Essay about “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe (1958)
In the novel “Things Fall Apart”, the protagonist’s friend Obierika describes fittingly the British impact on Nigeria: “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. […] He has put a knife on things that held us together and we have fallen apart. “ (extract 2, ll.53 ff). When the British came to Nigeria in 1807, life of the Nigerians changed and Chinua Achebe aims at pointing out the devastating impact this had on the natives’ culture by using a third-person omniscient narrator who tells Okonwo’s story by using dialogue and descriptions, different styles of language which change from the beginning to the end of the story and by using Okonkwo as a symbol of the native culture itself.
First of all, the British modernized the Nigerian country. They replaced the rules of every clan by a government and a court was built (extract 3, ll.5f). The British also improved the traditions of cultivating land (extract 2, l.49 ). In addition, the native population in Nigeria had to convert to Christianity and had to abandon their native traditions (l.2).
Although the British civilized Nigeria in some ways, they abused their power, they did not call it abuse because they thought it was their right and duty to colonize “uncivilized” areas.
The court in Nigeria managed by British men was mostly used to condemn native people who were against the British rule or the Christian belief (l.20) and to punish people still following the Nigerian traditions (e.g. to expel twins who were believed to bring bad luck, extract 2, ll.22f). Furthermore, the Natives being in prison were beaten by the white men and they had to work for Christian institutions (extract 2, ll.24ff). Of course, there were villages trying to fight against the British rule but the result of this resistance was their destruction and the death of the villagers (l.33).
In contrast to those who resisted against the British colonizers, many Nigerians worked for the British (l.5 & l.55) or bribed the British for being rewarded, for example with land (l.47f). That is why one clan was no longer together, it was “fallen apart”, divided by the British.
All these changes caused by the colonizers influenced the native population and Achebe supports his negative attitude towards British colonization by his use of a specific narrative mode. It is an omniscient narrator telling the story. The narrator is extremely descriptive when he explains the rules and procedures in the native ceremony at the beginning. This is an objective, general picture of original tribal life that he is painting. Furthermore, most of the plot and characterization is conveyed by dialogue. Especially in the second extract, the reader learns about the two fundamentally different reactions to colonial rule, the ones who resign and give in to the new lifestyle represented by Obierka and the ones who keep on fighting and want to keep up their tradition, represented by Okonkwo.
Besides, the plot (that is told in these three extracts) can be divided in three parts: At first, the life in Nigeria before the British came and when there were Nigerian traditions and the former lifestyle is described in the first extract. The second extract is set after the British have started colonizing Nigeria and after the protagonist returns from his exile. The differences to the state before are pointed out and their effects on the Nigerians are shown in the last extract. The protagonist commits suicide because the villagers have refused to fight against the British rule. Achebe structured his novel like this because he wanted to show the differences between tribnal life before and after colonization and to state his opinion about colonizing Nigeria, which is of course against it. He mainly uses the character of Okonkwo as a symbol of the destruction of traditional tribal life in Africa, after a moment of resistance he must give in to the colonizers and is destroyed. His suicide mirrors the death of African pre-colonial culture.
Achebe’s opinion towards the British and their colony in Nigeria is also supported by the language he uses.
Most of the time, he uses neutral languages but the British, for example the Commissioner uses informal language (“can’t”, “Shut up!” extract 3).Because of this language the British colonizer are characterized as loosing their temper very quickly. Compared to the British, the Nigerian people use a language full of imagery, supposedly their native language, which in contrast to the harsh commands of the British colonizers is a reflection of their pagan and down-to-earth lifestyle. They often compare and explain their situation by using many metaphors, for example from the jumping lizard (extract 1) or the metaphor about the white man, given by Obierika (extract 2). This use shows that the Nigerian culture is not that uncivilized and stupid as the British believed it to be but it full of traditional wisdom.
To come to a conclusion, “Things Fall Apart” was written by Chinua Achebe to criticize the colonizer in Nigeria, and of course in whole Africa, and to indicate the devastating impact on the native population. Okonkwo had to die and so had the native culture.