Things Fall Apart is a novel by Chinua Achebe published in the year 1958 to great acclaim and since then, has been recognised as a classic of postcolonial literature. It was written as a rebuke to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Chinua Achebe also later criticised Sir VS Naipaul’s A Bend in The River. Both of them are widely recognised masterpieces of postcolonial literature. A Bend in The River is a breath-taking achievement by any literary standard, but Achebe has expressed his contention with the novel alongside other intellectuals such as Edward W. Said. Chinua Achebe is the ancestral hero of many modern African writers and has influenced generations of them. Things Fall Apart is promoted as the most independently important piece of African postcolonial literature. He is known as the man who gave a magical voice to the continent which had always been portrayed in a disparaging light by postcolonial writers from the west. After having read all three novels, (Things Fall Apart; A Bend in The River; Heart of Darkness) I can surely say all of them, despite their opposition to each other are brilliant pieces of literature which any serious reader will admire.
I don’t pay much heed to the allegations of neo-colonialism against Naipaul or Conrad because a novel should be well written rather than appeasing to the third world. Things Fall Apart is more of a novella rather than a novel, but its landscape is boundless because the novel, after a certain point, merges fact and mythology. It is written in the style of a novella or a short story but has the scope of a whole book. The novel changes its form and multiplies itself into different facets of history and culture in its three parts: the first part meditates on the pre-colonial African Igbo society and later, the novelist gazes on the slow yet steadily disintegrating process by which the Christian missionaries of the west reigned their control over one of the most dynamic and culturally rich landscapes of all time.
The novel’s strength lies in the beauty of its writing; the elasticity of the English language, which has been penetrated by most cultures in the world, is manifest entirely in this novel and functions as a character alongside the poetic, mythic and idyll landscape. The sentences acquire fluidity and lucidity enriching the translation of native African essence into the quintessential flourish of English. The novel is very easy to read, comprehensible and gripping; it is short, brisk and smooth which makes the reading experience akin to a grand dream leaping boundaries of time and space to uncover the buried remains of the past.
Chinua Achebe, in the act of repudiating the postcolonial novels by the west, has added a new octave to the complex structure of postcolonialism, a new voice and a fresh image which is a testimony to Achebe’s reverence and nostalgia for the ancestral burden that his country has suffered. He portrays the white missionaries as savages who came to a historically, culturally significant and sophisticated land and disintegrated it into pieces by conversion of the native African youngsters. Things Fall Apart works as a novel structurally on many levels; in many ways, it is a realist novel which also verges on the fantastical and mythical. The folktales of God, the witches, the priestess’, the priests’ and worship of different deities occupy a significant space in the novel, which, in many ways, is presented like a surreal dream, existing outside of the realism of the novel yet somehow affecting and exerting pressure of influence on the psychological/physiological aspects of characters, their actions, their sayings and the incidents which happen to them.
Notwithstanding the small blurb on the jacket, there is not a central plot in Things Fall Apart; it is not exactly a character-driven story revolving around Okonkwo and his pride. It is centrally focused on the fluidity of writing, experience, postcolonial alienation and metamorphosis, pride for culture, misogyny and patriarchy, folklore and mythology, songs and merriment, tragedy and despair, rise and decline of a civilised native state by the incursion of foreign missionaries. As a postcolonial novel, it is strikingly contemporary in its outlook and vision. Chinua Achebe’s writing is as complex and multi-dimensional as poetry; the writer aims to transform the traditional usage of language and disfigures the syntax to a great extent. As a result, the musicality of language and syntax is supportive of the dazzling images of the novel; it turns into a song for the revival of the ancient spirit which was thrown into subversion by the west.
For the central question that many readers might be interested in: Is Achebe’s novel better than A Bend in The River by Sir VS Naipaul? There can never be a definitive answer to that question because both novels are inevitably great and ambitious in scope. Both novels set out to achieve different goals, and they do it beautifully while standing in disagreement and contention to each other. What I would say before concluding this review is that Naipaul’s novel is no less masterful and rich if compared to Achebe’s, even though it was published later in 1979. It is unfair and unreasonable to me that liberals and Achebe attack Naipaul’s novel because his novel has proven to be a powerful work of art and emergency of spirit and meaning in the desolate landscape of third world countries. I would urge readers to read both and form their view about these two brilliant novels.
Things Fall Apart is a remarkable novel, which manages to be persuasive and intricate enough to dazzle the readers. It is also a novel which should be taught in universities and schools as an important tale of postcolonialism which, in my view, would educate the readers more than the non-fictional accounts. Chinua Achebe should be read for the sole reason that he has given voice to a whole generation of brilliant African writers and we, as readers, should forever be indebted to him.