Achebe and original manuscript from the Paris Review
Kingwood College Library

THINGS FALL APART

                              By Chinua Achebe

  

First published:  1958 
Time of Plot: 1880's 
Locale: Ibo tribal village of Umuofia in what is modern day Nigeria 
Keywords:  Achebe, Things Fall Apart, Igbo(Ibo), Nigeria, Imperialism, Colonialism, African culture, African rituals, African nationalism


 

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION


Chinua Achebe was born on November 16, 1930 in Ogidi, an Igbo village near the Niger River in a Nigeria under British rule. His parents were devout Christians, and his father worked as a teacher of the Church Missionary Society. As a child Chinua was taught to look down on his fellow tribe members who practiced the traditional faith. Nonetheless, he was fascinated with the customs and traditions of his non-Christian neighbors and went to their ceremonies and festivals despite the fact his parents forbid him to do so.

He attended a government-run secondary school where he learned to love and appreciate British literature. He enjoyed the authors such as Joseph Conrad and their tales of Africa but came to realize "that these writers had pulled a fast one on me! I was not on Marlowes boat steaming up the Congo in Heart of Darkness. I was one of those strange beings jumping up and down on the river bank, making horrid faces." He decided that he could write a more realistic portrayal of his culture and began by writing articles for his college campus newspaper.  Then in 1958 he published his first novel, Things Fall Apart.  He had gone to work for the Nigerian Broadcasting company in 1953 and rose to the position of director of the Voice of Nigeria by 1961.  That same year he married and settled down to a comfortable life in a suburb of the capital city of Lagos.  This all came to an end  when a coup by Igbo army officers was met with a countercoup of  predominately Muslim officers.  There ensued one of the worst massacres ever on the African continent, with as many as 30,000 Igbo tribesmen murdered.  Achebe fled to the Igbo region of Nigeria, which later declared itself an independent country, the Republic of Biafra.  The new country suffered much misery, but Achebe supported the new republic, using his energies to begin a new publishing firm and to seek aid for the children in Biafra.  When Biafra lost the fight for independence, Achebe worked as a research fellow at the University of Nigeria.  He took an active interest in the publishing industry in Africa, helped promote the careers of young African writers, and divided his time between teaching posts in Nigeria and the United States.  Since 1991 he has taught at Bard College in Annandale, New York.

 

 

Library Catalog

To find books on  Achebe, consult the LIBRARY CATALOG. Type in Achebe in  Subject keyword. Most literature is located in the P section, so you may wish to browse in the stacks in that general area. Remember, most academic libraries will have their literature in the P section.

REFERENCE BOOKS WITH BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

REF CT 100.C8 1992 Current Biography Yearbook  1992 Summary of Achebe's life
REF PN 41.D5 
Vol 117
Dictionary of Literary 
Biography
DLB is a multi-volume work which provides detailed biographical sketches of the authors' literary writings as well as general critical commentary.  It is a most useful collection.
REF PR 883.C64 1991 Contemporary Novelists An article by Mr. Achebe on his writing, a list of his honors and awards, his publications, and an excellent bibliography
REF PR 471.094 1996 The Oxford Companion to Twentieth Century Literature in English An analysis of Achebe's life and writings 


 

CHARACTERS


    Okonkwo - Respected village leader and fierce defender of his tribes rituals, traditions, and religion.
    Ekwefi - Okonkwo's wife number 2 who has only one child, a daughter
    Ezinma - Ekwefi's only child and a favorite of her father.
    Nwoye - Okonkwo's oldest son
    Obierika - a friend of Okonkwo
    Ikemefuma - a boy given to the clan by neighboring village who is raised in Okonkwo's household
    Mr. Brown - a Christian missionary who is tolerant of the Igbo traditions
    Reverend James Smith - the Christian missionary who succeeds Mr. Brown



 

PLOT SUMMARY


The Nigerian Ibo village of Umofia is the home of Okonkwo, a man who through very hard work and his athletic and warrior abilities has attained a place of prominence.  He is driven by the desire to live down the reputation of his indolent, music loving father.  When he accidentally kills a young member of his tribe, he must go into exile for seven years.  He lives in the village where his mother was born and prospers there.  However, he only wishes to return to Umofia and regain his position of respect and authority.  During Okonkwo's seven year exile, the village is changed by its contact with European culture and the Christian religion.  Okonkwo's son Nwoye converts to the white man's religion.  Okonkwo is unable to adjust to the changes and tries to fight the new ways.  He is sent to jail and on his release he kills a messenger from the British authorities.  Okonkwo then commits suicide, a crime worse than any other in the Ibo culture.



