A Critical Book Review of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart

Published: 2021-06-17 06:28:49
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A common erroneous perspective is that pre-colonial African societies ‘lacked’ social, economic, and political structures. Chinua Achebe was one of the first African born authors to take on the role of sharing traditional African village life and has since become a staple in classic African literature (Franklin, 2008). His use of historical fiction in Things Fall Apart, argues the organizational processes Africa cultivated prior to European colonization through the use of reputation, traditions, and religion. He does this to expose that foreign intrusion meant to ‘civilize the continent’ led to the instability of traditional African society. His works are not meant to romanticize village life, instead, they are tasked to normalize African customs and reclaim history from colonial authors (Franklin, 2008). This normalization has forced readers around the globe to identify and sympathize with the adversity traditional village life has been pillaged by.
Firstly, Achebe used reputation to affirm organizational structures existed prior to European conquest, due in part that in a pre-colonial, patriarchal society, notoriety and title were highly sought after. As a young man, Okonkwo was inspirited to ascend his father, Unoka. Unoka was looked down upon for having evaded war and having become a musician instead. Okonkwo succeeded in this, first, by becoming regarded as one of the best wrestlers in Umuofia, then later, by propelling himself into becoming a prosperous farmer. Achebe used this contrast to prove that there was a social structure in pre-colonial Africa; he argued that men could be given less respect based on their successes or lack thereof.Further, in proving the social structure, he acknowledged the economic structure by describing Okonkwo’s prosperity and success as a farmer to be a reason he held respect. Lastly, Achebe contended the political structure of village life by describing how vengeance was used to govern conflict. Okonkwo was known to not back down from retribution, which is why the elder’s trusted him to take Ikemefuna, a boy taken in retaliation for an act against Umuofia, into his custody until it was time to execute him. Later, Achebe examined the colonization of traditional village life by redefining what was required to gain reputation. Many parents began sending their sons to school, to learn to read and write, because the missionaries, such as Mr. Brown, explained that it would make them successful. Achebe successfully argued the social, economic, and political structures in pre-colonial Africa by making his assertion relatable; being affluent gives you status, and that consequence follows an illicit action. Secondly, Achebe applied tradition to illustrate pre-colonial organizational structures, because tradition was how African village life was maneuvered. Throughout the novel, Achebe implements detailed reoccurring actions for guest; they were expected to give gifts, such as a kola nut and make respectful sayings to the host, like praying for the health of the host’s family. By detailing these social expectations, Achebe argued that a pre-colonial social structure did exist. In addition to this, Achebe depicted the traditional process of marriage to prove that a pre-existing economic structure was in place. For a man with the intention to marry, it was an expectation to pay a bride-price, as reparation to the girl’s family for the economic loss they will face when she marries. Further, Achebe used tradition to depict the pre-colonial political structure, which was used to govern and make decisions.
The Ugwugwu, ancestral spirits, although feared by many, were instilled to be the trusted judges and to hear the trials of Umuofia. For many villagers, this was a tradition they whole-heartedly believed in and the Ugwugwu’s decisions to determine their actions. As the novel progressed, Achebe used Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye, to symbolize the instability of tradition after the arrival of the missionaries. Having been unsure of traditional values throughout his childhood, Nwoye surrendered his upbringing and in turn, his family, to discover an abnormal lifestyle. By using cross-cultural practices, such as being respectful to hosts, giving gifts to a bride’s family, and having judicial trials, to argue pre-colonial organizational structures, Achebe influenced readers to identify with the traditional practices. Lastly, Achebe used religion to argue the organizational structures that existed prior to colonization, because religion, like tradition, guided the village’s actions. Having many deities in the Ibo religion allowed for many tasks to be regulated and advised in the society. These deities, worked in harmony with each other to protect their society and depicted the pre-existing social structure. Achebe’s use of the deities, who functioned beneath the supreme god, Chuku, such as the goddess of earth, the Oracle of the Hills and Caves, and the Egwugwu, were used to illustrate the different social classes within the society. Achebe also used the deities to prove that villagers had the ability to be economically affluent. When Ezeudu, the oldest man in his village, died, the Evil Spirit explained: “If you had been poor.
I would have been asked you to be rich when you come again. ” (Achebe, 1958, p. 123) This statement clearly defined that an economic structure did exist; villagers had the ability to either be rich, or poor. Achebe also used religion to prove that a pre-colonial political structure did occur. Before an act of war, or retaliation could be used to govern a conflict, the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves was required to accept the plan, otherwise anyone who “…disobeyed…would surely have been beaten”, (Achebe, 1958, p. 12).
When the European’s first arrived, bringing with them missionaries with the intent to allure villagers with their beliefs, fundamental African faith became destabilized. Achebe further enforced this idea when an Egwugwu was unmasked, further confusing villagers of the validity of their faith. By using religion to justify the pre-existing organizational structures, Achebe used the commonality of deities to relate to religious readers who can confirm the power of their influence. In conclusion, Achebe was successful in arguing that pre-colonial social, economic, and political structures existed through his novel, Things Fall Apart, by engaging audiences in relatable behaviour. This in turn exposed that the implementation of beliefs by missionaries, and colonizers, destabilized traditional African village life.

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