The Crisis Of Cultural Memory In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart

The Crisis Of Cultural Memory In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart

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If there is any single work that can be considered central to the evolving canon of modern African literature, it is, without question, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The novel owes this distinction to the innovative significance it assumed as soon as it was published, a significance that was manifested in at least two respects. In the first place, the novel provided an image of an African society, reconstituted as a living entity and in its historic circumstance: an image of a coherent social structure forming the institutional fabric of a universe of meanings and values. Because this image of Africa was quite unprecedented in literature, it also carried considerable ideological weight in the specific context of the novel’s writing and reception. For it cannot be doubted that the comprehensive scope of Achebe’s depiction of a particularized African community engaged in its own social processes, carried out entirely on its own terms, with all the internal tensions this entailed, challenged the simplified representation that the West offered itself of Africa as a formless area of life, as “an area of darkness” devoid of human significance.1 Thus, beyond what might be considered its ethnographic interest, which gave the work an immediate and ambiguous appeal–a point to which we shall return–Achebe’s novel articulated a new vision of the African world and gave expression to a new sense of the African experience that was more penetrating than what had been available before its appearance.  The second factor contributing to the esteem in which Achebe’s novel is held has to do with the quality of his manner of presentation, in which the cultural reference governs not merely the constitution of the novel’s fictional universe but also the expressive means by which the collective existence, the very human experience framed within this universe, comes to be conveyed. For the novel testifies to an aesthetic project which consists in fashioning a new language appropriate to its setting, serving therefore to give life and substance to the narrative content and thus to enforce the novelist’s initial gesture of cultural reclamation. As a consequence, the manner of presentation became integral to the narrative development to a degree that must be considered unusual in the normal run of novelistic writing. As Emmanuel Obiechina has remarked, “the integrative technique in which background and atmosphere are interlaced with the action of the narrative must be regarded as Achebe’s greatest achievement”.


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