Things Fall Apart and Imperialism

Books become classics because they either reflect on or influence the world around us. As was the casewith Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Of course, a book can also become a classic because its author does something crazy like try to assassinate a world leader, but those are really fringe cases.

AuthorAchebe - Chinua Achebe
FormNovel
LanguageEnglish Language
LiteratureWorld Literature
Post-1945 LiteraturePost-1945 World Literature
ThemesFamily
Fate and Free Will

Transcript

00:24

...and he was hoping to enact some real change by writing this novel.

00:28

So... what was Imperialism?

00:31

What effect did it have on Africa, and how did our author feel about it?

00:35

And... how do we as a Western culture feel about it?

00:39

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries...

00:41

...European powers swooped into Africa and decided to divvy it up amongst themselves.

00:46

Never mind that quite a few people were already living there.

00:50

It is referred to as a period of New Imperialism...

00:54

...or the Scramble for Africa...

00:56

...which isn't as delicious as it sounds, and was notably lacking in chunks of breakfast

01:01

sausage. By the time the imperialists had had their

01:03

way...

01:04

...the continent had been divided up like this: Aside from demonstrating a complete indifference

01:10

with regard to the cultures and boundaries recognized by Africa's existing residents...

01:15

...they were making it exceedingly difficult for anyone to play a simple game of Risk.

01:23

Why did all these Europeans think they could just hop across the pond and snatch all that

01:27

land away from its inhabitants?

01:31

Because at the time, all Africans were viewed as savage and unsophisticated.

01:36

From the imperialists' point of view, it was more like they were displacing a bunch

01:40

of animals than human beings. Obviously, this mindset infuriated and frustrated

01:46

Achebe...

01:47

...and he decided to write a book that would reveal the true nature of tribal cultures...

01:51

...and hopefully open people's eyes as to how poorly they had been treated...

01:55

...and how unfairly they had been disregarded. Achebe strove to show that, no matter what

02:01

the outside world may think...

02:03

...the values of any society are valid within that culture.

02:07

We here in the states may assume we've got it all figured out...

02:10

...but someone in a tribal culture might be appalled at how we ship our elderly off to

02:15

retirement communities...

02:16

...rather than taking them into our homes and caring for them ourselves.

02:21

Or, at the very least, sitting down with them once in a while to watch 60 Minutes.

02:25

Rather than write an essay about the issue, Achebe wanted to write a fictional story...

02:30

...so that, rather than feeling lectured at...

02:32

...we could enter the lives of just a handful of fleshed-out individuals...

02:35

...and really get a sense for their day-to-day trials and tribulations.

02:39

But most importantly, he wanted us to see that they were human beings...

02:43

...and not just inanimate objects that could be moved around when it suited the whim of

02:47

another...

02:48

...as if they were merely redecorating an apartment. Was Achebe successful?

02:53

Did you feel for the plight of the characters in his novel...

02:56

...or are you on your way to Africa now, to put in your claim for Botswana?