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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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Justify the title Things Fall Apart in relation to the text. How is it related to the protagonist and notions of community?


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The title of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe was taken from a poem by W. B. Yeats called "The Second Coming." The specific lines it references are:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world ...

These lines refer to the end of a dispensation in which an old order is falling apart and a new one has yet to arise. This means that the world has no sense of communal ethics or shared beliefs, but instead is in a state of anarchy or disarray.

In one sense, the title refers to the transition to British colonialism and then back again to self rule, with the Ibo being caught between their native religion and Christianity and tribalism and colonialism. In another sense, the protagonist himself is also a man suspended between these two worlds, and because of some of his bad choices, his life also falls apart. 

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The title of the novel is taken from W. B. Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming,” which describes history as a succession of spirals. Achebe alludes to the third line of the poem which reads, "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold" This is what occurred in Africa in the nineteenth century as "the center", traditional world of the Igbo people, collided with the colonial forces of the twentieth century. Okonkwo, once a leader in the Ibo culture, is banned from his clan for seven years. When he returns, his culture is being attacked by the influence of the missionaries and English bureaucrats. Okonkwo cannot adapt to the changes and kills himself. Ironically, this is what brings his tribe back to honor custom. Achebe uses Okonkwo to show how things fall apart when tradition clashes with change.

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