full title Things Fall Apart
author Chinua Achebe
type of work Novel
genre Postcolonial critique; tragedy
time and place written 1959, Nigeria
date of first publication 1959
publisher Heinemann Educational Books
narrator The narrator is anonymous but shows sympathy for the various residents of Umuofia.
point of view The narration is in the third person, by an omniscient figure who focuses on Okonkwo but switches from character to character to detail the thoughts and motives of various individuals.
tone Ironic, tragic, satirical, fablelike
setting (time) 1890s
setting (place) Lower Nigerian villages, Iguedo and Mbanta in particular
major conflict On one level, the conflict is between the traditional society of Umuofia and the new customs brought by the whites, which are in turn adopted by many of the villagers. Okonkwo also struggles to be as different from his deceased father as possible. He believes his father to have been weak, effeminate, lazy, ignominious, and poor. Consequently, Okonkwo strives to be strong, masculine, industrious, respected, and wealthy.
rising action Enoch’s unmasking of an egwugwu, the egwugwu’s burning of the church, and the District Commissioner’s sneaky arrest of Umuofian leaders force the tension between Umuofia and the colonizers to a breaking point.
climax Okonkwo’s murder, or uchu, of a court messenger
falling action The villagers allow the white government’s messengers to escape, and Okonkwo, realizing the weakness of his clan, commits suicide.
themes The struggle between tradition and change; varying interpre-tations of masculinity; language as a sign of cultural difference
motifs Chi, animal imagery
symbols The novel is highly symbolic, and it asks to be read in symbolic terms. Two of the main symbols are the locusts and fire. The locusts symbolize the white colonists descending upon the Africans, seeming to augur good but actually portending troublesome encounters. Fire epitomizes Okonkwo’s nature—he is fierce and destructive. A third symbol, the drums, represents the physical connection of the community of clansmen in Umuofia, and acts as a metaphorical heartbeat that beats in unison, uniting all the village members.
foreshadowing The author’s initial description of Ikemefuna as an “ill-fated boy,” which presages his eventual murder by Okonkwo; the arrival of the locusts, which symbolizes the eventual arrival of the colonizers; Obierika’s suggestion that Okonkwo kill himself, which foretells Okonkwo’s eventual suicide