Illustration of a person holding their head next to a noose and a detached head

Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe
Start Free Trial

How does Chinua Achebe present time in Things Fall Apart?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There is an overall linear chronology in Things Fall Apart, as the narrative about Okonkwo follows him from his youth to his death. Because the plot is oriented around Okonkwo, there is also a long gap regarding the events in Umuofia during the years that he lived in exile....

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

There is an overall linear chronology in Things Fall Apart, as the narrative about Okonkwo follows him from his youth to his death. Because the plot is oriented around Okonkwo, there is also a long gap regarding the events in Umuofia during the years that he lived in exile. The events in Mbanta are picked up when he arrives there. The reader, like Okonkwo, learns a little of what is happening simultaneously in Umuofia, and likewise becomes more fully apprised of those developments when he returns home.

The focus on Okonkwo also means that the author occasionally jumps around in time, but the way he manages this is consistent with a realist approach. Because people often have vivid memories of significant past events, the device of flashback fits into the overall forward movement. The use of flashback provides insight into the earlier lives of Okonkwo and his wife Ekwefi after their frightening ordeal when Ezinma falls ill. The reader also learns about Ekwefi's past pregnancies and the babies who did not survive, which is a set of experiences over time that profoundly shaped her identity and her relationship with her husband and son.

Time also serves as a metaphor for cultural difference, as modernity is associated with the British and their colonizing efforts, while tradition is the Igbo realm. The narrator includes elements from Igbo traditional narrative, which often reference the temporal scope of events, and Okonkwo also tells stories of the ancient times.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team