Achebe`s Things Fall Apart- diagnosis of decay

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2003

12 Pages, Grade: 2 (B)


Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. The traditional Ibo society and Okonkwo

III. Achebe`s Things Fall Apart as a diagnosis of decay
3.1. Decay of the traditional Ibo societyp
3.2. Okonkwo`s downfall

IV. Achebe`s Things Fall Apart as a report on Modernization

V. Achebe`s Things Fall Apart in the context of Foucault`s discourse Theory

VI. Conclusion



Things Fall Apart is Chinua Achebe`s first novel. It is about the land of the Ibo in the eastern region of present- day Nigeria, in the period between 1850- 1900. It is the period shortly before and after the arrival of the white men in this part of West Africa. Achebe`s nineteenth century Africa witnesses the end of an era and the beginning of twentieth century Europeanization, with all its implied consequences for another stage – the future history of postcolonial Africa. Things Fall Apart gives us a vision of the Ibo`s life in a part of Africa called Umuofia, its history and their cultural, religious and political traditions.Also it allows us an insight into the differences and problems between the established tradition, that is the Ibo tradition, and the emerging traditions of the white colonizers. Things Fall Apart is not only the drama of a whole society but it also reflects the tragedy of one man, Okonkwo that is worked out of his personal conflicts as well as out of the contrariness of his destiny. This novel shows the changes which have taken place in Ibo as a result of the encounter between Europe and Africa during the imperial-colonial period.

Things Fall Apart consists of three parts: the first part is set in Umuofia before the arrival of the white men. In the second part, the protagonist`s, Okonkwo`s, banishment from Umuofia to Mbanta is dramatized and the arrival of the white men is reported. The third section shows the tragic fall of Okonkwo and the decay of the old ways of life in Ibo society.

In my essay I want to discuss wether Achebe`s novel is a diagnosis of decay or rather a report on Modernization. In my first section I want to give a short insight into the traditional Ibo society. The second part will focus on the thematic of decay, both for the society as well as for Okonkwo. In my next part I will concentrate on aspects of Modernization. In the last part of this essay I will try bring this novel in a broader context and will try to examine the aspects of decay and Modernization on the basis of Foucault`s discourse theory and therefore his theory on Modernization.

The traditional Ibo society and Okonkwo

“What I think a novelist can teach is something very fundamental, namely to indicate to his readers, to put it crudely, that we in Africa did not hear of culture for the first time from Europeans.”[1]

This quote from Chinua Achebe shows his desire to represent the Africans and especially the African culture other than they have been presented in the colonial discourse. That is probably the main aim of the first chapter of his novel. He wants to recover the historicity of Ibo life and culture. Achebe`s purpose is not only to show the values of Ibo society but rather to present it as a living structure. Umuofia is an organic unit. It is a place where people live, a community but also a centre of conflicts. It is a conclusive system which can give the members of the society a feeling of security, but only if they are able to integrate themselves in the community and in the religion. The village is held together by a network of relationships, with a common recognition. The community is greater than the individual and it is the source of the individual`s self-fulfillment. The qualities that the community commands most respect are toughness, courage and self-reliance. If one does not possess these characteristics one will not win a place of honour.

Achebe describes in the first part of the novel the customs and traditions of the Ibo. The description of these can be said to be of a dualsitic nature: on the one hand there are joyful events such as the planting seasons, the `New Yam Festival`, a marriage feast or the engagement of the villagers in a spontaneous community activity. On the other hand we get an insight into the tribal laws and the gods, which often deny and violate human responses and wishes. It is made clear that this society has its good side,like the simplicity, the comunal way of life, the poetry of life, but it has also its cruel side. One example here is the killing of Okonkow`s son Ikemefuna:

As the man who had cleared his throat drew up and raised his machete, Okonkwo looked away. He heard the blow. The pot fell and broke in the sand. He heard Ikemefuna cry, “My Father, they have killed me!” as he ran towards him. Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak.[2]

Important here is to mention that Achebe does not want to present these cruelties as violent cermonial acts of a primitiv people. Rather he wants to explain that all happens under religious circumstances and that therefore everything has a symbolic meaning and makes sense in the end. The result is that in watching the procedures of the community the reader grows into the life; he comes to accept the characteristic way in which the natural world is penetrated by the supernatural.

The long descriptive parts of community life function as a kind of background. Primarily as a background for the changing times through the colonisation of the white men and secondarily as a background to offer the possibility to see Okonkwo`s acting and his fall in a broader social context.

The novel begins by creating a unique subject, Okonkwo, who is placed within the cultural context of society. Okonkwo is a cultural hero and he demonstrates the possibilities of Umuofia`s traditonal value system. He is a man who has grown up in a community which, because of its passionate desire for survival, places its faith above all in the individual quality of manliness. Okonkwo was one of the greatest men of his time, the embodiment of Ibo values, the man who better than most symbolized his race. Apart from his representation as a cultural hero, he is also characterized by his displacement from the Umuofian society. Okonkwo becomes more and more alienated from the community. His story, as we will see in more detail in the further sections, reflects a life of a hero of industry, courage, eminence that in the end is not capable of accepting the change of time and this will lead him to his downfall.


[1] Gakandi, S. Reading Chinua Achebe, p.24

[2] Achebe, Chinua: Things Fall Apart, p.61.

In the following quotes from the primary literature I will only indicate the page number of the book in brackets after the quote.

Excerpt out of 12 pages


Achebe`s Things Fall Apart- diagnosis of decay
University of Tubingen  (New Philology Fakulty)
2 (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
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365 KB
Achebe`s, Things, Fall, Apart-
Quote paper
Andrea Fischer (Author), 2003, Achebe`s Things Fall Apart- diagnosis of decay, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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