What are the major lessons in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart?

There are many major lessons to be taken from Things Fall Apart. One is a historical lesson about how colonialism impacted Africans, specifically the Igbo tribe. Another lesson is how violence and pride can bring down an individual, specifically the book's protagonist, Okonkwo. A final lesson is that despite Europeans' claims of bringing "civilization" to Africa, there was already a complex and varied culture on the continent.

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The lessons of Things Fall Apart are not generally uplifting or optimistic. It is, after all, a book about the degeneration and destruction of a society. One of its grimmest lessons is that force, not virtue, generally triumphs. Okonkwo is initially a success because of his strength and physical violence....

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The lessons of Things Fall Apart are not generally uplifting or optimistic. It is, after all, a book about the degeneration and destruction of a society. One of its grimmest lessons is that force, not virtue, generally triumphs. Okonkwo is initially a success because of his strength and physical violence. He can dominate all those around him and does so very harshly. His power is vanquished not by love or courage or any other positive quality, but simply by greater force, as the violence of the tribe gives way to the more organized and more destructive violence of the British Empire.

Another lesson is that societies generally decay from within before being attacked from without. The Igbo community, like the Mughal Empire in India and the Inca Empire in Peru, is already in decline by the time it is colonized. A lack of confidence, fostered by insidious external influence, accompanies and exacerbates this decline. The tribe initially has a culture and a power structure which are based on violence but is at least clear. By the end of the book, the Igbo people no longer really know who their leaders are, and they do not have the courage of their convictions which would allow them to assert the value of their ancient culture. People who are already uncertain and deracinated are easier to conquer.

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The Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart was one of the first and most influential novels to deal with the devastating legacy of colonialism in Africa. One of the lessons of the novel is just how destructive the partition of Africa was for the indigenous peoples. In the second part of the novel, the vanguard of the English are the missionaries who come to the continent with the assumption that Africans needed to be "saved" and that Christianity is the true faith and the local beliefs are pagan or even demonic.

A second lesson, which Achebe has discussed in interviews, is to show that there was a rich and vibrant culture in Nigeria before the English came. He recreates life in the Igbo tribe, showing their customs, culture, beliefs, and traditions. This is an important counter-narrative, as in order to justify their imperialistic project, Europeans depicted Africa and Africans as savage, primitive, and backward. Achebe makes clear that there was a strong culture here and that one of the negative effects of the European imperialism was destroying the culture. Because much of the culture was oral, much of it was lost after colonization.

A final lesson is the cost of arrogance, violence, and what we now call toxic masculinity. Okonkwo, the book's hero, has some admirable traits, but his flaws are significant, and they lead to him being exiled from the tribe and to his eventual suicide. This can be read as both a tragedy and as a cautionary tale.

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Achebe's Things Fall Apart demonstrates the tumultuous consequences of colonialism, imperialism, and the western obsession with converting foreign tribes to Christianity, but it also warns against the dangers of hypermasculinity.

First, and more broadly, the novel is a colonial / post-colonial novel that, in part, depicts that process of change that occurs when foreign (western) cultures colonize other areas (such as countries and villages in Africa and Asia). There is, of course, some resistance to the Christian missionaries, but some villagers convert after buying into the rhetoric of the colonizers. The novel also illustrates how seemingly easy it is for dominant cultures to come into a less-developed area of the world and completely take over. The resistance of the tribesman, including Okonkwo, is ultimately futile. When the novel ends and one of the western characters sees Okonkwo's body hanging as a result of his suicide, he thinks about how this example will make a small part of his written work on "the pacification" of the tribes.

Second, Okonkwo's character is an example of how hypermasculinity can lead to tragedy. Okonkwo, in response to what he perceives as the weakness of his own father, goes to extremes to prove his masculinity. This includes killing a boy who is held hostage in his home but also has become part of his family. Eventually, Okonkwo is exiled because he commits a "female crime" when his weapon fires and accidentally kills another man. He must serve a seven-year exile in his mother's homeland. This should ostensibly teach Okonkwo the consequences of his extreme behavior, but when he returns to his village, he is aggressive and violent toward the missionaries. Okonkwo's behavior is viewed as extreme even by other male members of the patriarchal tribe.

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One of the lessons of this book is that colonialism is a process that literally makes things fall apart. After white missionaries appear in Umuofia, a part of Nigeria, the community is torn apart by people who follow them and find appeal in their message, and by those who resist. Even families are torn apart, as Okonkwo is opposed to any change, and his son, Nwoye, turns to Christianity and even changes his name. Christianity serves to deepen rifts that already exist, such as between Okonkwo and his son, and to create new divisions.

In a more personal sense, the book is about how Okonkwo's constant need to show traditional masculine behaviors such as aggression leads to bad outcomes. After Okonkwo kills his beloved adopted son, Ikemefuna, his life starts to decline. He loves Ikemefuna but kills him because it is the tradition to do so, and Okonkwo does not want to appear weak before other men in the village. When Okonkwo's gun goes off at a funeral and kills the son of the deceased man, Okonkwo must live in exile for several years. It is his need to appear tough and have a gun with him that causes his undoing, as the village changes irreparably while he is away. In the end, in the face of appearing weak before the colonial powers, he has no choice but to kill himself. His constant need to appear combative and his inability to deal with change leave him no other options. 

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