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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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History of the Text

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Publication History and Reception: Chinua Achebe was born in 1930 and raised in the Igbo town of Ogidi in Nigeria. His parents were Christian missionaries, and his father was a catechist for the Church Missionary Society. As a result, he grew up surrounded by both English missionary and Igbo influences. Achebe was inspired to write Things Fall Apart in response to the negative stereotypes of Africans often depicted in European literature. Achebe strove to convey a truthful, indigenous perspective on African identity and culture. Things Fall Apart was one of the first novels by an African author to reach worldwide acclaim. It became the cornerstone of an African literary movement inspired by the oral traditions of Africa’s indigenous cultures. Things Fall Apart has sold millions of copies and is credited for introducing the diversity and complexity of Igbo culture—and African cultures more generally—to international audiences.

An Example of African Storytelling Traditions and European Realism: Things Fall Apart bears some influences from African oral traditions as well as European literature of the 19th and 20th centuries. 

  • Oral Traditions: Achebe is well known for his incorporation of Igbo proverbs and folktales into the form of the English novel. The prevalence of proverbs in Things Fall Apart accurately reflects Igbo modes of communication. As the narrator of the novel remarks, “proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.” Folktales play a similarly prominent role, offering touchstones by which Umuofians make sense of the events unfolding around them. Folktales also codify values and connect Umuofians to the natural world.
  • Realism: In writing Things Fall Apart, Achebe also drew heavily on realism, a literary tradition developed in Europe in the 19th century. Realist writing attempts to render life on the page in an accurate and concrete manner. Realism tends to focus on everyday life, bringing attention to—and finding meaning in—ordinary circumstances. Part 1 of Things Fall Apart particularly showcases Achebe’s realist approach. This section of the novel is devoted to describing daily life in Umuofia. Readers get an intimate glimpse into family life, food production, culinary practices, religious ceremonies, friendships, marriages, intervillage relationships, and systems of justice of Umuofia. Achebe applies realist techniques when writing about Igbo people, revealing them to be multifaceted, imperfect, and complex.

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