The World is Collapsing, the masterpiece by Nigerian Chinua Achebe, father of the modern African novel, tells the tragic destiny of a pre-colonial hero tempted to measure himself against the power of the British invader.
The World is Collapsing is one of the great novels of postcolonial Africa, written by Nigerian Chinua Achebe, who is considered the father of the modern African novel. The title of the book is indeed reminiscent of the dramatic situation that prevails in the world today. However, in this story, the social collapse is not caused by illness, but by the turbulence of history, with a capital “H”. The killer virus in this book is called colonization. Camped in the new world order born from the division of Africa by the great European powers in Berlin in 1885, this novel stages the collapse of traditional African society confronted with all-powerful Europe, armed with its guns, of his canons, and his determination to dominate the world.
What is The World Collapsing saying?
Achebe tells the story of Okonkwo, a man of great courage, brutal, whom his admirers nickname ” the devouring fire “. The man established himself in his community thanks to his sporting qualities which had enabled him to defeat the great wrestler Amalinze “the cat”, at the age of 18. Twenty years have passed since. Okonkwo has become the strong man of his village, he is a notable, wealthy man, married to three women, as the story begins. He embodies the values inculcated in him by his company: those of virility, courage, and the superiority of men over women.
In this society, the poor, the weak, the foreigners are marginalized. This is why when at the behest of the oracle of the hills and caves, who is a kind of spiritual master of the community, the elders demand that the adopted son of Okonkwo kidnapped from a neighboring village be sacrificed, Okonkwo n don’t hesitate to kill the kid with his own hands for fear of appearing weak. But times are changing in the Ibo country, with the arrival and installation of Europeans. Many young people from the tribe, including Okonkwo’s son, rallied around the new religion spread by the missionaries. The most radical of these new converts attack the fetishes of traditional society. It is a real war of civilizations that opens with Okonkwo at the head of the defenders of his community and his beliefs. Churches are destroyed, Europeans are mistreated. Seized with a tantrum, Okonkwo kills the messenger of the British administrator, before committing suicide, when he understands that his clan which is afraid of reprisals will no longer support him. Paradoxically, Okonkwo, who was one of the greatest men in his village, cannot be buried normally in the cemetery where the other deceased is buried, because suicide is considered by traditional society to be the worst abomination.
Why should you read The World Collapsed?
The world is collapsing, it is colonization seen by Africans. Published in 1958, this book is the first title in a series of three novels written by Achebe between 1958 and 1964, all three devoted to colonization and its consequences. The world is collapsing is focused more precisely around the seizure of power by the British of the country, located in the eastern part of present-day Nigeria. What makes the strength of this novel is the maturity of the analysis of colonial history in Africa, with the collapse of values and civilization. The meeting of Africa and the West was an immense tragedy for Africans but, for all that, Chinua Achebe does not present this story as the confrontation between Good and Evil, but as the crossing of two civilizational logic, with each has its strengths and weaknesses.
Criticism of colonization does not prevent the author from evoking the limits and constraints of traditional African society, notably through the character of Obierika, friend and mentor of the hero of the novel Okonkwo. However, unlike Okonkwo who is an apology of his society and its ancestral traditions, Obierika is aware of the rigidities of his people and the injustices perpetrated within traditional society. Obierika plays the role of the intellectual Avant la Lettre in African society. You have to read The World is Collapsing for this ironic distancing from the past, but also for its Africanization of the loan language, in this case, English, which are the hallmarks of what is called postcolonial literature.