How would you respond to the criticism that Achebe’s narrative in the novel Things Fall Apart is too simple to be truly tragic?
Achebe is not a native English speaker. In other words, English is not his mother tongue, yet he has written “Things Fall Apart” very creatively. Like a true artist, his novel has a universal appeal. It is not appreciated just in western Africa but still read and discussed in the whole world. It is not the story of Igbo society but the story of every nation, which was once under colonialism; therefore, many critics have applauded the efforts of the artist. Chinua Achebe has used much simple language in this novel. In addition, he has translated the Ibo proverbs in English; these proverbs enlighten the cultural background of Ibo society. The writer has used simple and straightforward language but it does not mean that he could not complete his purpose. The novel was written to ensure that African people were well aware with the name “culture”. They also once had their norms and values. Ibo society preferred culture though their culture was different from the European nations. The novel depicts the social downfall of Ibo society. Nigerian people have lost their values with the expansion of colonialism. Whitemen have snatched their traditions while imposing Christianity on them. With Christian religion, customs of Ibo society came to an end. Definitely, it is tragic that the people have lost their culture. Their grief can be understood only by them, who were once under the colonial forces. The decay of culture is sorrowful and for people like Okonokwo, it is unbearable.
Indeed, the decay of culture is distressed but is “Things Falls Apart” is truly tragic? The criticism, against Chinua Achebe can safely be ignored. It has no force at all. The answer of the question is that yes Achebe’s “Things Falls Apart” is truly tragic. So far as the narration of Chinua Achebe is concerned, it is remarkable. He, while experiencing the Ibo society, has written about their culture. Although in western African people there were very less people that could read and write yet literature was alive among them. They were used to tell stories to each other. Oral folklores were famous among Nigerian people. Chinua Achebe, in “Things Falls Apart” tries to follow the convention. He has written the novel like a tale. When we read the novel, we realize that someone is telling us a story. Words are not directly uttered from the mouths of the characters but they are mentioned through third person. The words “he” and “she” are mentioned instead of first person “I”. Style of the writer is slang and is full of proverbs. He has described events in an emotional manner. Definitely, Achebe is a good storyteller and like his other novels, “Things Falls Apart” is also a story; a story which depicts the background of Nigerian people but there is no vagueness in it; it is clear and without any fuzziness. Words have clear meaning and the readers can easily perceive the message, given by Chinua Achebe.
The novel fulfils the purpose of the writer. It can never be denied that the writer has presented feelings instead of just simple words. Every word is full of feelings and emotions. The language, used by the writer in “Things Falls Apart” has an African flavor. Detail of each and every object has been given so as to clear the scene to the readers. Imagery has also been created by the writer like a poet. Pictures of landscapes, in shape of words, can be found in this novel. Thus, the novel is not simply read but also felt by the readers. Ibo people were facing inferiority complex due to political propaganda of their leaders. Chinua Achebe could not see the degradation of his fellowmen. He wanted to give them hope, therefore, he has awarded them respect. Chinua Achebe has told the world that Africans are not superior to anyone. They deserve the same rights which every human on the earth deserves. Through this novel, he has spoken about their rights. Achebe believes:-
“A writer has a responsibility to try and stop [the damaging trends of considering Africans inferior] because unless our culture beings to take itself seriously it will never…get off the ground.”
He states his mission in his essay “The novelist as teacher”:-
“Here is an adequate revolution for me to espouse…to help my society regain belief in itself and to put away the complexes of the years of denigration and self-abasement. And it is the best sense of that word. Here, I think, my aims and the deepes aspirations of society meet.”
The purpose of the above discussion is that Chinua Achebe has written for African people. He has presented not only the fall of a culture but also the fall of people along with their social customs. His language, in this regard may be simple, but it is clear and when the reader closes the book, he really feels that, for Ibo society, “Things have really been fallen apart”. The reader can feel the sorrow of African people. After reading the whole novel, no ambiguity can be found in it regarding its plot. The writer, in the whole novel, very clearly and to the point discusses the downfall of Okonokwo and his fellowmen.
The writer, who remains to the point, and uses simple language, cannot be disregarded merely on these basis. Did Chinua Achebe not complete his purpose while writing “Things Fall Apart”? Yes, he did; therefore, we could find no error, neither with regard to Achebe’s narrative in the novel nor with its plot. He is finest storyteller in English Language among Africans. Traditional tribal life and its downfall with a superb plot construction and additional feature of proverbs clearly reveal everything to the readers and structure a truly tragic story. Hence, the charge/criticism, against Chinua Achebe, is disregarded/rejected.