(Novel) Things Fall Apart by: Chinua Achebe
(Reaction) Things Fall Apart For the Better by: Camille Tay Silos
View other reactions on works by Achebe.
Since the beginning of time, the one thing that has remained constant and that will continue to remain constant is change. The 'what is' will inevitably change. The question is: how does one respond to change? Okonkwo, in Things Fall Apart, lacked the knowledge of this fact. He saw everything in black and white, right or wrong, good and bad - ABSOLUTES. Because of this, he did not see that he had the choice to respond to change in a manner that would uplift his people or simply allow it to denigrate them.
The novel is divided into three parts: the first part tells of Okonkwo's family, how he attained everything that he owned presently with his two hands and his accidental kill; the second part tells of Okonkwo's exile to his Motherland, the arrival of the Westerners and his son's 'betrayal'; the third part tells of Okonkwo's return to Umuofia, his resistance to the attempts of the Westerners to convert him to Christianity, and his death.
Throughout the entire novel, one sees how Okonkwo deals with changes - acquiring Ikemefuna, being exiled for seven years, returning to a changed-home - and yet in the very end, despite being one of the clan's strongest voice with regard to the challenge of the colonizers and how the people who had turned seemed to spit on their culture, beliefs and fellowmen, he was the one who hanged himself.
It would seem like Okonkwo, instead of being the 'champion', became a failure in choosing not to continue to fight the Westerners. Some would say that his killing of himself was a rather heroic choice compared to losing himself to the ideas of the colonizers. However, in Okonkwo's case, it is in his hanging of himself that people, not only Africans, but everyone in the world, are given an idea of how one may react to change, which is 'falling part'.
Okonkwo, whose beliefs and ideas on things are extremely rigid (an example of which is how he views manhood) could not see the colonizers and their culture as anything but evil. Thus, when he found out that he could not win against the change, he chose to run away from it by killing himself. Maybe he thought that in giving in to the colonizers, he would have to lose his identity and take on theirs. He did not consider the possibility that he could use this imposed change to transform the way they were into something better while maintaining their culture and identity as a people.
Things Fall Apart illustrates that there are many ways of looking at change and many ways of reacting to it, not only negatively (death) but positively (adaptation). No one can stop change nor avoid it. One can react positively by realizing that through new experiences, culture and ideas, one can enrich himself or herself in the process.
It does not mean that the people of Okonkwo had to accept everything from the colonizers; they had the option to choose what they thought would make them better. When one does this, one does not simply become a copy of their colonizers. Rather, they remain the way they were, only, transformed. One needs to understand himself or herself better, needs to know what he or she needs to lift them up. Through change, these things will be realized. People just need to remember one thing to not feel trapped when confronted with change: the freedom of choice is always theirs.
In reading Things Fall Apart, I found myself loving and hating the story at the same time. I hated it because I became attached to the main character, Okonkwo, and wanted him to succeed and live at the end of the tale and, well, when it didn't happen, I was annoyed that he had 'lost' a battle he could have won ('giving in' isn't the same as 'giving up'). Also, I found myself loving it when I read it a second time and actually found myself struggling alongside Okonkwo and finding, through his death, a release for his soul, pride and honor. It's very rare for me to become involved with the characters of a story, especially one that is very different from me, but Achebe made it so that the reader feels for Okonkwo's plight.