Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart

37781

A high school class I was covering for a few days was reading this. I took a look at it after playing them a chapter of the audiobook. The voice piqued my interest and I found a copy in Bookhounds a week later. I’d heard of it in an ambiguous way, but I didn’t realize until I had started reading it that the album “Yam, the King of Crops” by The Mountain Goats was inspired/sprung from this book. It’s a short, easy read with a very straightforward voice and a driving plot. It’s an especially perfect book for younger readers and I’m thrilled it’s on so many school reading lists.

Things Fall Apart is a perfect demonstration of why the phrase “show, don’t tell” (quoted ad nauseum in writing workshops, forums and books on the craft) is mostly useless. Achebe tells the reader directly what Okonkwo is thinking, forgoing the needless obfuscation that would arise from trying to shoehorn in narrative actions, gestures, and artificial-sounding dialogue. The book avoids all of this, leveraging its directness for all the authority and dramatic importance possible. It’s a simple, tragic story with familiar archetypal themes (this is not a complaint).

The story of Okonkwo resonates. He is profoundly male, flawed and driven to extremes but far from unknowable. I couldn’t help but noticing similarities to Steinbeck’s The Pearl -both featuring powerful yet dysfunctional men and large human themes relayed through fable. They are both stories that use an instructive form with subversive intent, teaching us about the uncomfortable realities of our nature rather than a simple instructive moral lesson. Achebe tells a moving story without presenting a clear lesson to be learned, imitating reality not with the studied and constructed realism of James or Wharton but by evoking that which we know to be true about our nature.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s