Other essays and articles in the Literature Archives related to this topic include : Women, Colonization& Cultural Change in “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe • Comparison of Tragic Characters in Things Fall Apart and Oedipus the King • Comparison Essay on Things Fall Apart and My Antonia
The novel “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, while often thought to offer readers an accurate portrait of Igbo or African culture in general, often does not effectively represent the culture it seeks to portray. More generally, one of the challenges of the fiction genre, and of the frequent criticisms lodged against it, is the manner in which history, people, and place are integrated into the narrative. Writing a fictive narrative that is based on real people, places, and events poses some inherent dangers, not the least of which is the possibility of inaccurate or partial representation of Igbo culture. This is particularly true for novelists who are writing about non-Western cultures for Western audiences. Such is the case in “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, in which the author writes about members of a Nigerian tribe.
While Achebe’s literary intentions in “Things Fall Apart” were probably noble, his achievement, in the eyes of many critics, falls short of the mark (Quayson 117). By presenting some beliefs, rituals, and characteristics of the community about which he writes, Achebe necessarily leaves out other important details about Igbo culture in “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, giving the reader only a partial view and understanding of the tribe and its culture. Thus, the reader sees that although history and narrative can be complementary—after all, history itself is a narrative, and it is certainly not objective (Gikandi 3)—the relationship between the two also poses particular problems for the writer and the reader of a fiction work.
The relationship between history and narrative is not always or immediately a troubled one as it appears to be in the case of “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe . As Gikandi observes, “literature [is] about real and familiar worlds, of culture and human experience, of politics and economics, now re-routed through a language and structure that seemed at odds with the history or geography books….” (3). In other words, as this thesis statement for “Things Fall Apart” regarding the fiction narrative suggests, the fictive voice, transforms history by corralling its broad sweep into a tighter, compact story that focuses on a small cluster of individuals and their personal experiences and emotions. The characters become real to the reader in a way that dry history is unlikely to achieve. The reader comes to care about the characters and what happens to them, and gains a conscious awareness of the conditions that limit and bind the individuals and define who they are in the context of their society and culture.
The problem, however, occurs when the reader has had little or no previous exposure to these unfamiliarworlds, as there is no frame of reference against which to measure or understand what is happening in the text and clearly, this is the case with “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. The implications of this observation regarding fiction cannot be underestimated. If readers of a narrative based on fiction which is, in turn, based on history have no knowledge of the place or people being portrayed, it becomes difficult for them to exercise a critical thinking faculty that helps them discern the “truth” of history and culture from a fabricated version of the truth. The narrative or work of fiction can be taken as an accurate representation of the culture and people in “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, irrespective of whether it is an accurate portrayal. Gikandi himself offers a personal example about his encounter with “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe that illustrates this point beautifully. He writes that he and his British classmates had no frame of reference for knowing what the yam, a key symbol in Achebe’s novel, represents for the Igbo people (4). While Gikandi uses this example of mistakes made about history and Igbo society and culture to explain that the novel helped him and his classmates to understand the yam and its significance to the Igbo in a way that history could never do, he fails to point out whether there was any corroboration of this “fact” from other sources outside the novel. He simply assumes that Achebe’s representation is not merely a complement to the truth, but that it is the truth. Gikandi credits Achebe with inventing African literature, but the word “invention” here may be understood to have more than one meaning.