Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

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Things Fall Apart Themes

What are the major themes of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe?


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There are a number of salient themes in Things Fall Apart. While we might examine the novel's treatment of the basic immorality of colonialism or the nature of friendship, perhaps the most prominent themes of the novel relate to (1) social structure as the basis for morality and (2) identity as defined by purely individualistic, non-social traits. 

Starting with the theme of individualistic identity, we can see this theme at work in Okonwo most clearly but also in his daughter Ezinma. In a social setting where roles are rigidly defined (which we can see in the hierarchy of the wives among other places), identity is nonetheless characterized by personal qualities. Custom plays a substantial role in determining a person's outward position and status, yet individuality often comes to the fore. 

"Tribal custom dictates every aspect of members' lives. The tribe determines a man's worth by the number of titles he holds, the number of wives he acquires, and the number of yams he grows" (eNotes). 

The counter-point to the influence of custom and social codes is found in the concept of the personal "chi."

"Clearly his personal god or chi was not made for great things. A man could not rise beyond the destiny of his chi."

Thus individuality is a foundation of character in the novel, a point which balances out the strict and formalized modes of identity enforced by social custom. This theme is important in part because so much of the novel is dedicated to exploring those social customs. Despite the rigidity and prevalence of these social identifiers, Ezinma and Okonkwo and others are seen, understood and act in accordance...

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