In Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe uses straightforward phrases, simple diction, and third-person omniscient narration to make the story more compelling. This novel is packed with memorable, potent comments. For instance, Achebe states, “No matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and his children (and especially his women) he was not really a man” (p. 53). By using such direct phrasing, Achebe is preventing confusion and different interpretations. Moreover, by using understandable diction rather than overly decorated words, he makes his writing very clear. This clarity allows the novel to be accessible to a wide range of people, because the narration is easily understood. In other literary works, like Tess of the D’Urbervilles, we see how complex language and sentence structure can potentially hinder the reading experience. Hardy’s books, for example, are not accessible to younger or less educated audiences. Furthermore, due to the sophisticated narration, the story might get muddled for the readers, which takes away from the impactful story. Therefore, some people may not enjoy reading a novel like Tess as much as one like Things Fall Apart. Beyond his use of clarity, Achebe also uses third-person omniscient narration to help us understand what the different characters are thinking and feeling. In The Color Purple, we are mainly limited to Celie’s perspective of the story, due to the epistolary narration. To contrast, in Things Fall Apart, we are exposed to a variety of perspectives. Though the novel centers around Okonkwo, we see how Nwoye feels about his father (p. 63), how Ekwefi feels when Ezinma is taken (pp. 103-109), and what the colonizing Commissioner thinks about Igbo culture (pp. 208-209). These different points of view give the story more impact. Not only do we see Okonkwo’s reasonings and emotions, but we also see how others react to his actions. Overall, these narrative techniques enhance the emotive, powerful, and important storyline in Things Fall Apart.
As I read Things Fall Apart, one question kept recurring in my mind: What social criticism can I make? My opinions inherently come from a modern, Western lens. In works like A Doll’s House, The Awakening, and Pygmalion, I feel perfectly comfortable criticizing patriarchal society. When I make those critiques, I am condemning the oppression that stems from a semi-modern, Western society. I am censuring my own society, which is rooted in misogyny, racism, colonization, genocide, capitalism, etc. To contrast, Things Fall Apart illustrates a pre-colonial society, and the detrimental effects of colonization. Hence, I feel like making social criticisms would reflect the same, imperialist ideologies that the white colonizers propagated through Igbo culture. At the end of this novel, we are shown how the Commissioner is writing a book called “The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger”, based on his experiences of colonization (pp. 208-209). This perfectly exemplifies how Western culture operates on the imperialist mindset that their society is superior. Furthermore, this quotation demonstrates that the Commissioner, and all other colonizers, view Indigenous tribes as “primitive” groups that must be conquered, fixed, and purified. Instead of highlighting the Igbo values of family, ancestral respect, and tradition, the missionaries criticize other elements of their culture. Therefore, to rephrase my original question, is it right for me to make any social criticisms? In doing so, would I be perpetuating a colonial mindset? Would I be agreeing with the missionaries who brought destruction to Igbo culture? If so, I will gladly limit my social commentary to novels that highlight the oppression caused by Western culture. I believe it is essential to recognize how we contribute to harmful conversations, to keep ourselves in check. Thus, when discussing Things Fall Apart, I think I will primarily focus on the detrimental impacts of colonization on Igbo culture.