Things Fall Apart

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade February 2002

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The story Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe, is a narrative story of a man named Okonkwo and his life and the tribe he lives in. Achebe uses the story of Okonkwo to show the reader the deeper meaning; one of the lack of self-knowledge and the harm it causes. To point this out, Achebe uses the contrast of Okonkwo's feelings when he is in two contrasting places.

Okonkwo first lives in Umuofia. This village is where Okonkwo feels the strongest. He has three wives, an impressive compound, and two barns full of yams (the staple crop of the village). Okonkwo is respected here and he, more or less, feels secure in his place in life. He does plan to advance in the society he is in by gaining another title, giving him three and moving Okonkwo further up on the ladder of Umuofia.

It is in Umuofia, however, that the reader sees Okonkwo is not strong, but in fact, very weak.

Achebe shows the reader how weak Okonkwo is by his actions. Okonkwo feels that his work habit is a testament to his strength, but it offers insight to the reader that Okonkwo is the opposite. Okonkwo ca not relax in life, he must constantly prove to everyone and him self that he is strong and getting stronger. Okonkwo also is quite violent. He, when agitated, fumbles over a few words, and then quickly uses his fists. This becomes apparent to the reader when Okonkwo beats his wife during the Feast of the New Yam for breaking a tree.

Okonkwo is forced out of Umuofia because he accidentally shoots a fellow clansman during a funeral for Ezeudo. Okonkwo is convicted of a female crime against the earth goddess, and is banished from the clan for seven years. His compound is burned and his yams are taken.

Okonkwo feels weakest in Mbanta, his new home. According to Okonkwo, strength is measured in possessions. He now has none, and must start over. Okonkwo is well received in Mbanta and quickly borrows the necessary good s to start again. In his seven years there, Okonkwo rebuilds his portfolio. By the arrival of the white man in Mbanta, Okonkwo feels strong again.

The reader sees Okonkwo at his strongest when he is forced to go to Mbanta. Most other men would not be able to handle the loss o fall of their wealth and banishment to a foreign village. Okonkwo rises to the occasion, and in almost two years, he is back to the wealth he had in Umuofia. There is one difference in Mbanta: Okonkwo's character is stronger. There are no more incidents of unprovoked violence from Okonkwo.

In conclusion, the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a wonderful story of Okonkwo and tribal life in Africa. The deeper meaning, a powerful one, of lack of self-knowledge adds to the overall reading experience. Achebe makes the meaning so poignant by sharply contrasting Okonkwo's feelings with the place he resides in.