Set in a time of tumult, when European powers went about colonizing the world, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe tells the story of Okonkwo.
Okonkwo is one of the bravest men in his village, always ready for a fight. He has no patience for words, he is a man of action. He has risen from nothing. His people judge him by his deeds, not by the deeds of his father. He is prosperous and respected, his three wives and all the children by each of them fear him. Things begin to go wrong for Okonkwo when he takes part in the killing of a boy who was almost a son to him. He was warned against doing this, and he did it anyway. He didn’t want to be a coward. Then he accidentally kills a young boy, and is exiled with his family for seven years. During this time, the white man makes inroads into their village with a new religion, first converting the outcasts, and later his own son. Okonkwo returns to his village to find its fabric altered, possibly beyond repair. The white man has brought with him different customs, his own law and a court of judgement. The clan is no longer one. Things fall apart.
In telling us the story of Okonkwo, the author tells us the story of a clan facing strange threats that even their Oracle may not be able to fathom, a world on the brink of change, a way of life about to be obliterated. It shows us what happens when two civilizations collide, as a proud people try to make sense of colonization. Okonkwo is opposed to change, he cannot find anything wrong in his ways. Unfortunately for him, this is what the white man thinks too, believing he needs to save these heathens from themselves. Okonkwo’s society is democratic and patriarchal, with complex rules and brutal (to outside eyes) practices. The white man, while calling himself modern, is in fact insular and feels superior to the natives. The book, however, is written in a detached manner, it never takes sides, nor does it pass judgement. It invites us to observe and allows us to come to our conclusions.
This is a story of great depth, but also one of great sorrow.