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The title is an allusion to W.B. Yeats poem "The Second Coming". The poem suggests that history is a series of cycles, or "gyres". The book is about the cycle that occurred during the 1800's in Africa. The cycle begins with the Igbo people in Nigeria and continues as that cycle ends and the British colonial forces take over the country. Yeats suggests that changing from one period to another is not easy. He writes:
"Turning and turning in the widening gyre (cycle)
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;"
This mirrors the experiences of Okwonkwo and his people as they see their traditions and lifestyles change as the British take over their land.