" inflicting their religion and culture on them.

Mr. Brammer

The first three-quarters of Things Fall Apart is immersed in the clan culture of eastern Nigeria (we don't actually learn the specific setting - the events of the novel can presumably be transferred to any sub-Saharan pre- and post-colonial setting). The society that Achebe describes can be brutally violent and superstitious, and the protagonist, or anti-hero, Okonkwo is so single-minded and angry that it's difficult to sympathize with him. I think that Achebe chose to show the clan society with all of its flaws to counter any nationalist or tribal tendency to romanticize an idyllic past. Despite these flaws, there is a well-defined system of ethics in place that is necessary to keeping the society intact. Things do indeed fall apart when the British colonial administrators and missionaries arrive on the scene.Achebe doesn't place judgment on either culture; the point is that whenever two systems collide and contend for power, tragedy is unavoidable. Revised 2.3.12After another reading, what strikes me is the juxtaposition of the two cultures. The Western reader is shocked by some of the extremes of the tribal culture, but they make sense in context. They make no sense at all when confronted with British, imperial, Christian forces.


I have been meaning to get around to this book for years. It did not disappoint. Things Fall Apart is the story of an African man named Okonkwo. He is an important man in his tribe and lives the way he understands a man's life is meant to be lived. To compensate for the weaknesses of his father his main purpose is to demonstrate strength. In order to achieve a greater degree of success he figures he must be more ambitious, aggressive, and domineering. And this is what he pulls off. So long as his place is firmly established in a world that is familiar to him, one in which he understands the rules and what it takes to excel, all is well. But after Christian missionaries arrive in the village we learn that this is not the story of a man, but rather, the chronicle of a way of life that is destined to fall. Okonkwo's gods fail to measure up against the Christian God mainly because ancient ways are always overwhelmed by the march of modernity. The gun is mightier than the machete, science outmatches superstition, and what on the surface appears to be a more compassionate way of life triumphs over barbarism because biblical cruelty is more cleverly disguised. A fascinating novel indeed.

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