Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is one of those novels that resonates with me on several levels. Each time I reread it, I find more things to ponder about. Achebe’s novel constitutes a retelling and reclaiming of “the story”—that of African natives, their history, and the moment of contact between Africans and colonists.
Through his well-planned narrative structure, Achebe provides a chronological depiction of the invasion of European men into Ibo society, a community in modern-day Nigeria, and the degeneration of this society that occurs as a result of colonialism. Achebe immerses readers into the details of Ibo society, with no mention of European colonizers, for more than a third of the novel. Thus, he decidedly opposes the tendency within colonial and postcolonial literature to characterize the moment of contact as the defining moment of a people’s history. Rather, he aims to show a complete and complex human history.
Achebe teaches readers much about Ibo society, including language, traditions, values, and socioeconomic life. We understand that the Ibo existed as a complete society preceding the invasion of European forces. Perhaps the novel’s startling and unsettling nature exists because readers are exposed to an undisrupted Ibo society before experiencing the interference of European colonizers and the breakdown that follows.
Thematically, Achebe covers several motifs within the text, including the artfulness of conversation, the importance of oral traditions, and the notion of a communal voice. His emphasis on the notion of storytelling serves to provide a better understanding of Ibo society. It also conveys that Ibo culture cannot be understood within the framework of Western colonialist values.
Achebe displays the Ibos’ ability to tell their own stories, to have a shared sense of community, and to build an authentic, African voice.
In my opinion, Achebe’s text is quite revolutionary for its time. After its first publication in 1958, it became one of the first African novels written in English to receive global critical acclaim and critique, and its predominantly non-Western and non-imperialist inclusions may be why.
Perhaps Things Fall Apart is such a powerful text because it has a corrective imperative: it is a restoration, regeneration, and recuperation of the African peoples, their history, and their voice. If we extend this notion, we can see it as a method of correction for not only the Ibo society, but for all colonized groups.
Things Fall Apart is a necessary read for anyone who has an interest in decolonization or postcolonial literature and theory.