Albert Chinualumogu Achebe was born on November 16, 1930 in a large village in Nigeria called Ogidi. His father was a Protestant missionary and he received an English education in his early childhood. Despite his background, he had a multicultural upbringing. This is due to the fact that the inhabitants of Ogidi still followed many ancient and traditional Igbo culture. Achebe attended the Government College from 1944 to 1947 and graduated from University College, Ibadan in 1953. While he was in college, he studied history and theology. After developing a profound interest in Nigerian cultures, he dropped his Christian name of Albert and picked up his native name of Chinua. Achebe was a founder of the Nigerian literary
movement in the 1950’s. He wanted to help others learn that cultures in Africa were more than what meets the eye. He wanted to show that native Africans were not as primitive, language-less, and socially backward as Englishmen like Joseph Conrad displayed in literary pieces. In his response to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Achebe published Things
Fall Apart in 1959.
Things Fall Apart depicts a man named Okonwo and his family. Okonwo is a wealthy warrior who strives to uphold his manliness and not show any amount of weakness. He feels disgraced by his father who died poor and of a shameful death. His main goal in life is to gain the power and wealth that his father never had. He finds his twelve-year-old son lazy and worries that he will one day become his father. Along the way, Okonwo gains a young boy whom he admires as a son. His biological son looks to him as an older brother. The boy eventually must be killed and starts the beginning of the demise of Okonwo. At the ceremony honoring a village warrior who has passed, Okonwo’s gun accidently explodes and the elder’s son is killed. This causes Okonwo and his family to go into exile for seven years.
When they return, Christians have settled into their village and converted many of the villagers. In a desperate attempt to regain the strength Okonwo once had, he kills one of the Christian missionaries. He immediately realizes that the rest of his colony does not want to go to war and does not follow his steps to kill the other Christians. Believing his future fate will be much worse and feeling like nothing more than a disgrace, Okonwo commits the greatest sin. He is found by the village commissioners after hanging himself.
Throughout the story, Okonwo strives for nothing more than masculinity. His want for this trait is in result of his feelings for his father. He wants to be on top of his father’s legacy and known as a greater man. His father was against war, he was extremely poor, and had a love of language. To Okonwo, he was a complete failure. Okonwo avenged his father by becoming a wealthy warrior. He gained respect in his village by defeating Amalinze the Cat in a wrestling match.
When a member of the village is murdered in a nearby village, Okonwo is sent to retrieve a virgin and a young man from the wrongful village. The young man, Ikemefuna is sent to live with Okonwo, his three wives, and eight children. The boy soon becomes part of the family and shows much potential to be a strong warrior. Okonwo is very fond of him but does not show this. Weakness is his greatest fear. For him, to be weak is to be womanly. When Okonwo finds out that Ikemefuna is to be murdered in repentance for the woman who died in his own village, he is extremely upset. Although he does not show it, he considers Ikemefuna a son and is very distraught by his upcoming fate. He is told not to take part in the murder because of the bond that they share.
When it comes time, Okonwo disregards the orders in order to show his masculinity. When his son finds out about Ikemefuna’s fate, he is very upset. This breaks Okonwo down inside and he goes into a depression. He feels weak and has no desire to eat.
His daughter Ezinma brings him dinners and insists that he eat all of his food. Okonwo wishes that Ezinma was a boy. He thinks she has the “spirit.” His want for his favorite child to be male shows that he has a secret desire to have close bonds with his actual sons. He does not admit this because affection is another thing that Okonwo regards as weakness. He does not want Ezinma to be a boy because of her masculine traits, but he values their bond of sympathy and understanding.
Okonwo finds out one morning that Ezinma is dying and he and one of his wives must send her with a priestess to Agbala, the Oracle of the Hills and Caves for healing. They are told not to follow. His wife immediately disregards these orders and secretly follows right away. Okonwo waits a little while before following. When he reaches the cave and find that they have not yet arrived, he returns home. After checking the cave several times, he finally finds his wife. He waits to follow in order to uphold his strength as a man. Being worried right away would show a feminine weakness that he refuses to posses. During the ordeal however, Okonwo finds that his wife posses an amount of strength and bravery for defying the gods to protect her child.
At the funeral of a fellow warrior, Okonwo’s gun blows up and he accidently kills the warrior’s son. Because of this, he and his family are forced into exile for seven years. One of Okonwo’s wives questions him as to why they receive such a harsh punishment for an obvious accident. This forces Okonwo to finally mourn the death of his wife’s twins and wonders what crime they possibly could have committed. This shows that Okonwo is starting to come out of his shell, so to speak. It is apparent that he is not the brute uncaring man that he pretends to be.
While in exile, Christian missionaries inhabit his homeland, and his mother’s native village where they are staying. He soon learns that his son has joined them and Okonwo is outraged. By not following suit with the village’s ways, he is disregarding his masculinity and being weak. It seems that his main reason for disregarding Christianity is that he would have to come to terms with killing Ikemefuna. He would lose his religious justice in doing so.
When he returns to his village, Okonwo finds that his once war-like people have changed. Many of them have converted to Christianity and those who have not, are peacefully living alongside everyone else. When his son departs the family to live with the Christian missionaries, Okonwo shows no remorse. He is still striving to get back on top of power and importance. In doing so, he continues to preach the extremely violent qualities of true masculinity. He still shows that he refuses to acknowledge aggressiveness and pensiveness as anything other than gender related qualities, even though he has experienced situations opposite of his beliefs within himself and his wife.
When some problems arise with members of the church, the villagers ceremonially burn the church down. Those who took part in the burning, Okonwo included, were arrested by church officials and beaten in prison. Once they are released the clan has an enormous meeting. While it seems that other members of the clan wish to make amends with the Christians, Okonwo still want to go to war. When a messenger of the Christians comes in to tell the villagers to disband the meeting, Okonwo slays him with his machete. Realizing at once that none of his clansmen are going to support his decision, he leaves.
Later, church officials come to look for Okonwo and find that he has hung himself. Suicide is one of the greatest sins to the villagers and it shows an immense amount of weakness, the one thing that Okonwo feared all along. By killing himself, he attempted to stop others from viewing him as cowardly. He wanted to die on his own terms.
At the end of the story Okonwo is just as unsuccessful as his father was. He died poor, weak, and shameful. By killing the messenger, he makes his last attempt to assert his manhood. When he realizes that his attempts are obviously futile, he gives up completely. Everything that Okonwo did was based on masculinity and strength. He never wanted to appear weak, but when he realized that his life would soon end and he was horribly like his father, he could not bear to go on. All along, Okonwo showed signs of his view of weaknesses but he suppressed them. In the end they got the best of him and finally broke him.