Chinua Achebe was born in Ogidi, Nigeria, and his father was a teacher in a missionary school. His parents were devout evangelical Protestants and christened him Albert after Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, although they installed in him many of the values of their traditional Igbo culture. He attended University College in Ibadan, where he studied English, history and theology. At the university Achebe rejected his British name and took his indigenous name Chinua. In 1953 he graduated with a BA, and later studied broadcasting at the BBC where, in 1961, he became the first Director of External Broadcasting at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. In 1944 Achebe attended Government College in Umuahia. He was also educated at the University College of Ibadan, like other major Nigerian writers including John Okigbo, Wole Soyinka, John Pepper Clark, Elechi Amadi, and Cole Omotso. There he studied English, history and theology. He traveled in Africa and America, working for a short time as a teacher, before joining the Nigerian Broadcasting Company in Lagos in 1954. In the 1960s he was the director of External Services in charge of the Voice of Nigeria.
During the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70) he was in the Biafran government service, where he worked as an ambassador and then taught at United States (U.S.) and Nigerian universities. In 1967, with the poet Christopher Okigbo, he co-founded a publishing company at Enugu. Achebe was later appointed research fellow at the University of Nigeria, and became a professor of English, retiring in 1981. He has been a professor emeritus since 1985, and since 1971 Achebe has edited Okike, the leading journal of Nigerian new writing. He has also held the post of Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he met James Baldwin, also a faculty member, who was Professor of African studies at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Council at Anambra State University of Technology, Enugu. In the1990s Achebe was a faculty member at Bard College, a liberal arts school, where he has taught literature to undergraduates. He is the recipient of over thirty honorary degrees from universities in England, Scotland, Canada, South Africa, Nigeria and the United States, including Harvard (1996), Brown (1998), Dartmouth (1972), Southampton, Guelph (Canada), Cape Town (2002) and the University of Ife (Nigeria). In 2002 he was awarded the prestigious Peace Prize of the German Booktrade.
Things Fall Apart, which appeared in 1958 in the midst of the Nigerian renaissance, is Achebe's first novel. It tells the story of an Igbo village of the late 1800s, and has been translated into some 50 languages. It is about one of its great men, Okonkwo and his downfall. He is a wealthy farmer as well as a champion wrestler, who has earned fame and brought honor to his village by overthrowing Amalinze in a wrestling contest. Okonkwo is a title-holder among his people, and a member of the select egwugwu, whose members impersonate ancestral spirits at tribal rituals. Okonkwo is a man of action. "Okonkwo never showed any emotion openly, unless it be the emotion of anger. To show affection was a sign of weakness; the only thing worth demonstrating was strength."
Still only in his thirties, he has three wives and several children who all live in their own homes in his village compound. Okonkwo has resolved to erase the stigma left on him by his father's laziness and is very successful growing yams. "Okonkwo did not have the start in life which many young men usually had. He did not inherit a barn from his father. There was no barn to inherit."
He has very strong economic and political ties to the village and is treated with admiration and respect.
This novel was followed two years later by No Longer At Ease, and Arrow Of God (1964), which concerned traditional Igbo life as it clashed with colonial powers in the form of missionaries and colonial government. Among his later works is Anthills Of The Savannah (1987), which is distinguished by having multiple narrators.
Things Fall Apart is an unsentimental novel, depicting the life and downfall of Okonkwo, an ambitious and powerful leader of an Igbo community, who counts on his physical strength and courage. "While studying English literature at the University of lbadan, Chinua Achebe was appalled by the 'superficial picture' of Nigeria that he found in many novels and resolved to write something that viewed his country 'from the inside.' The stunning result was Things Fall Apart, a novel that demonstrates the linguistic and social sophistication of precolonial African societies."
The story is set in the 1890s, when missionaries and colonial government made its intrusion into Igbo society, and culminates as British missionaries are increasing in influence throughout the Umuofia clan and the Igbo people as a whole. The title of the book comes from the first stanza of a poem, "The Second Coming," by William Butler Yeats, and is quoted in the front of the book:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Okonkwo's life is good. He has no troubles with his wives, his garden grows yams, his compound is large, and his fellow villagers respect him. We see Okonkwo as a puppet of his own actions and nature, all which finally lead him to his doom. After Okonkwo accidentally kills a clansman, he is banished from the village for seven years. The vehicle for his downfall is his blindness to circumstances and the missionary church, which brings with it the new authority of the British District Commissioner. In this process Okonkwo is destroyed, because he is fighting alone against colonialism, and this unwillingness to change sets him apart from the community.
The climax of the novel arises when, Okonkwo, without his realizing it, shoots a young member of his community and kills him. During a funeral for one of the great men of the clan, Okonkwo's gun explodes, killing a boy. Although it was an accident, Okonkwo has to abide with the law that deems he should be banished from his village for seven years. "The only course open to Okonkwo was to flee from the clan. It was a crime against the earth goddess to kill a clansman, and a man who committed it must flee from the land. The crime was of two kinds, male and female. Okonkwo had committed the female, because it had been inadvertent. He could return to the clan after seven years."
Okonkwo bears the exile bitterly, because central to his beliefs is faith that a man masters his own destiny. However, the accident and exile are proof that at times man cannot control his own fate, and Okonkwo is forced to start over again without the strength and energy of his youth. He flees with his family to Mbanto, his mother's homeland. They are received by his mother's family, who treat them generously. All this is unfortunate, since until then Okonkwo has been steadily rising in wealth as well as status in his community. The calamity however results in his downfall.
This novel is about transformation. In Things Fall Apart, the theme is the colonization of Africa by the British and the negative and violent changes this brought about in the lives of the African tribes. Accompanying the colonization was the arrival of the missionaries whose main aim was to spread the message of Christianity and to convert people to their religion. These missionaries eventually establish a strong foothold in the tribe, which then allows a government as well as law court for administering justice to become part of their transformation from native peoples to Western ways. Even Okonkwo's son Nwoye is converted. Upon hearing this news, Okonkwo refuses to accept it, flying into a rage. "As Okonkwo sat in his hut that night, gazing into a log fire, he thought over the matter. A sudden fury rose within him and he felt a strong desire to take up his machete, go to the church and wipe out the entire vile and miscreant gang. But on further thought he told himself that Nwoye was not worth fighting for."
This theme is best shown in the rise and fall of Okonkwo, as the protagonist of a typical Greek tragedy, defeated by his pride, who represents the best and worst of his culture. Things Fall Apart has been compared to Greek tragedy, due in no small part to Okonkwo's hubris. His own success as a self-made man, makes him impatient of others who are not as successful. Thus, Okonkwo himself becomes a symbol of the disintegration.
Okonkwo is unable to accept the changes in his tribe. As the village is transforming, he cannot. "If the…