“Things Fall Apart,” by Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian author, is an award winning book that explores what happens when, as the title suggest, things fall apart. Much of the novel is about family ties and being trapped within the rules and restrictions of ones own culture. The story centers on the protagonist, Okonkwo, who is an esteemed warrior in his tribe the Umuofias. He is shamed though because of living in the shadow of his father Unoka, who was considered a coward, had a bad reputation in the village and racked up numerous debts. In some ways, it could be compared to the Biblical story Job, when every unfortunate thing that could possible befall a person does befall him. At the end of the story, things have gone so utterly bad for Okonkwo, that he feels that he cannot overcome things and he takes his own life. While this is an extreme act of desperation that our Western cultures condemn, one cannot look at this act without looking at the culture that Okonkwo inhabits. By taking into account this, one sees that this is not so out of sync with the cultural reality that Okonkwo is a part of.
Okonkwo is described as a confident and bold warrior. Achebe writes that he “was not afraid of war. He was a man of action, a man of war. Unlike his father he could stand the look of blood” (Achebe, 23). In the last tribal war he was the first person to bring home a human head and despite his cowardly father he has risen to become the leader of his village. Along with being the leader of his village, he now has certain responsibilities that he must fulfill.
One of these responsibilities is to take care of an orphan boy named Ikemefuna. This boy was a peace offering from a nearby village that was given in order to avoid war. Ikemefuna becomes like part of the family and is close with Okonkwo’s son Nwoye.
Over time though a change occurs in Okonkwo as he gets older, and also physically weaker and he begins to lose his standing both in the village and with his family. He violates the week of piece, which outrages the other villagers and creates a feud between Okonkwo and them. Because of a prediction of an Oracle, villagers conclude that a plague of locust is an omen from the gods and that Ikemefuna must e sacrificed. Okonkwo is urged not to participate, but he does not want to show weakness so he participates in the murder. From there things take a turn for the worse and more deaths happen in the village. People begin to lose faith in Okonkow and this begins to affect him greatly. In the end Okonkwo is exiled. Christianity comes to the village, and this change further enfuriates Okonkwo.
Things break, fall apart, beyond Okonkwo’s ability to ever repair. The narrator says, “Okonkwo's compound was like a deserted homestead. It was as if cold water had been poured on it” (169). There is no way for him to ever fix the things that have come unraveled. In the culture of the village, once a person has been shamed, or been considered to be a recipient of bad luck, there is no way to recover from it. In the culture, it is not right for a man to commit suicide. Obierika says, "It is against our custom, It is an abomination for a man to take his own life. It is an offense against the Earth, and his clansmen will not bury a man who commits it. His body is evil, and only strangers may touch it” (178). In this situation, Okonkwo feels trapt, and this leads him to take his own life. His identity as a leader, and a respectable man has been lost, and the act of taking his life is only the final action of his destruction.
Achebe, Chinua. Things fall apart. New York: Anchor Books, 1994. Print.