Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

I wondered for a while why this book felt more like a fieldwork than a guided mind tour, but the answer is obvious. It lays in the fact that the novel has little of that character building I’m used from reading mainly Western literature. The surroundings are not put in the background to serve only as a reflection of one’s thought process, but form an organism of its own. Here, in the middle of an African village on the verge of white people’s arrival, the rhythm of living is dictated by weather, crops and all sacred nature’s inventions. Inner life is as important as any of intangible magical forces – not very much in comparison with the plenitude of all the other ephemeral things.

Everything that transcends an individual is a cause for commotion. Marriage means a colossal feast and faraway death disturbs everyone’s night rest. All the society’s great events are accompanied by divine beings. With such a vast entourage, many of this distant world’s characteristic that we condemn today (gender inequality, lack of education, ostracism…) feel at least as peaceful and joyous as the ones we’ve gotten used to cherish. Even some aspects of their arbitrary laws and consequent violence made me feel sorry for all that was lost in between.

Without written, defined constitution, justice is made by people’s spontaneous and versatile interpretations of it. Divine order (or nature as a whole) is an unfair judge; it speaks to everyone differently and its language is too similar to all kinds of prejudices and accumulated experiences. But it is also a very reassuring messenger. It makes everyone responsible only to itself, the whole. Wrongdoings are therefore punished only for restoration of the divine order; they have no integral fault or debt to society in themselves. Guilt is nonexistent and thinking about alternatives diminished. Nowadays, there’s only camping left for a little bit of nature’s touch.

6 Comments

  1. Your review of Achebe’s ‘Things fall apart’ is excellent. It’s good to be reminded of the fact that their are multiple conceptions of reality. I very much liked your conclusion – but here, in the UK, there are still a few island communities (for example, Fair Isle – where they make beautiful knitwear) that have a very direct contact with nature. With very best wishes.

    • fronaness@gmail.com

      April 8, 2017 at 10:48 am

      What a nice thing to say, thank you! It means a lot, especially because I struggled with it and even more so because it is coming from you, whose writings and thoughts I admire. I would love to visit that place (and almost did last year, when I was traveling through Scotland), just to see how life can be different. I checked out their knit-work, it is truly beautiful. I know about other societies with better contact with nature, I just thought that whoever will be reading this, must have internet connection and probably can’t be a part of them:) I wish you a very pleasant weekend and thank you again for your kind words.

  2. Western literature is my background, but picked up from reading, not studied, as I went to school in Mexico, and did not have classes in English or American literature.

    It must be odd to read books buttressed by a different tradition, without the individuality that we take for granted. Some things may work better – if healing is done by magic, and the magic can be propitiated by the proper rituals and sacrifices, then healing is more assured. Other may not – a society that has no individuals always has a few dictators at the top who think they are divinely appointed and can do anything they like.

    Sounds like an interesting book to read; I’ll add it to the list for when I need my prejudices and comforts poked with a stick.

    • fronaness@gmail.com

      April 16, 2017 at 5:39 pm

      It is a different kind of experience for sure, a bit like travelling to foreign places. That sounds so interesting, to go to school in Mexico (it is far away from where I’m living). How was it?:) What kind of books did you read there if you don’t mind me asking? I sometimes pick up books based on curriculums (I think this one is studied in US high schools). And you’re right – every society has its up and downsides. To tell which one is better is often impossible.

  3. Thought provoking. I’m glad that i have come across your blog.

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