Things Fall Apart Major Themes - Novel by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart Themes | Chinua Achebe

  • April 23, 2022
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Introduction

Things Fall Apart is a novel by Chinua Achebe that not only deals with themes related to the internal life of Igbo society but also portrays the social life of people under colonialism. The novel is not only about customs and traditions but also about the choices of people and the consequences that they face after making such choices. The writer sketches themes very minutely and also uses the technique of symbolism to inject his concept into the minds of his readers in a single long narrative story. 

The writer talks about social life, religions, clans, clashes, change, transformation, tradition, customs and also their beliefs and dogmas. The title of the novel “Things Fall Apart” that the poet grabbed from W.B. Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming” summed up the whole life of people who once lived under colonialism.

Themes of the Novel Things Fall Apart

It is very much difficult to make a complete analysis of a literary work; however, some things that apparently seem the same to everyone are helpful to explain it. Major themes that are obvious in Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart are:

  • Traditions, Rituals and Practices
  • Choices of People and Their Consequences
  • Alienation and Loneliness
  • Disloyalty
  • Change and Alteration
  • Colonialism
  • Good Vs. Evil
  • Cultural and Religious Conflicts

Traditions, Rituals and Practices

The novel is all about the practices and traditions of people. It is an answer to those who believed that the Nigerians do not know anything about social order. It is the story of a community that has defined its own meanings of life; a society that lives a simple life while following its own principles and dogmas. 

In Igbo society, masculinity is a traditional concept of being the head of a family. It is the tradition that the head must be a strong person. Okonkwo is one of the strongest people in the nearby tribes. He produces more yams as compared to other people in his vicinity. If a person has more wealth, he can have as many wives as he wants. Due to acquiring more wives and the number of yams that Okonkwo grows each year, he becomes one of the most valuable people in his society. It is, therefore, Okonkwo deals with everything with iron hands. He thinks that his father was a loser, hence, he scolds his son and directs him not to be like his father. 

In addition to this traditional concept of living, there are other customs and practices that force people to believe that the novel Things Fall Apart contains a lot more themes related to the customs and traditions. Ceremonies and people gatherings are worth mentioning here in this regard. The writer portrays the action of people regarding preparing, cleaning, decorating houses and shaving heads for the New Yam Feast. Telling stories of ancestors to children and youngers on these occasions is also one of the most discussed traditions in this novel. 

It was also the belief of individuals to split the people into different tribes and each tribe has its own rules; however, most of them were common. In short, it is not wrong to say that without following the traditions and customs it was impossible for a tribe to survive in Igbo society.

Choices of People and Their Consequences

Everyone in the novel has choices to make. There are many options and people can make selections. At the start of the novel, the writer talks about Okonkwo’s father, who had no respect in the community. Okonkwo has two choices either to spend life like his father or to work hard and gain respect. He prefers hard work and becomes famous in his vicinity. Ikemefuna also chose to work hard. Okonkwo’s son, on the other hand, does not want to be like him. Similarly, some people choose to accept Christianity but others refused. 

Okonkwo at the end of the novel also chooses death rather than living a miserable life. Besides, he loves Ikemefuna but he kills him with his own hands so that people do not consider him weak. Nonetheless, in spite of so many choices, the protagonist of the novel does not consider himself responsible for his actions. Similarly, people believe that whitemen force them to follow their path despite the fact that they open-heartedly accept their preachings as they were already fed up with their customs. In this way, the themes of choices and consequences prevail in Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart.

Alienation and Loneliness

It seems that Chinua Achebe knows psychology. In addition to external conflicts, he also shows internal conflicts that are there in the minds of people. For instance, Nwoye feels isolated from his family. He thinks that his father criticises him just for the sake of criticism and not for the purpose of welfare. Okonkwo was also exiled from his tribe. When he returns, he does not find any charm that was previously there. He feels that it is too late for him to react as the whitemen have successfully penetrated their religion into the Nigerian society. 

Everyone in society has to perform his own role. There is no one that can support others, hence, every person in this society is a single entity. If one wants to be successful, he has to work hard single-handedly. Chinua Achebe portrays alienation and loneliness as one of the major themes in Things Fall Apart. It is also the main reason why Nwoye accepts Christianity. 

Themes of Disloyalty and Betrayal in the Novel Things Fall Apart

It has already become crystal clear that the people of Igbo society accept change as per their own wishes and whims. Okonkwo feels that his people are treacherous; they do not stand against the intruders. In fact, they allow them to come and teach them a new method of spending life. Similarly, Okonkwo believes that his son Nwoye also betrays him while joining the white missionaries.

Change and Alteration

Change is the law of nature. Chinua Achebe sketches change and transformation as two main themes in his novel Things Fall Apart. The clans who were once close to customs and rituals forget everything in the end. They used to listen to their gods and ancestors before making decisions but subsequently, they ignore everything. Their beliefs seem like a lie to them.

The new religion is about one God and the people either have to reject it or declare that their previous religion was false. People make choices and ultimately change their religions. Chinua Achebe also selects Things Fall Apart as title of the novel because it sketches themes of change and alteration. Every custom and each tradition vanishes at the end of the novel. Okonkwo feels that most of the clans have accepted the change, hence, he chooses death. 

Colonialism

Chinua Achebe also introduces the themes of colonialism and imperialism in his novel Things Fall Apart. He shows the postcolonial condition of the Nigerian people in order to point out its major drawbacks. As discussed supra, the writer talks about conflicts between two cultures and religions in his book to show how colonising a society impacts the lives of people. 

It is oracled to the people that whitemen would come and destroy their social norms, hence, when they see a whiteman, they kill him. In retaliation, whitemen burn the whole village Abame. The writer illustrates the cruelty of whitemen through this incident. He concludes that colonialism never benefits the people rather it creates fear in their minds. He quotes the incident to demonstrate that missionaries want to make Nigerians slaves. 

It is also notable that the writer expresses his impartial opinions. He splits people into two types; ones who reject the new religion and traditions; second who accept it. It is true that Things Fall Apart is a postcolonial novel yet the writer sincerely shows both sides to his readers.

Good Vs. Evil

Apart from clash conflicts, there is a dispute between people in the form of themes of good and evil in Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart. For some, the new religion is good whereas others think that their previous beliefs were better. Christianity gives them a new constitution for living in a society. Previously, people were making brutal decisions. For instance, Ikemefuna dies for nothing. He does not do anything wrong even though he was killed. He loves Okonkwo but in return he gets death. Okonkwo also spends many days in despair after killing him. Somehow, he realises that the decision of the clan is against humanity. Nevertheless, it is also true that with the arrival of a new religion in society, people go against their own people. 

Themes of Cultural and Religious Conflicts in Things Fall Apart

Chinua Achebe discusses two cultures and two religions in this play. He talks about different conflicts in Things Fall Apart. Cultural conflict is the main one. At the start of the novel, we see happy people following their rules and customs. The culture was everything to them. They were divided into tribes and every tribe had a leader. In difficult times, they consulted their mothers or maternal uncles. In their society, only the strongest and hardest workers can survive. Ibo culture is the combination of different norms and rituals.

Whitemen arrive and destroy everything. There were many dissimilarities between both cultures and religions. It is not easy for people to accept change in tradition due to which there was a conflict between the two cultures. People like Okonkwo try to defend their culture but the stronger one survives at the end of the novel. Chinua Achebe very realistically paints themes of cultural and religious conflicts in his novel Things Fall Apart.

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