How Quickly Can Things Fall Apart English Language Essay

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Watts, Jarica L. "'He Does Not Understand Our Customs': Narrating Orality and Empire in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart." Journal of postcolonial writing 46.1 (2010):65.


Simply put, this article describes in great detail the struggle and language barrier between the native language of the village of Umuofia and the language of the white colonizers. It goes into detail about how Chinhua Achebe uses a combination of both English and his native language to display how the colonization of Africa affected the native inhabitants.

Jarica Watts speaks to how the book is written and the shift in the writing style from the beginning to the end of the book. Watts says "The formative shift, the poetic volta, that takes place between parts one and two of the novel, as the colonizing white men attempt to transform Igbo culture from a non-literate to a literate society." (Watts 67) Watts also mentions that when the Igbo culture was left alone, their communication was only verbal, as they had no written language, which causes Achebe to integrate folk tales, phrases and proverbs from the Igbo culture into his writing because "oral customs lack the materiality of the printed page." (Watts 67) The article goes on to say that this was intentional because Achebe wanted to preserve the culture and traditions of the Igbo people before their culture were altered by the settlers and preachers.

What Watts says this oral tradition does is skew information a little bit every time, as can be seen in a few parts of the book where words like "'well known' advances to 'fame' and to 'honor,'" (Watts 68) So as the first section of the story progresses this trend can be seen as the information changes a little bit each time, until the culture is altered by outsiders who introduce written language to the Igbo people.

Watts also makes a few remarks about repetition used in Igbo speech and passing on stories, such as when" Ogbuefi Ezeugo, the clan's most powerful orator demonstrates the performative nature of the Igbo's spoken culture." (Watts 69) This repetition is noted as being used to drive story points home and make sure that the recipients of the story will remember them to pass on to the next generation or group of people because the accuracy is important, but often stories get more and more exaggerated as they are passed on.


Parts of the book Things Fall Apart is most definitely a combination of the traditional oral traditions of the Igbo people and the imposed culture and language of the English settlers. In reading the book, as soon as the missionaries arrive and people from Ohbuefi's village begin converting their religion. This integration can be seen in the writing style that Achebe uses combining both traditional words form the tribal language and Standard English.

On the subject of repetition, the article has led me to notice a lot of repetition in Things Fall Apart. Most notably is how Okonkwo was characterized as poor by repetition. It was said that she was "too poor to pay her bride-price" (Achebe 40) and ""She had married Anene because Okonkwo was too poor then to marry" (Achebe 109) The repetition wasn't noticeable until reading the book a second time, where after reading this article it quickly became apparent that repetition exists in many places in the text. This repetition drives points home so that they are memorable for whoever hears the story. After asking why Achebe would do this in Things Fall Apart, the most rational explanation is to make story points more memorable to immerse the reader in the book, and make them feel for some of the characters. It also seems that this repetition can be used as a tool to draw attention without making this intent noticeable.

After learning about the language barrier between the native language and English, the difficulty of writing this story becomes apparant. Achebe would have to have intimate knowledge of the culture and language of the Igbo people in order to so successfully integrate the english language with the Igbo language. This is because English is a written language, where the stories can be written down and do not have to be told to every generation by word of mouth. This is very unlike the native language of the Igbo people, where their language is not written, so stories change as they are told, both based on the conditions it is being told in and in the accuracy of the information, as Watts pointed out in her article. This barrier that Achebe sits in the middle of during the story makes the reading difficult because it is easy to miss the subtle elements of classic Igbo culture in the book. Missing these elements can leave the story feeling confusing and almost unfinished, as was my first read through Things Fall Apart. After learning about the repetition and elements if Igbo language and culture, the book makes much more sense as a story about the loss of classic culture in an African tribe.

Also observing the integration of classic culture in the early parts of Things Fall Apart dissipates after Okonkwo's exile. The writing style then switches over to a more English-style of writing where the repetition and integration of the Igbo language gradually disappears in favor of standard English words. This could be foreshadowing Okonkwo's village falling to the English missionaries as they impose their culture and beliefs onto the native people. This foreshadowing would be very subtle and easy to miss without the information from Watts.