Literature on Social Criticism per. 6 Evan Anthony
Things Fall Apart Essay 3/26/06
That which motivates authors to write is unique for each piece of literature.
Beyond any type of philosophical theory, the practical reasons and desires of the author
determine not only the themes but the specific story and execution. Because of this,
literature may be judged to an extent for its motivation and its integrity to its initial
conception. One novel with a fairly unique motivation is Things Fall Apart by Chinua
Achebe. What makes this novel so interesting is its nature as a specific refutation of
Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness while maintaining a legitimate story that stands
alone. Achebe attempts to end the lack of English literature written with an unbiased
perspective of colonization. Specifically, Achebe was so disgusted with the perceived
racist themes and plot of Conrad’s work that it catalyzed his magnificent reaction. To
write a completely fair historically based fiction, however, may very well be impossible.
Achebe makes a valiant attempt but succumbs to his own humanity.
For the most of the novel, Achebe reaches a balanced perspective. Neither the Ibo
nor the whites are perfect, but both have equal flaws. Achebe is able to admit that Ibo
practices such as abuse of women and infanticide all existed and were in no way justified.
This brave honesty is supported by description of Ibo festivals and storytelling. Achebe
uses contrast between these two sides to show that the Ibo, like all cultures, are dynamic
and are neither black nor white. This culture is contrasted with the whites. While the
whites are more rational in their respect for life, they have no vivid culture. Achebe
demonstrates that neither is the better through the universal disrespect of the other culture
and their individual failings. This balance is further strengthened by contrasting
individuals or factions within each culture. The docile and tolerable Mr. Brown against
the fiery Mr. Smith along with the warlike Okonkow against his jovial father Unoka. For
the greater part of the book, Achebe appears to be accomplishing his goal of presenting a
balanced view. Indeed, the reader may have distaste for certain characters or actions, but
cannot say that one side is the worse. Achebe, however, falters at the most critical point.
Even while the majority of the book is remarkably fair, it is all overridden by the
powerful ending. In fact, the actual ending is fine, it is the very last paragraph which
crushes Achebe’s work. The end deals with the search for justice from both cultures, the
Ibo for cultural survival and respect and the whites for a justice of law. Both are right, but
act in a wrong manner. When the ensuing chaos leads to Okonkow’s suicide, however,
Achebe switches to the white Commissioner. The Commissioner is unbelievably cold and
distant, completely unaware of the tragedy of Okonkow’s death (both the simple lose of
life and the underlying reasons). He comments that “One could almost write a whole
chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any rate”
(209). The Commissioner is no man, but less for he has no respect for life. Now, certainly
there were, and are such men (unfortunately), but Achebe includes this in the least
sensitive way possible. By ending the novel from the dehumanized white
Commissioner’s perspective after the protagonist has killed himself over his grief and
pride, the readers is meant to feel disgust. The ending is so passionate and the
Commissioner’s villainy so subtly complete that all of the balanced portrayal is forgotten.
All that is left is that the white man has driven the great Ibo to suicide. And he does not
Things Fall Apart was written so that the English speaking West may have a
balanced portrayal of the cultural clash that happened during colonization. Achebe,
through the use of contrasting actions within the white and Ibo cultures and as well as for
human culture as a whole, shows that there was no such black and white motif that the
West desires to have. Each culture has its faults and both have made mistakes. Because of
Achebe’s remarkable honesty, he comes close to achieving this theme. At the end,
however, the dehumanization of the Commissioner seals the powerful ending with a
message of white apathy of its collateral destruction. It appears that Achebe succumbed
to despair over the fate of Ibo culture and in a passionate ending ceded to the national
bias which he sought to reject.