Things Fall Apart is a novel that took the world by storm. The novel was the first published work of the world acclaimed writer, Chinualumogu Achebe, who is regarded as the founding father of modern African Literature in English. Achebe won several awards during his lifetime, the most popular being the Man Booker International Prize which he won in (2007).

My favourite review approach is what I like to call the three-question approach. I will therefore be answering three major questions: What kind of book is it? What is its content? What is its value?

What kind of book is it?

Things Fall Apart is a “historical” novel published in the year (1958) and set in Eastern Nigeria in the pre-colonial and early colonial eras. It can be seen as a writing of commitment since it is committed to a creative interpretation of history. To those who do not truly comprehend the African culture, the novel is merely a story of the pre-colonial and early colonial eras in Eastern Nigeria. To those who truly understand, it is more than a mere tale. It is a trilogy that tells the story of the tragedy that befalls a society that refuses to accommodate change. Like W.B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming”, the poem from which the novel takes its title, Things Fall Apart presents an ironic and apocalyptic vision of the failure to maintain order and balance. It also presents the order of the first contacts between the European and African cultures at the turn of the century.

Okonkwo was a courageous young man who was determined to be the complete opposite of his father, Unoka, because he was a ‘fulfilled failure’. He built up his own farm as a boy and threw Amalinze, the cat, when he was only eighteen years old. He not only obtained titles and a space among the elders at a young age, but also became the second of the ‘Egwugwu’- the spirits of the clan- as a young man. He could pass as a judge in our modern legal system. Okonkwo represents the Igbo culture. His life, that is, the story of the Igbo culture is a trilogy. Achebe was able to capture these three stories with the same characters in a single book. The first part, where Okonkwo’s life was peaceful and normal signifies the time when the Igbo culture still had its strength. The second part, where Okonkwo was sent on exile and things began to fall apart with the coming of the white man signifies the gradual desecration of the Igbo culture. The third part, where everything finally shattered, one of the Egwugwu was unmasked, and the great Okonkwo hanged himself signifies the death of the Igbo culture.

What is its content?

The content or the flavour of the novel lies in the ability of the late Achebe to capture the entire Africa through the Igbo society- a society which was a part of him and which he truly understood. The happenings in the Igbo society represents in microcosm, the happenings in the African society as a whole. He employs the synecdoche technique, a part serving as a reflection of a whole or a whole representing a part. In Things Fall Apart, the former is the case. Achebe said once, “I would be quite satisfied if my novels… teach my readers that their past with all its imperfections… was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them.” Using Things Fall Apart to oppose the idea that the white man brought a much more peaceful environment to Africa, Achebe highlighted several Igbo customs that ensured there was peace in their environment, for example, the political, legal and religious structures.

Before the white man stepped on African soil, there was an organized political structure as well as social values in the African society. First, though there was no centralised government in Igboland, there was a council of elders in each village consisting of wise men who knew the traditions inside out. There was a judicial system where the ‘Egwugwu’- the spirits of the clan- settled disputes (Page 72). Their masqueraded apparel prevented them from being known to the people, hence the absence of perverted justice. Also, there were laid down laws and the people knew better than to break them. It is necessary to note that when Okonkwo accidentally murdered Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s son (Page 99), he gathered his belongings and left Umuofia with his family. He did not need to be told the implication of his mistake. He knew the punishment, indicating that Africans knew the laws and the punishments that followed disobedience. In the case of religion, it was inflexible; hence the people were cautious of their actions. Achebe presents other sub-plots along the major plot (Okonkwo’s story). It is also important to note that Achebe was not biased when writing the novel. Rather, he highlighted the pleasant aspects of African culture, as well as the negative sides.

What is its value?

The value of the text is that it proves that Africa was never a people without mores, and neither was it ever a dark continent, as portrayed by the Westerners in their single story. In Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, one of the single stories on Africa, the blacks were described as ‘savages’, pre-historic men’, and even an ‘imbecile crowd’. The black man’s land was called a ‘greatly demoralized land’, a ‘chaotic place’, a ‘mad house’. Our earth was called ‘unearthly’, our language was referred to as “strings of amazing words that resembled no sounds of human language.” Achebe however countered this opinion by giving a vivid detail of the African culture through his book.


A balanced story is presented in Things Fall Apart as regards the African continent. We see a picture showcasing a people of humane living, hospitality and warm heartedness. Africans had a set of moral norms or customs derived from generally accepted practices rather than written laws, but with the advent of the colonial masters, things started to fall apart. An indication of this is seen in the unmasking of the Egwugwu (Page 149) which denotes the altering of a defined culture, and the death of Okonkwo (Page 165) at the end which signifies the killing and death of our indigenous tradition and culture.

Achebe’s legacy lives on in Things Fall Apart. The novel is a must-read for the present generation and even the unborn generations, in order to avert the danger of a single story.

By Vivian Nwajiaku
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  1. Thanks for this. I also think you might want to know more about education in Nepal.

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