NorthEast Book Club
Published on Friday, April 9, 2010 - 12:59pm
The NorthEast Book Club: The book up discussion was Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Everyone
appreciated the innovative structure and plot of Things Fall Apart, though some were disappointed
that Okonkwo, the main character, is destroyed, and brings ruin on others. The group spent some time
discussing what might have happened to the town of Umuofia if Okonkwo had not gone on exile, and also
about how hard it is to reinvent yourself when you move to a new town. It was a very thrilling book to
read which lead to some interesting chats in our group.
Achebe's Things Fall Apart describes the tragic demise of an Ibo man named Okonkwo. Initially, Okonkwo
rises from humble origins to become a powerful leader in Umuofia, a rural village in southeastern
Nigeria. As Okonkwo climbs the ladder to success, however, it becomes apparent that his strengths are
also his weaknesses: his self-confidence becomes pride, his manliness develops into authoritarianism,
and his physical strength eventually turns into uncontrolled rage. Achebe sets this story about Okonkwo
at the end of the nineteenth century, when Europeans first began colonizing this region of Nigeria on
a large scale. By so doing, Achebe establishes a parallel between Okonkwo's personal tragedy and
colonialism's tragic destruction of native African cultures.
The group observed that Okonkwo is destroyed, and brings ruin on others, because he is excessive in his
adherence to the values of his society and against those who can compromise, change with the times and
adjust. Despite Achebe's objective manner of narration, Okonkwo is portrayed with the sympathy and
achieves a noble stature in the course of the novel. The principles he upholds are also seen as noble
but such principles are often flawed and inherently unsound in the face of social change.
Some members of the book club perceived that what Okonkwo cannot accept is the coming of the white man
to the land of Umuofia. Okonkwo cannot understand how his countrymen could accept to be destroyed
rather than defend themselves. In despair, Okonkwo proceeds to commit the most horrendous of all
offenses against the earth goddess----suicide. Thus he ends in disgrace with the community whose
preservation obsessed him. His tribesmen cannot even touch or bury him; they can only attempt to
cleanse the desecrated ground where he hanged himself. Some members of the book club felt that Okonkwo
in his death, felt betrayed by his clansmen by not following his lead in fighting the white man’s
messengers because being the best among his fellows, he sees the imminent danger to that old order and
stubbornly refuses to give up the old tradition for the social change.
Our next meeting is April 26 and the book up for discussion is Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.