Things Fall Apart. Chinua Achebe. New York: Anchor Books, 1959. Number of 209.
Things Fall Apart is the story of the people in an Ibo village that face destruction with the arrival of white missionaries from England. It begins by centering on Okonkwo, an ambitious and strong man who rose to great standing despite his shameful father, in order to give background to the customs of the area and the thoughts behind his actions. It then follows Okonkwo through his demise and banishment due to an unfortunate incident. Partway through this story, a parallel story is introduced involving the white missionaries that come to the area and forcibly implement policies based on their religion and culture.
Achebe uses this book to communicate the lack of understanding between the white missionaries and the native tribe. By showcasing the perspective of the tribe, specifically of Okonkwo, Achebe challenges the views that many people (particularly Americans and Europeans) have about missions work in tribal nations.
This book is useful in an anthropological setting because it highlights the importance of anthropological concepts through presenting the tragedies that occur without them. A teacher of an anthropology class could use it to explain cultural relativism by examining the choices the people from the village make (i.e. the abandonment of twins in the forest) that the missionaries condemned without bothering to investigate. Ethnocentrism can be found in the way the missionaries felt the need to impose their culture onto the “primitive” people. A research anthropologist can use this book in similar ways, and to reinforce what not to do when dealing with people of other cultures.
Things Fall Apart is a helpful tool in discussion of anthropology because it inexplicitly points to a need for anthropological concepts through a novel.
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