Friday, November 1, 2013

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

This was a book I've been meaning to read for a while now. I've heard some many good things about it and one day, I came across it while book surfing and decided but it. Man, I'm so glad I did, this is a marvelous book.

The reason this book was written was to battle the ignorance of how Westerners view Africa and to show how cultures (foreign and non-foreign) interact each other and change each other and its inhabitants. Things Fall Apart does this by telling two stories: first is the rise and fall of Okonkwo, the greatest wrestler in all nine villages in Nigeria and second, the rise and fall and influences that Africa goes through from colonialism .

Achebe takes us on a journey through the eyes of Okonkwo and how village life was in Nigeria pre-colonialism. Okonkwo came from a hard life and his father (Unoka) was always poor and in-debt with everyone in his village. Unoka was a very laid back man, who loved festivals and playing music, it's because of that lifestyle that his family was always poor, at times food-less and always borrowing money to feed his family. Sadly, that life took it's toll on Unoka and he died a very shameful death; such an experience changed Okonkwo but like his father, it was an extreme life change. Instead of trying to balance leisure and work in one life, Okonkwo goes all work and all macho. Okonkwo doesn't want to become his father, so the has to be a big, unemotional, macho man 24/7. It's with this mindset that Achebe explores the emotions and relations that Okonkwo has with Umuofia(his village), wives, children, himself and other cultures that ebb and flow through Umuofia. And it's also that mindset that is Okonkwo's downfall.

There's an eternal battle going within Okonkwo. To live a full life in this period, one has to find a balance between their feminine side and male side; Okonkwo can't do this, he suffers through being to much male and brushing aside anything feminine as a weakness. A weakness Okonkwo perceived his father had too much of and that he would have nothing to do with. It makes Okonkwo a sexist (more so during this time period) and at times a very horrible, unbearable man who beats his wives and children. Yet, as macho as he is, he cares about his village and his family. He wants his children to live prosperously and cares about how his village seen and wants it to be the best in all nine villages. It just his means of doing such things is highly questionable. Yet, as much as he wants to hide it, there times where he does embrace his feminine side but he hides through a unemotional face. Achebe does a marvelous job showing us this eternal struggle within Okonkwo and how that mindset and struggle clashes against other cultures especially the white mans culture. It's sad because man like that can't adjust to change and Achebe shows us it and it's fucking painful to read. Okonkwo is a very flawed man but we root for him and want him to succeed, but the tide of change doesn't allow it. He's going against the tides of change, and change always win, even if it's on the wrong side.

Achebe also uses Okonkwo as a way to show the reader the many different facets of Nigerian culture and life. Achebe has an uncanny ability to transport us to that time period and make it seem that we've always known that lifestyle. The beauty of experiencing another culture comes through perfectly in this book. We read about how farming was done at the time, in-depth view of festivals and their meaning, the different spirits and gods that ruled Nigeria at the time. It's also a culture that accepts that there's two sides of a coin; for every beautiful ritual or dance or festival we come across, there's a dark, insidious side to it waiting to lash out. And we see that dark side in all it's glory and it's horrible and painful but it's there and we can't ignore it. It's through that multifaceted exploration of Nigerian culture that Achebe gives his love but also condones it. We also see why the Christians were able to get a good amount of Nigerians on their side. There are beliefs in Nigerian culture that depending on who or what you did, you could be an outcast sent to death. If you bore twins, that was an evil omen and they would be left in the forest to die. Now you can see why some people easily converted to Christianity. They accepted everyone and everyone was "equal" and you didn't deserve to die and you could see why people converted. Not only that, they brought forth medicine and trading posts and money to villages. But like everything else in this book, there's another side to it. Yes, the Christians helped but they also destroyed years cultural artifacts, destroyed the glue that held people together, made slaves of the people and ruled with an harsh iron fist.

Things Fall Apart is a beautiful exploration and dissection of Nigerian life pre and post-colonialism. It teaches us the power that culture has in our lives and what happens when that culture comes to clash and ultimately falls apart on you.

One more thing, I LOVE the title. As simple as it is, it perfectly sums up the book. Things do fall apart, from the smallest things, losing a sword or drink to something drastically huge, an entire culture getting wiped out. Things falling apart is pervasive throughout the book and we see it happen in various way and it takes on a multiple meanings for us and how we read the book. It's absolutely beautiful and insanely clever. Bravo Achebe.

1 comment:

  1. Hello the 9th bloggers, i am happy to stop by your blog in my pursuit of articles, stuff written on Chinua Achebe, since he is my research topic in my doctoral program,i am from India. I am venturing for quiet some time, to know the exact sources of Anthropological and situational references used in Achebe's writings. I am happy if you could guide me in the direction of exploring much about this particularly or any important detail about his writing that the world less knows.I would be glad if you could guide me to blogs, websites, articles, online where i could get hold of some info on the Macho man Achebe.. If there is any thing of importance Please notify me by my mail.

    Research Scholar
    Andhra University, A.P