Things Fall Apart

Literary significance and reception

Things Fall Apart is a milestone in African literature. It has come to be seen as the archetypal modern African novel in English,[4][7] and is read in Nigeria and throughout Africa. Of all of Achebe's works, Things Fall Apart is the one read most often, and has generated the most critical response, examination, and literary criticism. It is studied widely in Europe, India and North America, where it has spawned numerous secondary and tertiary analytical works. It has achieved similar status and repute in India, Australia and Oceania.[4] Considered Achebe's magnum opus, it has sold more than 8 million copies worldwide.[3] Time Magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.[9] The novel has been translated into more than fifty languages, and is often used in literature, world history, and African studies courses across the world.

Achebe is now considered to be the essential novelist on African identity, nationalism, and decolonization. Achebe's main focus has been cultural ambiguity and contestation. The complexity of novels such as Things Fall Apart depends on Achebe's ability to bring competing cultural systems and their languages to the same level of representation, dialogue, and contestation.[7]

Reviewers have praised Achebe's neutral narration and have described Things Fall Apart as a realistic novel. Much of the critical discussion about Things Fall Apart concentrates on the socio-political aspects of the novel, including the friction between the members of Igbo society as they confront the intrusive and overpowering presence of Western government and beliefs. Ernest N. Emenyonu commented that "Things Fall Apart is indeed a classic study of cross-cultural misunderstanding and the consequences to the rest of humanity, when a belligerent culture or civilization, out of sheer arrogance and ethnocentrism, takes it upon itself to invade another culture, another civilization."[10]

Achebe's writing about African society, in telling from an African point of view the story of the colonization of the Igbo, tends to extinguish the misconception that African culture had been savage and primitive. In Things Fall Apart, western culture is portrayed as being "arrogant and ethnocentric," insisting that the African culture needed a leader. As it had no kings or chiefs, Umuofian culture was vulnerable to invasion by western civilization. It is felt that the repression of the Igbo language at the end of the novel contributes greatly to the destruction of the culture. Although Achebe favours the African culture of the pre-western society, the author attributes its destruction to the "weaknesses within the native structure." Achebe portrays the culture as having a religion, a government, a system of money, and an artistic tradition, as well as a judicial system.

Influence

The achievement of Things Fall Apart set the foreground for numerous African novelists. Because of Things Fall Apart, novelists after Achebe have been able to find an eloquent and effective mode for the expression of the particular social, historical, and cultural situation of modern Africa.[6] Before Things Fall Apart was published, Europeans had written most novels about Africa, and they largely portrayed Africans as savages who needed to be enlightened by Europeans. Achebe broke apart this view by portraying Igbo society in a sympathetic light, which allows the reader to examine the effects of European colonialism from a different perspective.[6] He commented, "The popularity of Things Fall Apart in my own society can be explained simply... this was the first time we were seeing ourselves, as autonomous individuals, rather than half-people, or as Conrad would say, 'rudimentary souls'."[7]

The language of the novel has not only intrigued critics but has also been a major factor in the emergence of the modern African novel. Because Achebe wrote in English, portrayed Igbo life from the point of view of an African man, and used the language of his people, he was able to greatly influence African novelists, who viewed him as a mentor.[7]

Achebe's fiction and criticism continue to inspire and influence writers around the world. Hilary Mantel, the Booker Prize-winning novelist in a May 7, 2012 article in Newsweek, "Hilary Mantel's Favorite Historical Fictions", lists Things Fall Apart as one of her five favorite novels in this genre. A whole new generation of African writers – Caine prize winners Binyavanga Wainaina (current director of the Chinua Achebe Center at Bard College) and Helon Habila (Waiting for an Angel [2004] and Measuring Time [2007]); as well as Uzodinma Iweala (Beasts of No Nation [2005]); and Professor Okey Ndibe (Arrows of Rain [2000]) count Chinua Achebe as a significant influence. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the author of the popular and critically acclaimed novels Purple Hibiscus (2003) and Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), commented in a 2006 interview, "Chinua Achebe will always be important to me because his work influenced not so much my style as my writing philosophy: reading him emboldened me, gave me permission to write about the things I knew well."[7]


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