The first time I was faced with Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart was the summer before my freshmen year of high school. Eight years later I will admit that I struggled to get through the novel upon first glance, yet as I have matured over the years I find great significance in Achebe’s message. His main character, Okonkwo, experiences more internal struggle than I ever hope to experience. From a strenuous home life to exile from all that he has ever known, from the trials of being a father and husband to being force-fed a foreign faith in place of everything he has ever stood for, Okonkwo cannot grasp who he is on the inside when everything around him is constantly changing. In defense, he leans towards ultra-masculinity and is quick to squash any signs of weakness. Although I agree that weakness and apathy is unacceptable while raising a family, I sincerely feel that there is a balance between the two poles of ability. Having attended an all boys Catholic high school, I know see why they would want to convey such a message. Unfortunately for the majority of my graduating class; however, they avoided acceptance just like Okonkwo (without the whole suicide aspect, thankfully).
The message of Things Fall Apart is invaluable; however, what makes it so jarring is the way in which it is told. Achebe is a master of the story, and brings his reader directly into the scene with Igbo vernacular and awe-inspiring proverbs, “the palm oil with which words are eaten” (4). His story is intended to mold the soul of the individual, to shape the person they are into one who can fight just as intensely as they can love. Most importantly, he teaches us the right time for both. The ending is up for interpretation, and that can sway the impact. Does Okonkwo hang himself to avoid the dominance of the European, or has he lost all faith in the Igbo?