Personal Response to Things Fall Apart

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.

WDolan_Things_Fall_Apart_Blog

Date: March 24, 2022

Subject: English Literature: HL

Novel: Things Fall Apart

Author: Chinua Achebe

The author depicted his characters through association. For example: Amalinze, the wrestler was nicknamed ‘The Cat’ (pg. 3), Okonkwo was called the “Roaring flame” (pg. 153), and Ezinma was called the “Crystal of Beauty”(pg. 172). Each of these titles have an aura that appeal to specific emotions within the reader. When reader’s hear “Cat” they may think of stealthiness, and when they hear “Roaring Flame” they may think of anger or someone with an intense personality. Lastly, when a reader hears the term “Crystal of Beauty”, they may think of something beautiful or may find the idea of someone being objectified as offensive or derogatory.

Through the author’s association of his character’s with objects or ideas, it made the novel more interesting to read, as it introduced me to a different culture which I was never aware of. Notwithstanding, there were shocking elements regarding the social structure and status of women. However, this is not unlike what we have read in “The Color Purple”  where rape, and other acts of violence against women occured. In “Things Fall Apart we see Okonkwo threatens Ekwefi with a gun before hunting (pg. 39) and express ideas which appear hostile to the western world. His commands such as; “Sit like a woman!” (pg.44), and his pride regarding his son grumbling about women, because it showed “he could control his women folk” (pg. 53) was appalling. To disregard any negative emotion towards Okonkwo, it was important to remember not to allow my western education to interfere with my ability to learn and not be cynical towards other cultures in which I know nothing about. 

Although “Things Fall Apart” deals with similar themes as “The Color Purple”, its structure is different. It would not make sense for this novel to be written as if it were a collection of letters because of the time frame in which it was written, and because we may feel more hate towards specific characters. For example: If the novel were simply a collection of letters exchanged between individuals, we may not know whether the context in which it was written is accurate. If Okonkwo were to write a letter explaining the importance of controlling women, we may feel inclined to disregard this claim. But it is easier to read and understand when there is a narrator which provides important details about a culture in which they are familiar with. It provides a sense of trust.

 

Finally, I learned that a reader can learn a lot about a character through the author’s association of them with an object or another living organism. When we ponder the traits expressed or stereotyped about that object or person, we can gain a vague understanding of who they are. However, this does not completely define them! This strategy cannot be used in all situations because we may be unsure of its literal or figurative context. 

I enjoyed this novel because the author focused on the emotion of anger throughout most of the novel, while providing moments of vulnerability in which the reader could gain a real sense of a character’s personality. Sometimes the theme of anger seemed overwhelming and it was refreshing when the character who expressed this emotion the most, was able to show his softer, and more elegant traits.