BOOK MARATHON: Book 2; Things Fall Apart

 

BOOK: Things Fall Apart

AUTHOR: Chinua Achebe

FIRST PUBLISHED: 1958

PUBLISHER: Heinemann

LANGUAGE: English

 

The book is set in Igbo land, in a town called Umuofia which consists of nine villages. Meet Unoka, a lazy man who loved palm wine and was full of debts. He was a coward who disliked stories of war. Though he died with no title, he had son who was hard working and full of energy. The son was excellent in everything; A great wrestler, a wealthy farmer and brave fighter. The son’s name was Okonkwo. People in Umuofia town loved Okonkwo. Okonkwo resented his father’s failures and was not proud of him.

A daughter of the village and wife of Ogbuefi Udo had been killed while she had gone to the market at Mbaino. Angry about the incident, an ultimatum had been reached by the villagers in Umuofia. Mbaino village had to pay for the death of their daughter. Mbaino had to choose either war or offer a young man and a virgin as compensation. Mbaino village chose the latter, and so Okonkwo, who was the messenger brought back a young man and a virgin. The young man’s name was Ikemefuna. It was then decided that the virgin girl would become Ogbuefi Udo’s wife. Ikemefuna was to be owned by the clan and thus was placed under Okonkwo’s care. Okonkwo then went home with Ikemefuna and instructed his first wife to take care of him.  Nwoye, Okonkwo’s first son bonded easily Ikemefuna and they became fast friends. Ikemefuna was now part of Okonkwo’s family.

Though strong and hard working, Okonkwo had a short temper and is portrayed as a violent man twice in the book, he is known to have beaten his second wife; Once when the second wife went to plait her hair and left the children.The second time he beat her after she had cut a few leaves of the banana tree to wrap food in them. Life in Umuofia goes on as usual, with the people celebrating festivals, attending wrestling matches and participating in farming and harvesting together. One of the themes displayed in the book is Traditions and Culture.

One day however, as Okonkwo was sitting in his obi (hut) with Ikemefuna and Nwoye munching and drinking palm wine, Ogbuefi Ezeudu, one of the oldest men in Umuofia, paid him a visit. He asked to have a word with Okonkwo and they both went outside. He had a terrible message for Okonkwo “…..Umuofia has decided to kill him. The Oracle of the Hills and the Caves has pronounced it. They will take him outside Umuofia as is the custom, and kill him there. But I want you to have nothing to do with it. He calls you his father.” The Oracle in Umuofia wanted Ikemefuna dead, but did not want Okonkwo to be part of his demise as Ikemefuna now called Okonkwo father. The following day, a group of elders from the villages in Umuofia came to Okonkwo’s house. Nwoye and Ikemefuna were sent out as they the elders discussed in low tones. Later in the day when the elders had left, Okonkwo called Ikemefuna and lied to him that he was to be taken back to his village. A day after, the elders returned and left with Ikemefuna. A sombre mood engulfed Okonkwo’s homestead as the party left with Ikemefuna, whom he had seen as a son. Okonkwo joined the party.

 

Ikemefuna was taken to the forest where a man stabbed him with a machete. Okonkwo looked away as the man raised the machete but since he did not want to be thought of as weak, he drew his machete and cut Ikemefuna down, killing him. Though he did not cry openly, he mourned Ikemefuna’s death inside. His death pained him and for two days, he did not eat any food save for palm wine from dawn to dusk.

Ezinma, Okonkwo’s second wife’s daughter fell ill a few days after the death of Ikemefuna. Ezinma was the second wife’s only child as all her siblings had died in infancy.

The Ekwe was blown to announce the death of Ogbuefi Ezeudu. Ezeudu, the man who had paid Okonkwo a visit sometime back to inform him that Ikemefuna had to be killed. Ezeudu was buried with great respect as he was a warrior.  As guns were fired to salute Ezeudu at his funeral, Okonkwo’s gun accidentally exploded and a piece of iron pierced Ezeudu’s sixteen year old son. Okonkwo killed Ezeudu’s son and as was the tradition, he had to flee into exile for seven years if such an accident happened. That night, Okonkwo and his family fled to his mother land, a little village called Mbanta. His houses in Umuofia were then set ablaze by the villagers. They did this to cleanse the place as Okonkwo had killed a clansman.

When he was in exile at Mbata village, Okonkwo’s friend Obierika paid him a visit twice. The second time, the missionaries had come to Umuofia, built churches and converted the people to Christians. Among those converted to Christianity was Nwoye. Not everyone liked the missionaries. Those who refused to be converted considered the converts as outcasts. The priestess even called them excrement of the clan. White people also brought a government. They introduced the court where the District commissioner judged cases. Here, we see the people being resistant to adopt the new culture. A new culture brought by the whites. Christianity is a new thing among the locals and so some become rebellious to the new ways.

White people continue spreading Christianity amidst opposition by some villagers. During a meeting, one villager who had converted to Christianity unmasked one of the clan’s spirit. This angered the clan and they decided to bring down the church in Umuofia. Three days later the District Commissioner sent his sweet-tongued messenger to the leaders of Umuofia asking them to meet him in his headquarters. That also was not strange. He often asked them to hold such palavers, as he called them. Okonkwo was among the six leaders he invited. They were then imprisoned. They were later released after a fine was paid.

Since the beginning, Okonkwo was anti- Christianity and despised  the new ways the white men had brought. At the end of the book, Okonkwo kills himself after seeing that the people are not feeling his rebellion.

What can I say about the book? It’s compelling and entertaining. Though set in Nigeria, I believe any African can relate to the themes that arise in the book. Take culture for example,  the traditions and practices emerging from the book are common across Africa. Colonization by the white man is also something all but two African countries experienced. There were those who resisted the white man’s ways and those who collaborated with the missionaries In an fascinating way, the author talked of Christianity, and the change of culture as a result of white settlers in Africa. Want to make a list of books that can be used to study African literature? Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” definitely has to be among the top in the list.

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