by Chinua Achebe
Description via Goodreads
It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo's fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father (13)
Things Fall Apart is a straightforward story of Okonkwo, an authoritarian and respected figure within his community. Okonkwo is driven solely by his preoccupation with power and rank, which can be traced back to his relationship with his father, a lazy and non prosperous man. Regardless of the circumstance, Okonkwo is able to hold everything together...that is until things fall apart.
It's easy to read this book and admire its simple and folkloric prose. If you've ever wondered why a tortoise shell is uneven and lumpy, this book will tell you why. Some have compared it to something reminiscent of a Greek tragedy...I would agree and add that there's definitely something fable-esque*(?) about it. However, at times the story is so straightforward and uncomplicated that you may find yourself wondering when any actual conflict will ensue. Okonkwo seems to have everything under control. He's a stern man--mean even. And he won't be overcome by any other man.
It's also easy to read this book and conclude that Okonkwo's attitude toward women is negative. He associates some questionable traits and actions with women, and the accusation of a man being feminine is thrown around frequently...but in order to enjoy this book the reader will have to step out of the frame of mind that tells them to be offended (if it offends at all) and realize that's just how it is...I could eurocentralize*(?) this and draw connections between African deities and Greek deities like Tyche...but I won't. Completely unnecessary and overkill for such a simple book.
It was a crime against the earth goddess to kill a clansmen, and a man who committed it must flee from the land. The crime was of two kinds, male and female. Okonkwo had committed the female, because it had been inadvertent (124)
So when do things fall apart? They begin with Okonkwo doing something considered feminine (ironic) and being sent away for seven years. Okonkwo being the thriving creature that he is, fairs well during his absence, but what he returns to is even too much for him. His village has been divided in two, due to the arrival of white men.
It's hard to read the last fifty pages of this book and not feel resentment towards the white men that come and ruin their villages. The thing is, despite how extreme or violent the penal system seemed for Okonkwo and his fellow villagers--it was their system. Their system eradicated the imbalances. It functioned...until the white man arrived, like a virus, spreading their faith and governance. Okonkwo cannot overcome this power struggle, but he refuses to let another man tell him how to lead his life...and so Okonkwo becomes a martyr.
Have you not heard the song they sing when a woman dies? 'For whom is it well. for whom is it well? There is no one for whom it is well' "I have no more to say to you." (135)* I'm making up all kinds of words for today's post, aren't I? apologies.
Things Fall Apart