Monday, 14 September 2009

Things Fall Apart

‘Things Fall Apart’, a 1958 English-language novel was written by the international acclaimed Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe. In 1962, it became the first novel to be published in African Writers Series. Just within the vicinity of about 250 pages, ‘Things Fall Apart’ is a classic in every sense and a very successful attempt in transliteration of the Igbo language into the English language.

Written shortly before Nigeria got her independence from Britain, ‘Things Fall Apart’, achieved fame as one of the few African novels that has been translated and read by many students worldwide. Presently it has been translated into over 45 international languages. The novel’s name is derived from William Butler Yeats' poem ‘The Second Coming’.

The story itself is based on a cultural conflict between the 19 century fictitious Igbo community of Umuofia of the South East of Nigeria and the coming of the white colonial government and missionaries into the territory. The arrival of the Whitemen in Umuofia wreaked havoc on the cultural ego of the community thereby destabilising the status quo ante and to return to that status quo ante is what the entire village wanted.

Since the entire village is reluctant or cowardly to confront the strangers, the brave Okonkwo who struggled to distinguish himself from his lazy and debt-ridden alcoholic father, Unoka, took it upon himself to cleanse the land of the influence of Whitemen. It was as a result of this bravery too that the village entrusted unto him the care of Ikemefuna, a lad given to Umuofia in exchange as a peace settlement with a neighbouring village. Despite an advice from a wise elder not to kill a lad who calls him father, Okonkwo out of fear of being labelled a coward killed Ikemefuna. That was the beginning of series of events that eventually brought about his downfall.

Okonkwo would later in an attempt to cleanse the land of the mess brought on it by the Whitemen, kill one of the messengers of the Whitemen and subsequently took his own life to avoid the consequences.

Okonkwo, a leader and local wrestling champion in Umuofia would have been entitled to a village burial but since he took his own life which is a taboo in Igbo land and culture, foreigners were contracted to bury him in the evil forest to avoid the wrath of the gods on the whole land. He cannot be buried in his home as is the tradition because he committed suicide otherwise the gods would visit everybody in the village with a plague.

The death of Okonkwo was a tragedy for the whole village and because of the part played by the white intruders; he had to kill himself and had to be buried like a chicken.

Cover Photograph Courtesy of Anchor Books.

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