Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (1959)

Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (1959) 209p.

Okonkwa is the antagonist of Things Fall Apart. He is a strong man in Umuofia, one of nine villages of the Umuofia clan, widely respected for his achievements in war, his fearlessness for blood, and his strength. Throughout the book his strength dwindles. His strength is motivated by hate for the weakness of his father, he hates his weak son, he kills his strong surrogate son whom he kills because the clan requires it and is haunted by remorse. When he inadvertently kills a clan member he is sent to the village of his mother’s clan, to Mbanta.

Things Fall Apart is a plainly written novel in line perhaps with John Steinbeck or Graham Greene. The characters lack reflection and even their thoughts are rarely exposed, perhaps this is a stylistic element to only show strength and action. But it also makes the characters rather one sided, and it does not generate the love-hate ambiguity that classic literature is capable of bringing out. The novel is descriptive but never achieves great detail. The effect of this style is that the man Okonkwa and the Umuofia culture appear simple, not to say primitive, preventing the reader (the white reader in my case) to develop any heartfelt empathy or even sympathy for the characters.

“It’s true that a child belongs to its father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in the mother’s hut.”

“You think you are the greatest sufferer in the world? … Have you not heard the song they sing when a woman dies?
For whom is it well, for whom is it well?
There is no one for whom it is well.”

His pouncing nature becomes fatal for Okonkwa as he avenges the brutal and humiliating treatment of his imprisonment by killing the head messenger of the white government. Okonkwa sees no way out than to hang himself behind his compound.

“… our clan can no longer act like one. He [white man] has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”

At the end the book left me to wonder about The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger by the Director Commissioner. I could not grasp what good was lost. Turning the last page I could not tell to regret Things Fall Apart.

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