Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a canonical African novel of the colonial period, so well representative of this niche that it is read worldwide in the study of African novels. Even more, Things Fall Apart is a recommended literature reading, not just in African countries, but in English speaking countries worldwide. It is for this reason, along with several others, that it has been translated into over fifty languages.
Things Fall Apart follows the life of Okonkwo, the protagonist, as he struggled to fit into societal expectations. He was able to jettison all sentiments and instead acted based on reason. His inability to let himself get controlled by his emotions was perhaps what led to his downfall. In an attempt to do right always, he ended up being wrong.
Okonkwo rose from nothing to something, from the proverbial grass to grace. Despite a father who left him nothing but debts, he was able to grow into one of the wealthiest men in his town. This feat was achieved by despising everything his father reminded him of, especially effeminism and laziness. Although it helped him amass his wealth, it distanced him from his wives and children.
On the surface, Things Fall Apart seems like only an interesting read with perhaps a moral against extreme iconodulists. However, the novel is more than just that. A reply to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, it is an expression of Africa and the cultures that lie within it. Contrary to the previous belief that Africa was a dark continent inhabited by savages, Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart showed that the African people were not savages and even had established cultures.
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was an attempt to show the effects of the European and African contact on the Africans. Things Fall Apart was an attempt at telling the African story by an African. This is justified since a non-African would not understand the African sensibilities and the thoughts behind their actions. For this reason, a non-African would find it almost impossible to portray the African experiences, their actions and reactions to these experiences and the effects of these experiences on Africans.
In this vein, Things Fall Apart can be seen as an African attempting to tell an African story from an African perspective. An attempt which was successful, through the use of its relatively simple diction.