Things Fall Apart; A literary critique of Chapter 24

Both in depth and breadth, chapter 24 depicts the fullest extent things fall apart

Debris, mud-slides and village-size rocks have fallen off a seemingly sturdy mountain. Okonkwo, his homestead, Umuofia community and the nine villages are pulled apart as one turns the pages in the book.

Chinua Achebe in “Things Fall Apart,” holds a surgical scalpel and goes on about cutting away at what held together Umuofia, Mbanta, Isike and other villages next to Umuofia. Chapter 24, positions the description and meaning of “Things Fall Apart” in 42 paragraphs.

Chinua Achebe uses broad strokes of differently shaded hues in form of: setting, irony, rhetoric, satire, sarcasm, dialogue, imagery, conflict and foreshadowing to showcase the things.

Okonkwo’s quick wrestler’s eyes fail him; ears that heard cheers now distill doom; his bound hands were a shadow of yesterday’s productive limbs that never neglected his farms and therefore promptly produced barnful of yams; the feet that sprang deftly in a wrestling match, stood mockingly in the path of authority; his discerning mind became a cumulus of sinister war motives also torn between private beliefs and changing times ; a mouth that led men in battle, failed to exchange greetings with friends (chapter 24, paragraph 22); a time had come when the men of Umuofia will have to enjoy their homes with permission from the District Commissioner; other forms of passage in life were introduced to the men of Umuofia such as the white person’s customs; the stream ceased to be the only fixture at the head  of the path; strangers from other lands served as messengers who ensured that the White man’s law is in effect in Umuofia;  and for a man whose adversaries held him in awe, the encounter with the head messenger was different. The author talks of the face to face meeting as follows:  “the man was fearless and stood his ground,” (Chapter 24, paragraph 35).

“He sprang to his feet as soon as he saw who it was. He confronted the head messenger, trembling with hate, unable to utter a word. The man was fearless and stood his ground, his four men lined up behind him.”

The name Okonkwo ceases to be mentioned with adjectives such as: courageous, exemplary and greatness. The author chooses to start the chapter with “Okonkwo and his fellow prisoners were set free as soon as the fine was paid,” (paragraph 1). The footpath to the stream now has other destination points of import and on which life in Umuofia will depend in the same way as the water drawn from the stream. These destination points are the Church and courthouse. These were added to the landmarks that defined Umuofia. The people of Umuofia and the other nine villages will have to find time to engage in the affairs of the Church and courthouse periodically as sure as they fill their barns with yams or break the Kola nut.

Okonkwo and other men were so subdued as to be capable of motor or neural reactions even when addressed by the District Commissioner. The men of Umuofia were known for unsolicited rebuttals almost on any subject. They had a supply of precedents from their own culture.  The District Commissioner was speaking to them again about the great queen, and about peace and good government. “But the men did not listen. They just sat and looked at him and at his interpreter,” (paragraph 1). To the District Commissioner, they were ex-convicts on their last day of incarceration. Having undergone rehabilitation as well as ended their sentence, they were now permitted to go back to their homes.

Normally, the last day of prison should be celebrated. But, the ex-convicts are seen going back home with heavy and fearsome looks  that the women and children they met on the path to the stream did not say “ ‘nno’ or ‘welcome’ to them,” ( paragraph 3). The men brooked no gestures of welcome or any empathy. There was no excitement. “ The village was astir in a silent, suppressed way,” ( paragraph 3).

Okonkwo enjoys food but after returning from prison, he is urged to eat by his friends who had come to be with him ( paragraph 4). Time goes by after they had arrived from prison but all the while Okonkwo expected Umuofia would retaliate by waging a war and Okonkwo expected to play a big part in this. This was eating at his mind. “As he lay on his bamboo bed he thought about the treatment he had received in the white man’s court and he swore vengeance,” (paragraph 7).    The men of Umuofia were no longer war-like. Even its renowned orators did not have “booming voices which a first speaker must use to establish silence in the assembly of the clan,” ( paragraph 24). The assemblies gathered when it was time to build barns, mend huts or putting compounds in order ( paragraph 30). Some sons of Umuofia never attended the assemblies. These sons were referred to as deserters who “joined a stranger to soil their fatherland,” ( paragraph 33). The orator who could not use a booming voice to gather the assembly turns out to call upon men of Umuofia to get ready for war. The leader however, does not command enough respect and attention from the crowd. After speaking for some time, he was forced to stop half way his speech. “We must bale this water now that it is only ankle-deep…….,” ( paragraph 33).

At first, the approach of the five court messengers stirs up the assembly ( paragraph 34). Secondly, Okonkwo confronts the head messenger and trembling with hate he draws first blood. He draws his machete, brought it down twice and the head messenger’s head lay beside his uniformed body,” ( paragraph 39). The assembly was repulsed by this action and the author describes the people as having  been “merged into the mute backcloth of trees and giant creepers,” (paragraph 37).  The meeting was stopped not by the person who had called it but by the  beheading of the head messenger.

There would be no war, the blood on the machete had to be wiped off, okonkwo realized Umuofia had let the other messengers escape.  The assembly had broken into a tumult and not action. Okonkwo heard voices asking: “ ‘why did he do it?’” ( paragraph 42). This rebuke consumed the last vestiges of resolve. He realised the men of Umuofia had lost the power to fight and were now compared to the men of Abame. Okonkwo felt he no longer belonged in Umuofia. He was abandoned by the men of Umuofia.

                                           Reference

Chinua Achebe. 1959. Things Fall Apart. Anchor Books. Random House, Inc. New York.

© Tom Rogers Muyunga-Mukasa

     Content Development Initiative  2016

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