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Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ is a classic of African literature and a famous example of post-colonial writing.

Complete this lesson to learn more about post-colonialism in this novel.

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What Is Post-Colonialism?

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart tells the story of Okonkwo, a high-ranking member of a Nigerian village. The story follows his life, shares his experiences as a person, and shows his life both before and after the British come to Nigeria. Achebe’s novel is one of the most famous examples of what literary critics would call post-colonialism.

In order to understand the concept of post-colonialism, we have to understand what colonialism is. The Colonial Era refers to a time, from around the late 1400s (or about the time that Columbus sailed to North America) to the 1950s when countries from Europe and Asia traveled around the world and claimed the lands of other continents, including North America, South America, Asia, Australia, and Africa all for themselves. The creation of the United States was a direct result of the Colonial Era as Britain, France, Spain, and Russia (among other countries) all claimed part of the North American continent as their property despite native tribes already residing throughout the country.However, after just over 500 years, the original people who lived in many of these lands protested and tried to regain control over their homelands through both non-violent and violent means. Leaders, such as Mahatma Gandhi in India and Haile Selassie in Ethiopia, worked to regain control of their countries for the people who originally lived there; many other leaders did the same for their own lands as well.Once the colonizing countries left these lands and power went back to the people who originally lived there, many writers and thinkers were interested in examining how this changeover happened.

What were the causes of colonization, and what were the effects of colonization on those who saw their lands overtaken by new cultures, religions, and political powers? What would the future hold for these countries? These questions gave rise to a type of literary focus known as post-colonialism.Post-colonial writers and critics focus on writing from both colonial powers and from those countries that were colonized. Books that are post-colonial explore how the clash between colonizing countries from Europe and Asia and the countries that are colonized in the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Australia creates religious, political, social, and cultural friction. It also explores how people might feel about this friction. For example, if an African native is forced to change his or her religion because the French or British come to their lands and make a new religion the law of the land, how would the native cope with this sudden change? What sort of tensions might this cause between the natives and the people who have come to colonize them?

How Is Things Fall Apart a Post-Colonial Novel?

Things Fall Apart is a perfect example of a post-colonial novel because the story follows Okonkwo’s life both before and after the British come to colonize his village in Nigeria.

The novel primarily reveals two things:1. How rich and fulfilling life was for the Nigerian natives before the British came to colonize Nigeria2. How the natives were affected by the British coming in and installing a new set of cultural, social, and political rulesAchebe does not write to show that the British are completely bad and that the Nigerian village is completely good. For example, the British do end the village’s custom of abandoning all newborn twin babies in the forest. On the surface, a few things the British bring to Nigeria are positive.

The point of a post-colonial story, however, is to reveal all of the changes that happen and show how those changes affect the people who are colonized.Though the British improve some aspects of Nigerian daily life in the novel, in some ways, they also make life harder for the villagers, in part because the British completely ignore the wishes and customs of the villagers, assuming the villagers do not know anything and that everything they do is wrong. Before the British come, Achebe describes the lives of the villagers, which resemble the lives of the British in many ways. The Nigerian villagers have hopes and dreams.

Some are hard-working while others are lazy. Okonkwo loves his family and is nervous when his daughter falls ill even though he tries not to show it. Achebe lets the reader see how even though the customs and religions are different, the experiences and personalities of the villagers are no different from the lives of the British or any other human beings.When the British come to Nigeria, they wipe out the cultures and religions of the villagers and treat them as worthless. After Okonkwo’s death, a British writer thinks that Okonkwo might be worth writing a short passage about in his book. We readers know that Okonkwo’s life filled a whole book of its own.

This illustrates how a colonial country can often only retroactively appreciate the many rich customs of the land (or lands) they have conquered.Achebe also explores how colonization can tear apart families, as when Okonkwo becomes estranged from his son Nwoye after he decides to leave his Nigerian religion and become a Christian. This portion of the novel reveals how colonization causes rifts between friends and families when certain people try to maintain their old customs and beliefs while others decide to adopt new ones. Again, this exploration of how a colonizing power changes the lives of the local people in the land that they colonize fits the post-colonial focus for writers and critics.

Lesson Summary

Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart is a novel exploring the life of its main character, Okonkwo, and the lives of Nigerian villagers both before and after the British come to colonize their lands.

It is a good representation of post-colonialism. The book explores how colonization affected the lives, culture, and experiences of the Nigerian people.

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