Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”: Teaching Through the Novel

The last four or five hundred years of European contact with Africa produced a body of literature that presented Africa in a very bad light and Africans in very lurid terms. The reason for this had to do with the need to justify the slave trade and slavery. … This continued until the Africans themselves, in the middle of the twentieth century, took into their own hands the telling of their story.

-- (Chinua Achebe, "An African Voice")

Chinua Achebe is one of Africa's most well-known and influential contemporary writers. His first novel, Things Fall Apart, is an early narrative about the European colonization of Africa told from the point of view of the colonized people. Published in 1958, the novel recounts the life of the warrior and village hero Okonkwo, and describes the arrival of white missionaries to his Igbo village and their impact on African life and society at the end of the nineteenth century. Through his writing, Achebe counters images of African societies and peoples as they are represented within the Western literary tradition and reclaims his own and his people's history.

This lesson introduces students to Achebe's first novel and to his views on the role of the writer in his or her society. It can be used alone or in conjunction with the related lesson Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart": Oral and Literary Strategies.

Guiding Questions

How does Achebe see the role of the writer/storyteller?

In what ways does he use fiction as a means of expressing and commenting on history?

To what extent is Things Fall Apart successful in communicating an alternative narrative to the dominant Western history of missionaries in Africa and other colonized societies?

Learning Objectives

Become familiar with some African literature and literary traditions

Become familiar with elements of African and Nigerian culture

See how historical events are represented in fiction

Be able to differentiate between historical accounts and fictionalized accounts of history

Understand narrative perspective as culturally-positioned (Afrocentric versus Eurocentric perspectives)