Postcolonial Echoes in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Exploring Postcolonial Themes in "Things Fall Apart" and "Heart of Darkness"

Postcolonial literature delves into the experiences of those who lived under colonial rule, addressing the profound impacts of colonization on their lives. This literary genre encompasses regions across continents, with Africa serving as a significant backdrop where colonialism and imperialism brought about profound changes. Chinua Achebe's novel, "Things Fall Apart," stands as a poignant representation of postcolonial literature, where the author skillfully portrays the themes of colonialism and its detrimental effects. Achebe adeptly showcases how colonialism either suppressed the cultural development of the Igbo society or replaced it entirely with a new culture. Achebe is not alone in tackling the subject of colonialism through literature; Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" also serves as an exemplary work, vividly depicting the harrowing conditions endured by Africans under British rule.

However, relying solely on historical context is insufficient to classify "Things Fall Apart" as a postcolonial novel and to truly comprehend its exploration of colonial themes. As students of literature, we must seek out evidence within the book itself to substantiate its status as a work centered around the continent that experienced the most colonization. Fortunately, Achebe has already undertaken this task, as he divides the novel into three distinct parts. In the first part, he presents a portrayal of Nigerian life prior to the arrival of colonial forces. The second part delves into the tumultuous disruption caused by the intrusion of white men into their society. Lastly, in the concluding part, Achebe depicts the dire circumstances faced by the characters, including the protagonist, in the aftermath of colonialism.

The Postcolonial Themes in "Things Fall Apart": Cultural Clashes and Colonialism

Upon delving into the summary of Chinua Achebe's masterpiece, "Things Fall Apart," it becomes evident that the author meticulously explores the cultural lives of the Nigerian people to depict the postcolonial condition and establish colonialism as its central theme. Through the portrayal of cultural conflicts, Achebe effectively showcases the profound impact of imperialism, solidifying its place within the realm of postcolonial literature.

Exploring the Condition of the Igbo People Before the Arrival of the Whitemen

To truly grasp the effects of colonialism, it is crucial to understand the lifestyle of the Igbo people prior to the intrusion of the whitemen into their land.

The Igbo society was deeply rooted in distinct beliefs and customs, steeped in myth and spirituality. They held profound reverence for the earth, the sun, and celestial bodies, embracing an intricate cosmology. The ancestral folklore passed down through generations was regarded as sacred, with unquestioning faith. Gender roles were well-defined, with men embodying notions of strength and responsibility as providers, while women were confined to domestic duties. Polygamy was practiced, and the presence of an earth goddess in their worship further exemplified their unique cultural identity. As the novel progresses, we witness the gradual erosion and ultimate disappearance of these cherished traditions, leading us to classify "Things Fall Apart" as a postcolonial work that delves into the theme of colonialism.

Moreover, the yam season served as a vibrant backdrop for festivals, reflecting the significance of this crop as a measure of wealth and prestige within the society. Instead of kings, each tribe had its own customs, with a tribal leader serving as the arbitrator in matters concerning his people. Okonkwo and other characters in "Things Fall Apart" embody these tribal dynamics, shedding light on the cultural fabric that thrived before the arrival of colonial forces. Thus, Achebe effectively presents the harmonious existence of the Igbo people before the disruptive influence of colonialism.

The Interference of Whitemen in Igbo Society

Chapters 15 and 16 provide a poignant portrayal of the intrusion of the whitemen into Igbo society, focusing on the tragic events that transpire in the village of Abame. Achebe masterfully employs the metaphor of the whiteman's arrival on a bicycle, mockingly referred to as an "iron-horse," as a catalyst for destruction.

When the villagers consult the oracle, a prophecy foretells that the arrival of the whiteman and subsequent followers will lead to the downfall of Abame. In a misguided act, the villagers take the life of the whiteman and suspend his bicycle from a tree. However, when other whitemen discover this symbolic act, they retaliate by ruthlessly decimating the entire village of Abame.

Achebe astutely juxtaposes Okonkwo's condemnation of the murder with the devastating consequences brought upon the community by the whitemen. This serves as a testament to the writer's portrayal of colonialism and the cruelty inflicted by the whitemen in "Things Fall Apart," underscoring that their intentions were far from benevolent. Rather than conducting an inquiry to identify the responsible party, the whitemen choose to unleash destruction upon the entire village, demonstrating their inclination towards subjugation rather than enlightenment.

In this manner, Achebe expertly weaves the theme of colonialism into the fabric of "Things Fall Apart," highlighting the plight of the Igbo people during the postcolonial era and exposing the oppressive nature of the colonial forces.

The Acceptance of Colonialism

It is worth noting that some individuals readily embraced colonialism, exemplified by Nwoye's transformation within the novel. When confronted with Christian missionaries who introduced the concept of a new God and their distinct mode of worship, Nwoye becomes captivated by their teachings. The monotheistic belief system and the allure of a simplified faith resonate deeply within him, leading to a shift in his perception of the traditional Igbo concepts.

Through this dichotomy, Achebe presents two distinct groups in the novel: those who vehemently reject the intrusion of a foreign religion and those who embrace the interference of the whitemen. This unbiased portrayal of differing perspectives adds further nuance to the narrative and reinforces the author's commitment to presenting a multifaceted exploration of the effects of colonialism in "Things Fall Apart."

The Postcolonial Condition of Igbo Society in the Novel "Things Fall Apart"

The tragic unfolding of events in "Things Fall Apart" marks the onset of the postcolonial condition as the whitemen intrude upon the Igbo society. When Okonkwo returns to his homeland, he finds that a significant number of individuals have already succumbed to the allure of colonialism. Despite his resistance, his efforts prove futile. The customs and traditions deeply ingrained within Igbo society, inseparable from their religious beliefs, clash irreconcilably with the introduction of a new faith brought by the whitemen. Accepting Christianity would necessitate denouncing their ancestral teachings, eroding the cultural fabric of the Igbo community. As a consequence, chaos ensues, pitting brother against brother and father against son, as exemplified in the strained relationship between Okonkwo and his own son in the novel's third part.

The Theme of Colonialism in the Novel "Things Fall Apart"

Chinua Achebe's staunch opposition to colonialism is palpable throughout "Things Fall Apart," as he skillfully weaves an anti-colonial ideology into the tapestry of the narrative alongside other thematic elements. However, some critics argue that Achebe's opposition is not directed at colonialism itself, but rather at the oppressive behavior exhibited by the whitemen towards the African people. They contend that the novel focuses not on broader social issues but rather on a lamentation for the customs and way of life that were irrevocably altered by the interference of the whitemen in Igbo society.

Indeed, there is no denying that "Things Fall Apart" stands as a powerful postcolonial novel, with colonialism as its central theme. However, it is essential to acknowledge Achebe's poignant depiction of the profound changes inflicted upon Igbo society, reflecting his lamentation for the nostalgic customs that once shaped the lives of every African individual. Hence, the novel not only interprets the theme of colonialism but also serves as a testament to the transformative impact on cultural identity, firmly situating it within the realm of postcolonial literature.


Defined not by its temporal placement but by its exploration of the effects of colonialism, postcolonial literature encompasses any work that delves into this complex theme. Within this framework, Chinua Achebe masterfully illustrates the profound impacts of colonialism on his society in "Things Fall Apart," unequivocally positioning it as a remarkable example of postcolonial literature. The novel's portrayal of the postcolonial condition of the Igbo society, the clash of cultures, and the erosion of cherished traditions stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of colonialism and its enduring impact on cultural heritage.

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