Social disintegration Things Fall Apart
The publication of Chinua Achebe’s new book, There was a country: A personal history of Biafra, has in my opinion generated a lot of political criticisms on some of the issues raised in the text. The most topical are those that focus on the roles of General Gowon and Obafemi Owolowo in the civil war. I choose to use the expression ‘civil war’ and not Biafran war because the notion of Biafran war seems to imply that Biafra waged a war with herself, whereas the notion of civil war points to the fact that a section of one country waged a war against another section of the same country, which is exactly what happened in the Nigerian situation. This interpretation is consistent with the idea of “There was a country.”
Chinua Achebe, one of Nigeria’s foremost literary artists was the first to use the expression “Things Fall Apart” within the context of African literary discourse and output. But in the world’s literary arena, the expression is traceable to William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming.” The text reads: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre. The Falcon cannot hear the Falconer. Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold ….” In Nigeria’s literary history Achebe was the first to use the expression and since then he has been revered as the ‘father’ of Things Fall Apart. Achebe in his own usage of the expression used it with a different context and connotation from Yeats.
The book, Things Fall Apart, was published in 1958 prior to Nigerian Independence. It has been seen as the archetypical modern African novel in English. It has also remained a staple book in schools throughout Africa and widely read and studied in English-speaking countries around the world. The novel depicts the life of Okonkwo, a community leader and local wrestling champion in Umuofia – one of a fictional group of nine villages in ancient Nigeria, inhabited by Ibo (Igbo an anglicised form) people. It focuses on his family and personal history, the customs and society, and the influence of British colonialism and Christian Missionaries on the Igbo community during the late nineteenth century.
The Umuofia story and the Biafra story ended in the same melancholic diminuendo because of internal betrayals. Yes, for Okonkwo there was a clan that at the end of Things Fall Apart was no more. For Achebe, there was a country which he envisioned but at the end of the civil war, it ceased to be. What is more, given the present sorry state of the Nigerian country, looking back with some nostalgic feelings Achebe wished that a country that he envisioned or remembered could have been. Hence the title of the book: There was a country: A personal history of Biafra. Yes, the story of Biafra however as it is told captures the story of the Nigerian country that never was and the story of Biafra that was envisioned but never realized. The country that was, was buried in the debris of the Nigerian civil war.
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