Things Fall Apart


Key Quotes

1. “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/Things Fall Apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”—epigram to the novel

These lines belong to a poem by William Butler Yeats called “The Second Coming.” They perfectly illustrate the drama of the novel in two ways. The first is by reflecting the drama of Okonkwo, who tries to be the opposite of his father—and yet, in doing so, fails to accept the faults that he might otherwise have corrected had he chosen instead to face them. Ultimately, his life falls apart due to the fear he has of turning into a failure. His final action is suicidal.

The other way in which these lines illustrate the novel’s drama is by reflecting the drama of the village: It turns away from both its own heritage and the Christian one to which it is initially converted. By passing from paganism to Christianity to pseudo-Christianity, the village spins out of control and falls prey to the anarchy of a colonizing force that has more sinister motives.

2. “But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness.”—chapter 2

Okonkwo is a man of action, but his actions are not based on ideas or convictions so much as they are on fear. He is, at root, an insecure man. His fame rests on his physical ability and strength in combat. However, unlike his father before him, he has no method of relaxing or seeing a sweeter side of life—or of transcending his world (as his father did through music). His greatest fear is to “be found to resemble his father.” He is so ashamed of what he perceives to be his father’s weaknesses that he will disastrously push his own life into a course of deadly action. It is doubtful, therefore, whether his motives are honorable. It is possible, in fact, that he is as cowardly as he perceives his father to have been: If his father was afraid of blood, Okonkwo is afraid of failure. This fear translates into...

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Essays About Things Fall Apart