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Definition: Things Fall Apart from Brewer's Curious Titles

The first novel (1958) by the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe (born Albert Chinualumogo, 1930). Its theme is the mutual incomprehension between Ibo tribal communities and white officials in the 1890s. The title comes from the poem ‘ The Second Coming’ (1921) by W.B. Yeats (1865-1939):

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned.

Summary Article: Things Fall Apart
from The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English

Chinua Achebe's first novel, published in 1958. He began it in reaction to the African novels of Joseph Conrad and Joyce Cary, seeking to tell the story of Nigeria from the inside. It depicts the coming of British missionaries and colonial administrators to Umuofia, an Igbo village in Eastern Nigeria, in the last decade of the 19th century and concentrates particularly on the fall of Okonkwo. Originally a wealthy elder, he becomes progressively discredited until he is imprisoned for his role in burning the new church. He kills a messenger sent by the new District Commissioner and commits suicide. Achebe's depiction of an intricate, finely balanced social structure based on oral traditions, his use of proverbs, folk tales, anecdotes and local imagery to convey a non-literary agrarian culture, and his ironic portrayal of the colonial encounter set an influential new pattern for African writing. Things Fall Apart has sold millions of copies on the African continent and been translated into more than 50 languages.

The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, © Cambridge University Press 2000

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