Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a deceptively simplistic tale of life in the Umuofia tribe or clan told mainly through the life of Okonkwo one of the respected men in the tribe. Okonkwo rules his wives and children with a firm hand and seems to have high status within the clan. Things begin to go wrong for him when he beats one of his wives during the religious “time of peace”. The clan doesn’t have a problem with wife beating in general, only with the time that he does it. This begins a downward spiral which culminates in Okonkwo being banished to his “motherland” for a few years. When he returns his dreams of being welcomed with open arms and increasing his status are dashed as the white men have arrived and life in the clan has changed.
The book explores the culture of the clan through their story-telling and how they deal with everyday problems. Women and “feminine” traits are disdained. Superstition such as “twins are evil and must be left in the forest to die” prevail even when one woman gives birth to twins several times. The Christians and their laws quickly change life in the tribe and the old ways are being eroded much to Okonkwo’s disgust.
This book is prescribed reading across the African continent and many feel that Achebe should have won the Nobel prize rather than Pasternak in 1958 when it was first published. It has many themes and can be read on several levels.