Things Fall Apart


Chinua Achebe

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Things Fall Apart Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Chinua Achebe

Achebe was raised by his parents in the Igbo town of Ogidi in southeastern Nigeria. Although his parents were Protestant and practiced the Christian faith, Achebe and his siblings were also exposed to traditional Igbo culture, which included a heavy emphasis on storytelling. Achebe excelled in school and began writing stories as a university student. After graduation, he worked first as an English teacher in the town of Oba. Later, he worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Service (NBS) in the metropolis of Lagos. He published and gained worldwide attention for Things Fall Apart in 1958. Over the next several decades, Achebe was involved in a mix of academia and Nigerian politics, publishing a number of short stories, children's books, and essay collections and splitting his time between Nigeria and the United States until 1990, when he returned to the US after a car accident left him partially disabled. Achebe continued to publish and held a faculty position at Brown University from 2009 until his death in 2013.
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Historical Context of Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart is set in 1890, during the early days of colonialism in Nigeria. Achebe depicts Igbo society in transition, from its first contact with the British colonialists to the growing dominance of British rule over the indigenous people. Literary works about this period often painted stereotypical portraits of native Africans as primitives—even works that were critical of the European colonizers, such as Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad depicted Africans as savages who were both oppressed by and excited the savagery of white Christian Europeans (see “Joseph Conrad: ‘A Bloody Racist'” below). Achebe's novel is a response to these colonialist works of literature—Things Fall Apart is a postcolonial novel that strives to revise previous stereotypes by portraying both cultures with a neutral eye, focusing on the complexity of Igbo traditions.

Other Books Related to Things Fall Apart

While Achebe was working on Things Fall Apart, he had very few models of African fiction written in English. Two notable exceptions were Amos Tutuola's Palm-Wine Drinkard and Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City. However, though Achebe appreciated the work of these fellow Nigerian writers, he worked to develop a style of his own. In 1962, Achebe also had the opportunity to attend a conference with several contemporary African writers in English, including Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor, Nigerian playwright and poet Wole Soyinka, and US poet Langston Hughes. At the conference, Achebe was asked to read a student's manuscript, and impressed with the work, he forwarded it to an agent. The student was Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, who is now a widely recognized Kenyan writer, and the manuscript was his first published work, Weep Not, Child.
Key Facts about Things Fall Apart
  • Full Title: Things Fall Apart
  • When Written: 1957
  • Where Written: Nigeria
  • When Published: 1958
  • Literary Period: Post-colonialism
  • Genre: Novel / Tragedy
  • Setting: Pre-colonial Nigeria, 1890s
  • Climax: Okonkwo's murder of a court messenger
  • Antagonist: Missionaries and White Government Officials (Reverend Smith and the District Commissioner)
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient

Extra Credit for Things Fall Apart

Joseph Conrad: “A Bloody Racist”. Chinua Achebe delivered a lecture and critique on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, calling Conrad “a bloody racist” and provoking controversy among critics and readers. However, Achebe's criticism of Conrad has become a mainstream perspective on Conrad's work and was even included in the 1988 Norton critical edition of Heart of Darkness.

Achebe as Politician. Achebe expressed his political views often in writing, but he also involved himself actively in Nigerian politics when he became the People's Redemption Party's deputy national vice-president in the early 1980's. However, he soon resigned himself in frustration with the corruption he witnessed during the elections.