How do things fall apart in Things Fall Apart?  

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The title of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is taken from the poem "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats. The poem states:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...

This apocalyptic vision is intended as a view of the modern condition...

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The title of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is taken from the poem "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats. The poem states:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...

This apocalyptic vision is intended as a view of the modern condition in which religious belief, civic society, and the human connections to the divine and other humans are severed as civilization regresses to a sort of individualist and alienated form of spiritual and societal anarchy.

Achebe is applying this to the situation in Nigeria under colonial rule. Traditional Igbo culture, religion, and civic society are under threat from British colonial rule. While some people still follow traditional religion and others convert to Christianity, many are caught between with no strong bonds either to traditional Igbo culture or to the new British culture. Cynicism and individualism replace community spirit, and people caught between the world of tradition (which is weakening) and colonialism (in which they are oppressed and subordinated) become isolated, self-centered, and empty of purpose. In the place of traditional values, people begin to have fame, money, or power as overarching goals.

The falling apart occurs on two levels, first in the individual story of Okonkwo himself and second in the story of the village.

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In the novel Things Fall Apart, things unravel very quickly at the end of the story.

The first and most obvious thing that happens is Okonkwo's suicide. After witnessing the downfall of his beloved society and seeing the events that have turned everyone against one another—as well as experiencing his own disgrace and shunning from society, Okonkwo has lost everything he sought in life. He commits suicide because he realizes his community has been destroyed and his culture changed, while he has lost all the respect he fought so hard for in his life.

The community, as mentioned, had fallen apart as well in the story. With the arrival of the Christian missionaries, the society became quickly divided. Initially, the missionaries were loving and friendly, hoping to bridge the gap between the cultures. Unfortunately, when new missionaries came to replace the injured pastor, they were unkind, and this led to division among the people, tearing the Igbo society apart.

Finally, the culture began to crumble. After the society began to fight among itself, the people threw their traditions out the window. The new missionaries cared little for the original traditions of the people, and so they encouraged this desertion, which led to more confusion and eventually tore the village apart.

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Achebe illustrates how things fall apart for both the protagonist of the story, Okonkwo, as well as the traditional way of life in Umuofia after the Europeans begin to colonize the region. Okonkwo is portrayed as a tragic hero who is revered throughout his tribe and initially holds multiple titles. However, Okonkwo's tragic flaw is his fear of being viewed as weak and effeminate. Okonkwo's aggressive, masculine personality and fear of being portrayed as weak influence him to make several terrible, brash decisions. Okonkwo disrupts the Week of Peace, participates in Ikemefuna's murder, and is exiled for seven years after accidentally shooting a young man during a funeral ceremony. Okonkwo not only loses his titles and revered status but is exiled from Umuofia and must live in his motherland of Mbanta.

When Okonkwo travels back to his village of Umuofia following his seven years of exile, he discovers that white Europeans have arrived in the region and established their culture and religion. The white Europeans begin to colonize the region by converting the Natives, building institutions, and establishing a bureaucracy. As more and more Natives begin to assimilate into European culture and convert to Christianity, the traditional African ways of life begin to disappear. In the end, Okonkwo decapitates a white messenger and ends up committing suicide to avoid being arrested and tortured by the white colonizers. Essentially, Okonkwo's stellar reputation and dreams have fallen apart while his culture and village of Umuofia have also begun to fall apart via European colonization and the assimilation to European culture.

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In Things Fall Apart, the traditional way of life for the Igbo society is changing due to the coming of the European missionary Christians. The European Christians are bringing their beliefs to Umuofia and the surrounding tribes. The traditional customs of the Igbo villagers are being challenged. Men like the protagonist Okonkwo cannot handle the changes and challenges as Christian missionaries come into his village for the purpose of changing his way of life. Okonkwo has a sense of purpose and identity as a hard working man who has become successful due to his determination to never be like his lazy father Unoka. Through hard work and sheer determination, Okonkwo had acquired wealth through his yams. Okonkwo has three wives who have given him children. He is successful in the eyes of his village. He is a great wrestler and warrior. He is a great hunter. He is a manly man. For this reason, Okonkwo cannot handle the change through the influence of the Christian missionaries. 

Okonkwo's life is falling apart. He will not adapt to change. He is stubborn and strong-willed. In fact, he has worked hard to become a type of hero in his community and his pride will not allow him to accept changes:

Okonkwo’s physical strength, integrity, and courage give him heroic stature, but his pride and individualism contradict the essentially communal nature of Umuofia. He does not understand that Umuofia is a living culture that has always adapted in order to meet new challenges.

Ultimately, Okonkwo fights the white missionaries in an effort to maintain his way of life. He realizes that his tribal members are not going to join him in fighting. In a sense of hopelessness, Okonkwo gives up the fight and hangs himself. His life ends in tragedy because things were falling apart in his village. He could not adapt to change. 

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Things fall apart on two levels. Okonkwo is becoming more and more alienated from his community. His relationship with his wives are strained. His farm is failing. His status in the communiy is diminishing, as his outbursts of temper become more and more pronounced. At the same time, the British are colonizing his village. The presence of the British cause skirmishes and warfare between Okonkwo's village and neighboring villages. In addition, the traditional tribal hierarchy was threatened by British rule. This dual process of things falling apart merge tragically at the end, with Okonkwo's decision to take his own life. 

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