Mere Anarchy

I liked Things Fall Apart a bit better this time around.

I think I was better able to appreciate the message now. Basically, the Ibo had their own life, culture, and religion. They had their own customs and social order, separate from the “traditional” Western order that imperialists imposed on them.

I suppose, then, that Okonkwo represents the culture and lifestyle that will be lost if the Ibo bend to the Christians’ social order, religion, and laws. Okonkwo is a traditional Ibo man struggling against the changes in his culture. He groomed himself to be successful in his village, but now that the society is changing, he finds himself increasingly alienated and obsolete.

That is probably the worst plot-description of this book ever. But it’s one part of it.

That’s probably part of what Achebe was trying to do in Things Fall Apart. By using Ibo proverbs and folk tales, he establishes that the Ibo culture is (or was, as it may be) rich with its own wisdom and stories. Many of the stories are not all that different from Western folk tales, and the proverbs express much of the same wisdom as Western proverbs, just in a different way.

The trouble is that I didn’t like Okonkwo. I didn’t like him four years ago when I read Things Fall Apart and that’s the biggest reason I didn’t like the book. It’s hard to feel like something is lost when the person representing that which is, well, lost is a terrible human being who beats his wives and kills [spoiler redacted]. And he was so “I’m a macho man. Don’t be such a girl, son. My God, all of my tribesmen are acting like girls. They won’t fight. Fighting. Yeaaaah. Why are you such a woman? All my sons are women.” I didn’t like that very much.

This time around, as a whole I liked the book a lot more. I got more of a sense of culture and place and I appreciated the writing. I still didn’t like Okonkwo, though. I think he goes beyond simply a flawed character because he’s just a horrible person. And I wanted to feel sympathetic toward him because he’s watching everything he worked for fall apart and he can’t stop it, but I couldn’t because he’s just not a sympathetic character.

I think, in the end, that I don’t care for Things Fall Apart because I don’t really like Okonkwo.

Rating: *** (the same as I rated it last time I read it)
Up Next: Franny and Zooey (and I’m also reading The Haunting of Hill House)

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