Things Fall Apart: Is it a novel of true literary merit?

Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe published in 1958, is a novel that this writer quite enjoyed. This writer was captivated by the Chinua’s use of religion, culture, and language. All of these aspects helped contribute to the reason that it is a novel of true literary merit.

          “When a man is at peace with his gods and ancestors, his harvest will be good or bad according to the strength of his arm.” The quote refers to how a man’s faith can bring prosperity and fruitfulness to their crops (in this case, Okonkwo’s yams). In the novel, the bible is quoted several times, which is ironic because the novel is about how a tribe was whitewashed (the destruction of their culture by colonialism). The Igbo tribe in Nigeria believes in many gods; each for a different role, much like Hinduism. In the novel, the python is represented as a sacred animal. The colonials passing through could not understand this value.”Whilst hearing all of these different stories, they couldn’t help but feel bad and have the need to introduce the tribal people to their faith, Christianity (an extreme of it). Keep in mind, this tribe revolved and communicated through the act of religion and godliness. For example, when Okonkwo threw Amalinze the Cat, he was recognized as a man with godly attributes. Later in the novel, when the villagers realized what was happening to them, they come to say, “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.” This explains to the reader how they have been influenced to change and believe something else. In actuality, what was holding them together (their original beliefs and morals) were what the tribe stood by, their religion and traditions. Things started to fall apart because of white supremacy.

           Another aspect that the novel depicts is the collapse of a culture. The fall of the Igbo culture occurred at the hands of the British Empire and Christian missionaries. The fall of the culture starts when the European missionaries and the native Umuofians struggle to coexist peacefully. However, their relationship was one-sided and dominated the events that led the novel. Every time, the tribe was given a new “teacher,” that person would make the effort to change their perspective. For example, Mr Brown was kind (in a way) to the villagers and tried to understand their views. Conversely, Reverend James Smith chose to disregard their heritage and implement his own values among the people. “He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.” This quote, which concluded the novel, ridicules the idea of change and colonization.

        Finally, this novel is of true literary merit because it contains themes that struck across linguistic barriers. Language is used so well to describe the values of the tribes as well as the “sophistication” of the colonialists. Achebe uses language to paint us a picture of some of the severities that occurred along the course of the story (ie: dead babies, chopped heads, evil forest, etc…). In order to sculpt literary monument to these universal themes, Achebe employs a broad variety of literary tools. These literary devices play a crucial role in enhancing the novel’s main themes and earning its widespread acceptance as a quality piece of literature.

Things Fall Apart opens our eyes to what has happened and to what extent it can. Achebe use of religion, culture, and language provides readers the full-bodied experience of why who we are and what we stand for (our morals and values) are the only things that keep us together. This is why this reader believes that Things Fall Apart is a novel of true literary merit.

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