Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe-Background Information


Things Fall Apart is an English-language novel by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, published in 1958 by William Heinemann Ltd in the UK. It is seen as the archetypal modern African novel in English, one of the first to receive global critical acclaim. It is a staple book in schools throughout Africa and is widely read and studied in English-speaking countries around the world. The title of the novel comes from William Butler Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming”. The novel shows the life of Okonkwo, a leader and local wrestling champion in Umuofia, one of a fictional group of nine villages in Nigeria, inhabited by the Igbo people (in the novel, “Ibo”). It describes his family and personal history, the customs and society of the Igbo, and the influence of British colonialism and Christian missionaries on the Igbo community during the late nineteenth century.


• There is no specific date for the events in the novel.
• Based on these same events, however, we can surmise that the novel takes place from the early nineteenth century to the early twentieth century.
• The story occurs in Igbo territory in Nigeria.
• Specifically, the plot unwinds in the villages of Umuofia, Mbaino and Mbanta. 

Historical Context

• British expansion had just gained relevance in the African interior.

• Many of the missionaries, explorers and traders thought that the interior of Africa was a wild and dangerous place that was inhabited by primitive people.

• There was a scramble for territorial control of Africa between 1870 and 1900 for two reasons:

1. Africa was an untapped source of raw materials that could fuel the Industrial  Revolution in Europe.

2. Trade could be enhanced by using Africa as a stop-off port on the way to the Middle East.

• This scramble opened the door to the missionary’s need to ‘civilize’ and ‘enlighten’ the population of this new colony/continent.

• With the infiltration of these missionaries came churches and schools, both of which were instrumental in the colonising process.

• The overarching result of the European infiltration was:
1. The indigenous cultural and religious practices were rejected and viewed as uncivilized and heathen.
2. Tribal practices were outlawed.
3. Local judicial systems were replaced.
4. Trading posts and monetary systems replaced barter and rural systems of trade.

Social Context

• The men are dominant and the women are subservient.
• Social mobility is possible through personal achievement.
• Success is measured by the number of barns one owns and titles that their wealth can buy.
• The society is polygamous, and social prestige is accorded to a man that can afford to support many wives.
• The acquisition of a bride is a solemn event that involves ritual and ceremony.
• Children are a sign of virility.
• Villagers feel a sense of obligation to help each other.
• Being hospitable to each other is very important.
• Conversation involves rituals – palm wine, kola nut, alligator pepper – and proverbs.
• Members of the clan are prohibited from killing each other.

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