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Home » , » Significance of the Title of the Novel 'Things Fall Apart'

Chinua Achebe choose the title of his monumental novel Things Fall Apart from a sentence of the identical words occurring in the famous poem of W.B. Yeats, entitled The Second Coming. Achebe quotes the four lines from Yeats’ poem on the very title page of the novel : 

Turning and Turning in the widening gyrs The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. 

Achebe found the conception of an ever-widening gyre, the principal poetic symbol of Yeats for the spiral movement of human civilization, appropriate for the theme of his novel. Gilbert Phelps observes, “The choice of a phrase from W.B. Yeats’ poem The Second coming is itself symptomatic. Its aptness is not the result of thumbing through a Dictionary of Quotations ... but is indicative of a profound pondering on Yeats’s vision of history as a succession of civilizations, each containing the seeds of its own destruction because no single enclosed social order has so far succeeded in containing the whole range of human impulses and aspiration.” 

From Achebe’s choice of Yeats’s sentence as the title of his novel, it seems possible that Achebe considered Yeats’s philosophy applicable to the case of the break-up of the old, order of the Ibo society in Nigeria. The Ibo society as depicted in this novel, was a stable one and existed for hundreds of years, OF perhaps thousands of years. The social, economic, political, religious, and economic life of the people of Umuofia, Mbanta, and other villages lived in peace and tranquillity. Their main occupation was farming. During sowing and harvesting seasons they worked hard in their fields from morning till evening. They were hospitable people; they always gave a warm welcome to their guests.

They offered them Kolanuts and palm wine to eat and drink and rejoiced in their company. They lived in cooperation with one another. For example, Okonkwo was exiled for his unexpected and unintentional killing of a clansman. His large family was also with him in exile in Mbanta, his mother’s homeland. Okonkwo’s maternal uncle, Uchendu, and his sons gave him full cooperation; gave him pieces of land for building huts and for farming, Uchendu also gave him consolation to boost his morale. Obierika proved a real friend to Okonkwohe proved himself to be “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” In Umuofia Obierika looked after his farms and gave him the sale proceeds of the agricultural products on the farm. Obierika took all these troubles of his own accord. The Umuofians had several important festivals The New Yam Festival and the Weak of Peace—which they observed with all the requirements of their social code. The wrestling contest was an event for recreation and the culture of physical strength which was of much social value. Telling funny Stories, didactic stories or stories of adventure was prevalent as a means of education and entertainment for children. The art of conversation was given much social value also. Their conversation was laden with proverbs of deep wisdom. Their political system was strictly followed. There was a council of elders consisting of nine great men from different clans. They tried all cases of dispute, and their decision was rigorously followed. Their religious system was also very strict. Though the people believed in one Supreme Being, God, they also believed in many gods and goddesses oracles, evil spirits, spirits of the dead leaders called egwugwu, and Oracles of the Hills and Caves, for which they had priests or priestesses. Of course, their religious beliefs and practices involved some prejudices and cruel judgments like throwing infants turns, and patients of some diseases into Evil Forest, etc. But people were satisfied With all these till the advent of Christianity which opened the eyes of many to many of their evil codes and rituals. 

The Christian white man appeared in Umuofia almost surreptitiously, Mr. Brown, the white man soon had many converts among the natives of the African clans. Gradually they spread their religion from one clan to another, as the number of their converts increased. They established their law courts, laws, and judiciary, and built their churches. The new converts and the natives Came into conflict with each other, especially under the leadership of Mr. Smith, the successor to Mr. Brown. At the climax of their conflict, Okonkwo killed a court messenger of the Christians. Then he committed suicide to escape being punished by the Christians. Thus the death of Okonkwo Completed the collapse of the old systems of the Ibo society. 

Of course, in the delineation of the whole picture, Achebe maintains Sufficient objective detachment so as to avoid showing partiality for his Native culture or revealing hatred against the Christians. He seems to show Just what happened just how things of the Ibo society fell apart under the traumatic influences of the new forces of Christianity. 

So, the title is appropriate.


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