The novel Things Fall Apart is Chinua Achebe's homage to his ancestors and the culture of the Ibo tribe in Nigeria. Written in 1958, it has been translated into 40 languages and sold more than 2.5 million copies.
The title is from the poem "The Second Coming" by Yeats, which describes the chaos that ensues when a monster returns to earth. Things Fall Apart also has a chaotic storyline that describes how the mixing of cultures and the breakdown of traditions can lead to unthinkable results.
Achebe's blend of culture and harsh reality makes for an amazing read that should be required for high-school students. It provides a wealth of information about the culture and traditions of Nigeria, and details about how colonialism was able to tear apart a powerful tribe.
Although Things Fall Apart is a work of fiction, its depiction of Ibo tribes and customs is informative. Ibo proverbs are included in the book; one of the more interesting is the story of the locusts. The village elders say that locusts - considered a tasty treat - come only once in a generation, which explains why villagers are thrilled when a huge number descends on the village.
The culture of the Ibo tribe begins to break apart with the arrival of Europeans. Christian missionaries disrupt daily life as they attempt to convert individuals. The villagers offer the Christians a plot of land in the "evil forest" where people who died from evil diseases are buried. At first, only the lowly of the tribe convert, but eventually more respected men do.
This offends Okonkwo, the violent main character, who longs to drive out the Christians in a holy war. The other villagers overrule him, explaining that it would not be right to fight other clansmen. The results are heartbreaking as the change in lifestyle pushes him over the edge.
Readers will feel like they are part of the Ibo as they follow their day-to-day activities, but will also realize how quickly things can fall apart. When the tribe stops worshipping the same gods and partaking in the same ceremonies, the results are catastrophic. Things Fall Apart is essential reading for people to comprehend the fragility of humankind.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.