Things Fall Apart Critical Overview
by Chinua Achebe

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Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

Things Fall Apart has experienced a huge success. Since it was published in 1958, the book has sold more than two million copies in over thirty languages. Critics attribute its success not only to the book's message, but also to Achebe's talents as a writer. Achebe believes that stories should serve a purpose; they should deliver a meaningful message to the people who hear or read them. When Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart, his intent was to explain the beginnings of the turmoil Africans have been experiencing over the past century. He wanted to describe the integrity of precolonial Nigeria, detail the effects of colonialism on tribal societies, and reveal the kinds of immoral treatment that people in modern society are often made to suffer. Critics agree that he accomplished all of these purposes. They feel that he wntes honestly about tribal life and the colonial legacy. They also believe that Achebe delivers another important message: man will always face change, and he who can accommodate change will survive.

While some readers will view Okonkwo's deterioration and demise as a tragic result of his going against the will of the gods, others see the new "world order" as inevitable. Okonkwo's acts do not bring the tribe to an end; it is the tribe's lack of adaptability that destroys it. These opposing interpretations strengthen the impact of the book. In The Growth of the African Novel, Eustace Palmer states that "while deploring the imperialists' brutality and condescension, [Achebe] seems to suggest that change is inevitable and wise men ... reconcile themselves to accommodating change. It is the diehards ... who resist and are destroyed in the process."

Achebe successfully communicates his message through skillful writing. From the time critics first read his book, they have concurred that Achebe's craftsmanship earns him a place among the best writers in the world. An example of his craftsmanship is Achebe's ability to convey the essence of traditional Nigeria while borrowing from the conventions of the European novel. He was the first Nigerian writer to adapt African oral tradition to novel form. In doing so, "he created a new novel that possesses its own autonomy and transcends the limits set by both his African and European teachers," as Kofi Awoonor observes in The Breast of the Earth. The borrowed European elements Achebe contrasts are communal life over the individual character and the beauty and detail of traditional tribal life over brief references to background. His descriptions of day-to-day life and special ceremonial customs provide a "powerful presentation of the beauty, strength, and validity of traditional life and values," as Palmer observes.

Literary experts also point out Achebe's ability to combine...

(The entire section is 680 words.)