Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

The Plot: Things Fall Apart is a novel set in Nigera in the late nineteeth or early twentieth century. The main protagonist is a man named Okonkwo. The book chronicles his life in his small village, Umuofia, starting with rememberances of his father and the avoidance of war with another village. By sidestepping war, Okonkwo receives into his family a hostage from the offending town. The pivotal plot lines are Okonkwo and his sons and the arrival or Christian missionaries to their village.

The Characters: Okonkwo is an intriguing character. After finishing the book, I still can’t decide if I like him or not. He’s a strong man, who grew up despising everything his father was: sensitive, gentle, friendly. But also: weak, lazy, and very unsuccessful. Okonkwo from a very young age was deathly afraid of turning out like his father and was determined to make a great life for himself. However, he despises any expression of love or tenderness as weakness and his wives and children suffer for it. He does love, but is unwilling to show it. To the people under him, Okonkwo is a harsh master, expecting the best and not allowing for weaknesses. But to his peers and elder kinsmen he’s generous and respectful. He’s an amazingly subtle character.

There are few other characters with any real substance with the exceptions being Okonkwo’s son Nwoye, his daughter Ezinma, and the hostage boy Ikemefuna.

Storytelling: What ever may be lacking in the absence of a multitude of well developed, diverse, characters Achebe makes up for in storytelling! He shows this culture that is so beautiful and different from my own. He also has a great command of the English language for not being a native speaker!

The beginning was a bit difficult due to the foreignness of the names. It took me a while to figure out who was who due to my inability to pronounce the names. The minor characters are still kind of a blur but as you progress through the novel you do start to figure the names out. The other main comprehension problem I had was some of the Nigerian words Achebe uses. Thankfully there is a short dictionary at the back of the book to reference. Unfortunately I didn’t realize this until after I’d finished so I spent a lot of time flipping back through the book trying to understand.

A large part of their culture is the use of proverbs: i.e. “when the moon is shining the cripple becomes hungry for a walk.” The book’s just littered with these little nuggets of wisdom!

Overall: I enjoyed this book! It was really short, very to the point, immensely easy to follow. I remain fascinated by Okonkwo! I still can’t really figure out if I like him or not.

I was saddened by the portrayal of the “Christian” missionaries. I’m sure it was an accurate picture but still it breaks your heart to see how they use God as a means to gain power. The first missionary in charge didn’t seem that bad, he wasn’t dead set on converting everyone, but he eventually gets replaced by one who is much worse. Then when the laws of Umuofia are invoked and carried out, the Christians arrest the village elders. It’s infuriating how meddlesome they are! They just assume their way is better when this village has been thriving for ages before they came in an started interfering. It makes you realize, me very sadly, that sometimes the bad reputation Christians have is very well deserved.

I would highly recommend this book!

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