What Things Fall Apart Means Essay
William Butler Yeats uses the phrase “Things fall apart” in conjunction with a lot of Christian imagery in his poem “The Second Coming”; Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian writer has used the first four lines of Yeats’ poem in his world acclaimed novel “Things Fall Apart”, which is named after a phrase in the poem.
Yeats uses the phrase “things fall apart” to describe the complete anarchy and chaos loosened on the world, the social and religious scene during the aftermath of the First World War in 1919. It was evident that things fell apart in the world when symbolically the people of the world moved away from Christ and his ways, “the falcon cannot hear the falconer”. The disintegration of civilization is the falling apart of life from its center.
However, Chinua Achebe does not use the phrase in alliance with any Christian imagery, but the phrase makes the same sense in both the literary works. Achebe uses it to describe the destruction of Nigerian tradition and culture and its broken community after the advent of Christian missionaries in Nigeria. Achebe’s novel describes the disintegration of the Ibo community.
The phrase “things fall apart” has to be understood very much in the context of “the center cannot hold” as the cause and consequence are interconnected. What the ‘center’ differs in both the works, but the result is almost the same.
The theme of intertextuality from Yeat’s poem is evident in the novel. Discuss the second coming in the novel. Is there a second coming? If so, what is it? Also, is there a “rough beast” that “slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” in the novel?
The second coming in the poem is not the biblical second coming of Christ but that of the unexpected apocalypse, of the coming of the Antichrist and the irrevocable changes that lead to the end of civilization. Similarly, in Things Fall Apart, the second coming is of a beast, so antithetical. The center consists of great men like Okonkwo, who hold the tradition so close to their heart but to their shock find that the changes done to the Nigerian Ibo community are irreversible and that the falcons like Nwoye, the son of Okonkwo refuse to abide by the father’s wishes but choose to go with Christianity. It is a gyre and can never get back to its starting point, but only widen and end up in anarchy. When the realization dawns on him, it is too late that by the time, Christianity has established itself with the government and legal support. In this, Okonkwo could see the “rough beast… slouching towards Bethlehem to be born”. When Okonkwo beholds things falling apart, and when he finds himself so helpless after his hard efforts to recover his community to its original nature, he resorts to killing himself to rather escape from the pain than to survive it.
* Discuss the cultural and religious differences in the novel, in particular Christianity and individual salvation versus the tribal vision of collective salvation.
Salvation is to save oneself. But that is individual and is more a Christian belief. Christian belief of salvation rests on the individual’s relationship with God and does not take the community into consideration, but for the Umofians or the Ibo Nigerian community it is otherwise. An entire community’s salvation depended on an individual’s actions and decisions as seen in their traditional customs. For example, during the holy week for Earth, no one is supposed to use a gun or to do certain things that are prohibited. If someone does that, it means the person shows disrespect to the ancestors and it brings doom to the entire clan. It shows how a single person’s actions can affect a whole community. The practice of Evil forest and to throw away twins or other abominable people into the evil forest was for the cause of the salvation of the entire community is yet another strong evidence for the Ibo community’s belief in the collective salvation as against Christian salvation. While in Christianity, every person has to work for his or her salvation and no one can act for the other. Every individual makes the independent decision to choose and follow Christianity, while as a member of the tribe they do not have the choice to make for themselves but everything depended on the salvation of their community as a whole. They had to consult the elders of the clan before making any decisions. Even consulting the oracle is deemed necessary even for the elders in the community and the commands were carried out even if it meant a personal loss. Considering the salvation of the community, individuals had to carry out actions and take decisions. It was not just collective responsibility but they believed that every action had repercussions not only for the individual but for the community. This huge difference in the importance and seriousness of individual decisions between Christian and Ibo traditional beliefs seemed irreconcilable for the Ibo community.