 
 

THEMES TO CONSIDER

  • Colonialism
  • Contrast of religious beliefs
  • Characterization
  • Symbolism of names
  • Conflicting cultural mores
  • Inability to adapt to change
  • Meaning of the title
  • Use of the English language in African writing
  • Women in the Ibo culture
  • Children in the Ibo culture
  • The mask as a symbol
  • Missionaries in Africa
  • Comparison with Conrad's Heart of Darkness
  • Comparison with Burrough's Tarzan of the Apes


 

BOOKS CONTAINING CRITICISMS

REF PN523 .M29, Vol. 1 Magill's Survey of World Literature Evaluates the novel's place in its time
REF PN523 .W67, Vol. 1 World Literature Criticism Similar to CLC, this book has excellent information for background reading.
REF PN771 .C59
Vol. 1, 3, 5, 7, 11, 51 and especially 26, 75
Contemporary Literary Criticism CLC contains excerpts from critical essays in books and journals.  Use these volumes to 1) select a topic or theme, 2) find the full article or essay in the library, and 3) locate other articles and books from the "Further Reading" section.
REF PR106 .S7 Reference Guide to English Literature A critical analysis of the plot of the novel.

 

BOOKS ABOUT THE TIME

DT20 .D28 Africa in History Conquest and colonial rule.
DT20 .R43 Africa : A Biography of the Continent Information about the Ibgo people.
DT515.22 .N53 Nigeria, a Country Study Current and historical information from the Library of Congress.
PR469 .I52 B73  Rule of Darkness : British Literature and Imperialism, 1830 - 1914 British authors, including Joseph Conrad.
PR9084 .H27 Outsiders and Insiders : Perspectives of the Third World Culture in British and Post-colonial Fiction The cultural clash.

HISTORY

England, originally active in the slave trade, abolished slavery in 1807.  To atone for their past involvement with slavery, they sent missionaries to convert Africans to Christianity, believing that this was the greatest gift they could give.  The Africans responded by rejecting the religion while allowing their children to go to missionary schools.  There, the missionaries peppered their lessons with Christian teachings.  Eventually, the British soldiers moved in to enforce British laws and the old tribal authority was destroyed.


FINDING JOURNAL ARTICLES


Remember, interlibrary loan is available from other NHMCCD colleges are outside the system.  Allow time for this free service.  Forms for articles from NHMCCD colleges are available at the reference desk.   Try the following databases from home. A current library card is required for login  Get Card

MLA Bibliography
This is the most important database for your research.  Use it to find essays in books and articles in journals.  This is not a full-text database, but many of the journals will be available in the NHMCCD.

Literature Resource Center
Find articles, work overviews, and critical essays from this electronic database from Gale.

PAResearchII/ProQuest
This huge database  is not exclusively a literary database, but a number of literary journals are indexed and some are available full text.  Evaluate what you find to be certain the journal is scholarly.  Ask your instructor or the librarians if you're not sure. 


Nigerian flagINTERNET SITES

If you do a search on Yahoo or Metacrawler, you'll find plenty of information.  Good search terms are Achebe; Igbo; Nigeria.  Be sure to evaluate your findings.  Many of the offerings are student papers.

African Authors - Chinua Achebe
    Links, essay questions, and an interview with Achebe, from Central Oregon Community College.

Chinua Achebe - Biography
    Biography from the New York State Writers' Institute.

Chinua Achebe
    Comprehensive site from Brown University.
 

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Written by: Updated: Jun. 12, 2002 cbg