So you’re going to teach Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Whether it’s your first time or hundredth time, Things Fall Apart has been a mainstay of English classrooms for decades. While it has its challenging spots—necessary historical context and a potentially unfamiliar cultural landscape—teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. Studying Things Fall Apart will give them unique insight into Igbo culture, and themes surrounding tradition versus change and the impact of imperialism. This guide highlights some of the most salient aspects of the text before you begin teaching.
Facts at a Glance
- Publication Date: 1958
- Recommended Grade Level: 9-12
- Approximate Word Count: 50,000
- Author: Chinua Achebe
- Country of Origin: Nigeria
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Literary Period: Modernism, Realism
- Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Society, Person vs. Supernatural, Person vs. Self
- Narration: Third-Person Omniscient
- Setting: Umuofia and Mbanta, Nigeria, Late 19th Century
- Dominant Literary Devices: Prose, Realism, Folktales
- Mood: Mournful, Uncertain
Texts that Go Well with Things Fall Apart
Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, centers around the Nigerian Civil War. Also known as the Biafran War, the conflict erupted when the state of Biafra—comprised of Igbo communities—attempted to secede from Nigeria in 1967. Aided by British military forces, Nigeria ultimately suppressed the Biafran state after three devastating years. Adichie’s novel explores the war from the perspective of five characters whose lives are torn apart by the conflict. Half of a Yellow Sun is an excellent companion text for Things Fall Apart in that it portrays a later stage of Nigerian and Igbo history from the vantage point of a contemporary author.
Heart of Darkness (1902) is a novella by Joseph Conrad. It is perhaps the most iconic text about the European colonization of Africa. The novel describes merchant seaman Charles Marlow’s experience working for a Belgian ivory trading company operating in the Congo. As Marlow travels up the Congo River, he becomes increasingly obsessed with Mr. Kurtz, an ivory trader gone rogue. Achebe took issue with Conrad’s racist and one-dimensional portrayal of Africans in the novel, and his criticisms of it have altered the scholarly discourse surrounding Conrad’s novel. Things Fall Apart shows the complexity and depth of African lives ignored by texts like Heart of Darkness.
(The entire section is 675 words.)