Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe


The most common and overpowering theme within this novel is struggle of self worth. The characters define themselves in a particular way and decide whether or not they are happy with such a self image. Some of the characters such as Unoka, Okonkwo’s father, took pride in being a lively spirit and felt his life was worth while even though he had many debts to pay and society did not think highly of him. Other characters such as Okonkwo himself feel a high sense of self worth through other’s approval (respect) and masculinity. When either of these aspects of his life became tainted in any way or were threatened during the novel, the character always attempted to correct the problems so that he had a secure feeling of self worth.


The tone of this novel ends up being based upon the conflict(s) of change(s). Okonkwo’s major goal in life was to not end up like his father. So Okonkwo always attempts to be the manliest and highly respected man he can be. However, with the new political and religious orders taking place within his society he must decide whether to go along with the changes or fight the changes he strongly disagrees with. Ultimately, causing major conflicts and battles against himself. The rest of society also goes through and must decided what to do about the changes taking place in their society, whether it be accepting them or rebelling against them.

This novel is indeed about things falling apart and the stress and chaos that it develops into, which leads to the creation of a tragic emotional effect or mood for the reader. Throughout the course of the novel you experience the downfall of Okonkwo and all of the struggles in between and leading up to this disastrous event. All of this makes the reader feel a sense of hopelessness or depression because of Okonkwo’s eventual failure.

Plot Perspective:

This story was told in third person. This approach gave valuable insight to the reader as to the many events and issues faced throughout the plot. With little character dialogue, the narrator harnesses the explanation of settings and descriptions through mainly past tense speech.


Protagonist Deconstruction:
the protagonist of this novel is Okonkwo, a strong and fearless tribe leader. Under the weight of having a lazy father, Okonkwo works and aspires to be nothing like him. This mentality does many things for him except malleability. His rigid ways leads to many of his problems, including murder and exile. Even after the overwhelming power and control of the “white man” he still continues his stubborn ways. In the end he gives up all hope and discontinues his life, and this is strongly accredited to his inability to adapt to the ever changing tribes, villages, and social issues. He was so set on showing no weakness that he ignorantly let his status slip away, and the many ill-planned actions led to his ultimate fate.

 Literary Devices and Figurative Language

"The earth burned like hot coals and roasted all the yams  that had been sown." (p. 23)
"And then appeared on the horizon a slowly-moving mass like a boundless sheet of black cloud drifting towards Umuofia." (p.56)
"He felt a relief within as the hymn poured into his parched soul. The words of the hymn were like the drops of frozen rain melting on the dry palate of the panting earth." (p. 147)

As I've come to find appears to be the recurring theme in many of the novels I've read this year, the author uses similes more than any other literary device. In this case, Chinua Achebe uses similes to illustrate Umuofia and those that mean so much to Umuofia. For instance, the first quote above from page 23 allows the reader to visualize the yams, which is something very important to the Umuofian people. The second quote is more direct and depicts the actual setting of Umuofia. The third quote above is to represent the lifestyle of the community.

"He knew that he was a fierce fighter, but that year had been enough to break the heart of a lion." (p. 24)
"Suddenly Okagbue sprang to the surface with the agility of a leopard." (p.84)
"But some of the egwugwu were quite harmless. One of them was so old and infirm that he learned heavily on a stick." (p. 122)

Metaphors were mainly used to do the same thing as the simile. Achebe used them less frequently, though the impact was roughly the same. The three metaphors above are used to describe Okonkwo and others he comes across through his journey of self-discovery.

"The nine villages of Umuofia had grown out of the nine sons of the first father of the clan. Evil Forest represented the village of Umeru, or the children of Eru, who was the eldest of the nine sons." (p. 89)

Achebe's repetition of the word "nine" in the quote above is used to tell the story of Umuofia in the shortest explanation possible. "Nine" can relate Umuofia as a member of a family of other villages, though "the nine sons".

"Evil Forest then thrust the pointed end of his rattling staff into the Earth." (p.89)
"Evil Forest began to speak and all the while he spoke everyone was silent." (p. 93)

Achebe's use of personification is used to tell the stories of the spirit of the forest. The personification of the forest shows just how powerful they believed the forest to be, for it possessed human-like characteristics.

"Gome, gome, gome, gome went the gong, and a powerful flute blew a high-pitched blast." (p. 88)
"Diim! Diim! Diim! boomed the cannon at intervals." (p.120)

The onomatopoeias above allow the reader to understand the sounds of Umuofia. They bring the literary devices to the next level for the reader, making it feel almost as if they were really there.

"I am Evil Forest, I am Dry-meat-that-fills-the-mouth, I am Fire-that-burns-without-faggots." (p.93)
"She greeted her god in a multitude of names--the owner of the future, the messenger of earth, the god who cut a man down when his life was sweetest to him." (p. 107)

One thing that I think this novel relies a lot on is status, but it's a different kind of status than that of The Age of Innocence. Okonkwo cares so much about how he is viewed by other Umuofians, and Achebe's use of epithets give each character some sort of bragging right. The more epithets a character possesses, the more powerful they are (or that's at least how the reader views it).

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