Things Fall Apart — My Take.
Note : This book deals with colonialism. I come from a nation that suffered for 200 years in the hands of British Colonialism, it is almost impossible for me to be unbiased on subject like this. Hence my review might be biased, however that is how I feel and this is my opinion. Request you to read the review with that perspective in mind.
“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that hold us together and we have fallen apart.” These lines from page number 129 of the book have left an indelible impact on me. Before, I delve further, here is the synopsis of the book. (from its back cover)
“Okonkwo is the greatest wrestler and warrior alive, and his fame spreads throughout West Africa like a bush-fire in harmattan. But when he accidentally kills a clansman, things begin to fall apart. Then Okonkwo returns from exile to find missionaries and colonial governors have arrived in the village. With his world thrown radically off balance, he can only hurtle towards tragedy.”
We were told that Africa is a Dark Continent, in our history text books they tell us that Africans were warring tribes and it was the Colonization of Africa that brought some law and order in the place. At times we see people singing paeans about the work Missionaries, and the Colonialists have done in Africa. We do not know as to how the people lived before the advent of missionaries in Africa. How were those people? What was their culture? How did the transformation happen? It would be great to know about these things would it be?
Chinua Achebe in this book “Things Fall Apart” tries to give us a sneak peak into the pre-colonized Africa and the “way things were” before the foreigners went there. The protagonist Okonkwo belongs to one of the African tribes. He makes a name and fame for himself in the society he was living in. Then his life takes an unexpected turn.
As the author narrates the story of the protagonist, he also tries to give us a glimpse of the society its values, its imperfections, etc… A good amount of the book (close to 60%) is devoted to this. As described in the synopsis an unfortunate incident happens, and Okonkwo goes into exile, here we see the missionaries and colonial masters entering this society and the changes that come up due to them. In the end, we see the Old making way for the new and the way the native tribes lose out in the battle for power.
What did I like?
1. This is the first time that I am reading an African Side of things. I loved the freshness the other perspective brings in.
2. The author’s ability to tell so much in so little. The book is hardly 150 pages long, and the author conveys so much.
3. The way the author uses symbols and allegory to get his point through. Consider this statement from Chapter 7 of the book.
“And at last the locusts did descend. They settled on every tree and on every blade of grass; they settled on the roofs and covered the bare ground. Mighty tree branches broke away under them, and the whole country became the brown-earth color of the vast, hungry swarm.”
It’s anyone’s guess as to what the author was referring here. This paragraph comes quite ahead of the advent of the foreign troops yet so much gets conveyed.
4. The portrayal of imperfections. The author portrays the shortcomings of the African Society. The society has good things about it. However, it also has a lot of bad things. The misogyny, the way weakness is naturally attributed to women, women beating and all described in the book. Similarly, the way men or women were abandoned when they come in contact with incurable diseases too speak about the evils that probably existed then.
5. The conversation on God between Mr. Brown and a native priest. That was indeed awesome.
What I did not like ?
I felt too little has been portrayed as a part of missionaries, I felt that it could have been a little more. Enough space should have been given to the other side also. Of the 150 pages, 100 get devoted to the set up, there could have been another 100 about the interaction with the missionaries also.
“The White Man’s burden” as it was fondly called during the 19th and 20th centuries was to civilize the world. Europeans became technically well equipped and they used this power to expand their territories. The imperial regimes and colonial masters left no stone unturned in annexing the countries in Asia and Africa. They destroyed cultures, killed people and imposed their thoughts, views, and religion (most of the times forcibly) on the natives. They called this “Civilizing people” and “The White Man’s Burden.”
In my opinion, the white men were too biased and did not even make an attempt to understand the lives, the culture and the practices of the natives. Due to this attitude many civilizations perished. As the lines in the first paragraph of this review depict, the natives too have a story to tell.
This book gives an opportunity to listen to the other side of the story. That makes the book a must-read. Do read the book.
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