Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

ISBN: 0-385-47454-7

Anchor (1994)

Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe's first novel, was published in 1958. This book tells us about a great, brave, kind human spirit," is often compared to the great Greek tragedies. It deals with the age-old struggle between unyielding traditionalism and the winds of change.

Mostly, it is about the effects of British colonialism on a small Nigerian village at the turn of the century. A simple story of a "strong man" whose life is dominated by fear and anger, it is written with incredible economy and subtle irony. Uniquely and richly African, at the same time it reveals Achebe's keen awareness of the human qualities common to men of all times and places.

The Ibo religious structure consists of chi--the personal god--and many other gods and goddesses. There is an issue here of fate versus personal control over destiny. For example, Okonkwo's father is sometimes held responsible for his own actions, while at other times he is referred to as ill fated and a victim of evil-fortune. The threads of the story follow a circular fashion, as opposed to a conventional linear time pattern. This is what makes it very interesting. Life is never linear but circular. The villagers believe--or maybe pretend to believe--that the "Supreme Court" of the nine egwugwu is ancestral spirits. In fact, they are men of the village in disguise.

Nature plays an integral role in the mythic and real life of the Ibo villagers, much more so than in our own society. Certain barbaric acts are followed as twins are abandoned and children are mutilated. These are done to appease the Gods so that no evil takes place. Okonkwo rejects his father's way and is in turn, rejected by Nwoye. The lives of Ikemefuma and Okonkwo are seen to be parallel to the extent that they both have fathers whose behaviour's are judged unacceptable.

I could identify with it in more ways than one as Hinduism too follows in a parallel way. We have Gods pertaining to every aspect…fire, wind, Earth etc. Hindus too believe in fate or destiny. Difference is, we believe in Karma too and changing the fate with our actions. Hinduism too believes that our ancestors come to bless us on certain days of the year. They do not interfere or anything but, they look on us from above. However, no living being impersonates ancestors. The rural population is still dependant on nature. Even now, Human sacrifice is rampant in some interior parts of India. Many tribes still follow the ancient Gods unquestioningly.

Things Fall Apart, though written almost 50 years back, has much to teach us even today. Nothing has changed in some parts o the world. Time stands still for them. Every day is a struggle and accepting something new is never easy. Though this has a tragic ending, it still teaches us about those basic human values of bravery, fearlessness and indomitable human spirit. Instinct for survival works very strong under any circumstances.