Things Fall Apart

by: Chinua Achebe

Tone

Main ideas Tone

The tone of Things Fall Apart is generally objective, meaning that the narrator presents a clear and straightforward account of events. Achebe provides no evidence that the reader should distrust the narrator, whose only embellishments tend to be explanatory, commenting on certain cultural practices that may be foreign to non-Igbo readers. The apparent reliability of the narrator plays a significant role in the novel. The tone allows Achebe to present a view of a dynamic and complex cultural world that fully supports the social, religious, and political life of its inhabitants. This representation works against Euro-American conceptions of African cultures as socially backward, superstitious, and politically disorganized. On the other hand, the novel’s objective tone amplifies the tragedy of the ending, when the British District Officer reduces the entire story into a single paragraph in a book meant to glorify the British Empire. Readers understand that, despite its pretense to historical accuracy, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger actually erases Igbo history, just as British colonialism threatens to erase the Igbo cultural world the novel presents.

The objective tone of Things Fall Apart also invites readers to make their own judgments about the characters and their actions. Achebe portrays characters and events with complexity and objectivity, enabling readers to judge for themselves whether Okonkwo is wrong to pursue status so single-mindedly, or whether Nwoye is right to follow his heart into the arms of Christian fellowship. Achebe also empowers non-Igbo readers to make informed judgments across cultural and historical divides. Although the world of Things Fall Apart is foreign to most readers, Achebe embeds enough context in the novel for us to understand how and when characters follow, go against, or exceed Igbo cultural norms. In the end, the objective yet nuanced tone of the novel allows readers to see that things fall apart not solely because of British colonial infiltration, but also because of internal divisions among the Igbo.