Things Fall Apart


Introduction and Background

Chinua Achebe was the son of an Anglican missionary. Born in 1930 in a village in Nigeria, he received the Christian name Albert, which he would later discard. Growing up in a village much like the one described in his most famous novel Things Fall Apart, Achebe could testify to many of the events depicted therein—for even though he lived during a time when Nigeria was already colonized by the English, many of the tribes retained their native customs even in his day.

Achebe himself attended the English-established Government College and graduated from University College when he was 23 years old. After studying both history and theology, Achebe developed a new worldview from which to judge his country’s place in the world. It was then that he dropped the Christian name given to him at birth and adopted the name Chinua.

In his 30s, Achebe became one of the leaders of realistic Nigerian literature by detailing the culture and customs of Nigeria’s native people. His novel Things Fall Apart may be read as a response to other English works, which cast the African people in a primitive light and depict lives shrouded in darkness. Although Things Fall Apart is full of dark events, it also serves to humanize the Nigerian natives to such an extent that several of the characters in the novel may be viewed sympathetically.

Set just before (and during) the arrival of the Anglican missionaries in Nigeria, Things Fall Apart describes the loss of tradition not just in the village of Umuofia but in humanity as a whole. For example, the clan of Umuofia serves a god that demands human sacrifice from time to time; its turning away from such acts of human sacrifice can hardly be lamented. Yet one must wonder to some extent at the Christianity to which it turns, since it itself is a deviation from the traditional church, originally founded by its own God. Thus the novel, which takes its title from a poem by W. B. Yeats, is less a novel about a hero and more a novel about an impending breakup of society (symbolized by...

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