Achebe has written short stories, essays and poetry. But he occupies a prominent place in the field of writing novels. He has written six novels, (1) Things Fall Apart (1958), (2) No Longer at Ease (1960), (3) Arrow of God (1966), (4) A Man of the People (1966), (5) Chike and the River (1966), (6) Anthills of the Savannah (1988).
Things Fall Apart, Achebe's first novel, was published in 1958 in the midst of the Nigerian renaissance. It tells the story of an Ibo village of the late 1800's and one of its great men, Okonkwo, who has achieved much in his life. He is a champion-wrestler, a wealthy farmer, a husband to three wives, a title holder among his people, and a member of the Egunegwu whose members impersonate ancestral spirits at tribal rituals. "The most impressive achievement of Things Fall Apart," maintains David Carroll in his book Chinua Achebe, "is the vivid picture it provides of Ibo society at the end of the nineteenth century."
The peace of Ibo's is disrupted, however, with the appearance of the white man in Africa and with the introduction of his religion. "The conflict of the novel, vested in Okonkwo derives from the series of crushing blows which are levelled at traditional values by an alien and more powerful culture causing, in the end, the traditional society to fall apart," observes G.D. Killam. Okonkwo is unable to adopt to the changes that accompany colonialism. In the end, in frustration, he kills an African employed by the British, and then commits suicide, a sin against the tradition to which he had long clung. Achebe maintains a balance in recreating the tragic consequences of the clash of two cultures. Killam notes that, "In showing Ibo society before and after the coming of the white man, he avoids the temptation to present the past as idealised and the present as ugly and unsatisfactory."
Muslims as well as non-Muslims, had been masculine-based even before the advent of the white man. The source, nature and extent of female subordination and oppression have constituted a vexed problem in African literary debates. Writers such as Ama Ata Aidoo of
and the late Flora Nwapa of Ghana have insisted that the image of the helpless, dependent, unproductive African woman was one ushered is by European imperialists. On the other hand, the Nigerian born, expatriate writer Buchi Emecheta, along with other critics, maintains that African woman were traditionally subordinated to sexist cultural mores, "I ally myself to the latter camp. I believe that, in creating masculine-based society, Achebe was merely putting literature to mimetic use, reflecting existing traditional mores. Colonial rule merely aggravated the situation by introducing a lopsided system in which African men received a well-sounded education while like their European counterparts before the mid-nineteenth century, African women received only utilitarian, cosmetic skills in Domestic Science the kinds of skills that only could prepare them to be useful helpmates." Nigeria
Things Fall Apart is significant because it began the vogue of African novels of cultural contact and conflict. It has been translated into over twenty major world languages. Commensurate with its popularity, images of women receive attention. In a style that is expository rather than prescriptive, Achebe's novel mirrors the socio-cultural organization. Crawford (when married to Jody Starks), Achebe's women are voiceless. But where even Janie is highly visible, his women are virtually inconsequential.
The world in Things Fall Apart is one in which patriarchy intrudes oppressively into every sphere of existence. It is an androcentric world where the man is everything and the woman nothing. In domestic terms, women are quantified as part of men's equisitions. As wives, women come in multiple numbers, sandwiched between yam barns and title. These three huge barns, social titles are the highest accolades for the successful farmer, warrior, and man of worth. These determine a man's social status, as illustrated by Nwakibie who has three huge barns, nine wives and thirty children, and the highest but one title which a man can take in the clan (21).
Made to feel like outsiders. They were not invited to stay when men were not included in councils of war, they did not form part of the masquerades representing the judiciary and ancestral spirits.
Achebe's sexist attitude is unabashed and without apology. Unoloy Okonkwo's father is considered an untitled man, connoting femininity (20) Coco-yam, of smaller size and lesser value than other yams, is regarded as female. Osugo has taken no title, and so, in a gathering of his peers, Okonkwo unkindly tells him, "This meeting is for men."(18) (Guilt-ridden after murdering Ikemefuna, his surrogate son, Okonbwo sternly reprimands himself not to "become like shivering old women" (72)—this he considers the worst insult. Fleeing after the murder, Okonkwo has no other refuge than his mother's town which, of course, has to be called Mbanta..." Small town...which I read as being opposed in Okonkwo's thinking to the rugged, wild, violent, strong, masculine connotations of his Umuofia (meaning "children of the forest"). Such excessive emphasizes on virility, sex-role stereotyping, gender discrimination, and violence create an imbalance, a resultant denigration of the female principle.