Who Is Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart?
Achebe wrote the novel as a rebuttal to previous depictions of Africa in novels by white authors such as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Joyce Cary’s Mister Johnson (Alam, 102). While Africans were often portrayed as savage and uncultured in European literature, Achebe’s goal was to introduce the humanity of Africans into the literary sphere (Vanzanten, 87), something that had not previously been done on such a scale, and thereby correct previous narratives such as Conrad’s. In the novel itself Achebe criticises the Eurocentric misrepresentations of African culture. An example of this occurs at the end of the novel, when the Commissioner describes the book he is planning to write, entitled “The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger”. In the book, the Commissioner wants to describe the events of Okonkwo’s final hours, claiming it “would make interesting reading”, and that he could write a whole chapter on it. He later comes back to this statement, saying that there is too much else to include, (Things Fall Apart, 197). To the reader it seems unfair that, after reading about Okonkwo’s suffering in detail, his story is reduced to a mere paragraph. By reducing Okonkwo’s life to just the tale of his death, the Commissioner turns him into an anecdote and thereby dehumanises him. The penultimate sentence of the book ends with “and one must be firm in cutting out details” (Things Fall Apart, 197), which demonstrates the alteration of history the European colonists performed to justify the colonisation of the African continent. This passage symbolises the erasure of African culture that is inherent of colonisation, which instigated Achebe to write the novel in the first place, in order to reclaim and rewrite African