How would you demonstrate the various ways in which the title of Things Fall Apart reflects events in Achebe's novel?
The title of Chinua Achebe’s debut novel Things Fall Apart perfectly encapsulates the tragic events that surround Okonkwo’s abbreviated life. The title, taken from W.B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming,” embodies how Okonkwo feels about his life. His traditional values are steadily undermined by the pervasive and intrusive Western influence that settles on Umuofia. Throughout the course of the novel, Okonkwo goes from one of the great men of the tribe to a tragic suicide whose body is taboo to his fellow clansmen. It all begins when Okonkwo and his family are forced into exile after he inadvertently kills a young tribesman during a ceremony:
“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” (124).
With this action, he jeopardizes everything that he has built up to this point in his life. In his time in exile, his beloved Umuofia changes forever. He anticipates his return, but it is ultimately a disappointment:
“Okonkwo's return to his native land was not as memorable as he had wished.... Umuofia did not appear to have taken any special notice of the warrior's return. The clan had undergone such profound change during his exile that it was barely recognizable.... And it was the wrong year too. If Okonkwo had immediately initiated his two sons into the ozu society as he had planned he would have caused a stir. But the initiation rite was performed once in three years in Umuofia, and he had to wait for nearly two years for the next round of ceremonies” (182-3).
This passage reflects many of the events in Okonkwo’s life. Nothing happens at the right time. He is always in the wrong place at the wrong time. Everything that he has built is taken away from him, his values lose their relevance in an altered Umuofia, and his oldest son runs away into the Christian faith. These are all points that illustrate how the aspects of Okonkwo’s life do in fact fall apart. This is why the title is so potent and fitting.