Things Fall Apart

The Story of Okonkwo: A Fine Balance of Hope and Tragedy

The South African Igbo tribe of Umuofia, as depicted in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart,” (1958) encompasses layer upon complex layer of social order. From birth to death, every aspect of Umuofian culture is defined by an intricate balance of ritual, which is transmitted through oral tradition. Protaganist Okonkwo, appears to uphold the ways of his ancestors, and to represent the elite of his culture. It would seem as though the invasion of the colonialist empire is responsible for the disfigurement of Okonkwo’s life. Upon closer consideration, however, one finds that it is Okonkwo’s polarized concepts of masculinity and femininity that are disfigured, and that he has never represented the balanced wisdom of his ancestors at all. Thus, as Achebe’s juxtaposition of Okonkwo’s rigid perspective and Umuofia’s adaptive reality expands, the reader follows Okonkwo and his falsely gendered world’s descent into chaos.

“Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond” (2860). The first sentence of the novel brings Okonkwo’s narration directly into an insider perspective. This helps to establish a fair and extensively emic view of Umuofian culture. In this way readers can not only observe an inclusive outline of...

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