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"The center cannot hold..."

  • Jan 20, 2013
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I am truly disappointed that I wasn't assigned this in High School. I just finished reading this and...God, I loved it. It's a mini-epic, an exploration of the Nigerian culture before and after the coming of European colonialism, but centered around the tragedy of one man. Why is it so good? Well, let's consider the title first of all. "Things Fall Apart". Taken from Yeats' poem, "The Second Coming", the title is so simple and yet gets to the heart of the matter so fast. It's a universal theme we all can relate to and pretty much sets you for everything you need to know to understand the direction of the story.

The first part of the book is an episodic depiction of different aspects of Nigerian tribal life, told from the point of view of the Igbo people. Here you get some real insight into their culture and challenges that formed their world (although I wouldn't be surprised if contemporary scholars were to dispute accuracy). The last half or 1/3rd of the book is about the coming of the white man and their competing culture, especially the Christian religion they bring, and the friction it creates. This is where the title of the book comes in as you see things go the other way. Okonkwo is such a wonderful antihero/tragic protagonist. To many Westerners, he'll seem quite an unsympathetic character at first; chauvinistic and unyielding. But his whole passion is wrapped up in the center of this system that is doomed to fail, so he becomes the struggler fighting the hopeless battle to maintain control where there is none. It's no surprise this novel has been compared to the great Greek tragedies…indeed Okonkwo could easily rank as a fallen "king" alongside Oedipus and company.

The only more depressing aspect of THINGS FALL APART is that the ending doesn't have the same declaration as Oedipus that the tragic story will be timeless. The ending of THINGS FALL APART just kind of fizzles out…without spoiling too much, let me just say that one of the colonial guys has the last thought. I think Achebe wanted to show his readers through Okonkwo that the old Nigerian tribal life did have some difficulties (what society doesn't?)…but it was functional and existed in its many dimensions. The ultimate horror at the end of the novel is that all this history will be compressed and reduced to text in the "white man's book", just as Okonkwo's life will be reduced to a paragraph. But I can't say for sure…maybe some scholar can correct me on that. I still have yet to read the numerous essays and texts written about this work and the author's thoughts.

Achebe's language is simple, yet very profound. Take this passage for example:

"It was the time of the full moon. But that night the voice of children was not heard. The village ilo where they always gathered for a moon-play was empty. The women of Iguedo did not meet in their secret enclosure to learn a new dance to be displayed later in the village. Young men who were always abroad in the moonlight kept their huts that night. Their manly voices were not heard on the village paths as they went to visit their friends and lovers. Umuofia was like a startled animal with ears erect, sniffing the silent, ominous air and not knowing which way to run."

Simple description followed by a distinct, strong metaphor that creates this clear image in your mind. It successfully gets under your skin. Other passages are likewise.

I cannot say enough good things about this novel. It was really one of the most powerful reading experiences I've had in a long time. Educational, unnerving, entertaining …some parts made me gasp and others almost brought me to tears. I would recommend this to everyone and anyone. This is a novel that might be best experienced when you are young so that the full impact of the story will impress itself upon you.

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More Things Fall Apart: A Novel reviews
Quick Tip by . January 19, 2013
It's no secret why this novel is considered Chinua Achebe's masterpiece.  It is a wonderfully stark and balanced portrayal of Igbo tribal life as well as being an excellent tragedy in its own right.  Okonkwo is definitely one of the more unique antiheroes I've ever encountered in literature.  Some readers may find the plot kind of slow, episodic and aimless at the beginning, but this is intentional as it makes the ending of the story have that much more impact.  Highly …
review by . December 24, 2004
This novel has been assigned for the intro to literature course I teach to technical college students, most of whom are immigrants or their children, most from Asia or Latin America. I've wondered about the relevance, therefore, of a Nigerian story set a century ago, written in a rather formal, faintly Britishised English prose, which for most of the story takes a leisurely, rather episodic pace until sudden eruptions of energy--as in the night pursuing the priestess, or the fate of the foster son …
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One of Chinua Achebe's many achievements in his acclaimed first novel,Things Fall Apart, is his relentlessly unsentimental rendering of Nigerian tribal life before and after the coming of colonialism. First published in 1958, just two years before Nigeria declared independence from Great Britain, the book eschews the obvious temptation of depicting pre-colonial life as a kind of Eden. Instead, Achebe sketches a world in which violence, war, and suffering exist, but are balanced by a strong sense of tradition, ritual, and social coherence. His Ibo protagonist, Okonkwo, is a self-made man. The son of a charming ne'er-do-well, he has worked all his life to overcome his father's weakness and has arrived, finally, at great prosperity and even greater reputation among his fellows in the village of Umuofia. Okonkwo is a champion wrestler, a prosperous farmer, husband to three wives and father to several children. He is also a man who exhibits flaws well-known in Greek tragedy:
Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his little children. Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo's fear was greater than these. It was ...
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ISBN-10: 0385474547
ISBN-13: 978-0385474542
Author: Chinua Achebe
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Anchor
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