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Free Study Guide-Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe-Free Booknotes
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THEMES ANALYSIS

The immediate subject of Chinua Achebe’s novels is the tragic consequence of the European encounter with African civilization. His novels deal with the social and psychological conflicts created by the invasion of the white man and his culture into the hitherto self-contained world of African society, and the disarray of the African consciousness that has followed.

In Things Fall Apart , the theme is the colonization of Africa by the British and the negative and violent changes this brought about in the lives of the African tribes. Along with colonization was the arrival of the missionaries whose main aim was to spread the message of Christianity and to convert people to their religion. These missionaries eventually establish a strong foothold in the tribe which then allows a government as well as law court for administering justice to become part of the indoctrination of native peoples to Western ways. Achebe does not gloss over the cruelty and superstition that prevails in the tribe, and even shows that it was this element that opened the way for the disintegration of the tribe and their ‘falling apart.’ This theme is best shown in the rise and fall of Okonkwo, who represents the best and worst of his culture. Thus, Okonkwo himself becomes a symbol of the disintegration.


In a tribal society, the most important factor is the unity of the members of the tribe and their absolute obedience to the ruling of the elders as well as the gods and goddesses. This is lost when some of them accept contrasting values brought to them by the missionaries. This leads to an increasing openness to Western thought and religion and allows for the eventual exploitation and assimilation. Okonkwo is one of few who resist and he ends up dead at the end of the novel. His refusal is a form of resistance to conforming to the ways of the white man as well as a rejection of his own culture as he has made a terrible transgression in committing suicide and will not be buried in the warrior style that he deserved. In a way Okonkwo rejects his own tribe members for their cowardice and lack of support.

This tragedy is one that is shared by the entire tribe, which has ‘fallen apart.’ This thus is a double tragedy, due to the weakness and mistake of the hero, but also the weakness of the tribe, who despite their power among the local clans, cannot resist the colonizing effort.

Achebe has used tragedy as a medium in handling this theme. This involves a particular dramatic ordering of events in which each of the situations is linked to another, thus revealing a tragic pattern. Achebe thus succeeds in striking a profoundly sad and ironic note in his novel Things Fall Apart .

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