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The Spirit World In “Things Fall Apart”

What I love about Things Fall Apart is how it so easily transports me to another time, place, and culture that’s the complete antithesis to my own.

Could early late 19th century Nigeria—in the small tribe of Umuofia–be any more different than early 21st century Nashville, Tennessee? Slightly.

One of the predominant themes in the novel is the spirit world. These people were freaked out by spirits—in the form of their ancestors and the gods.

The tribe’s leaders would dress up in masks and elaborate gowns, appear out of a tent in the middle of the village, and claim to be the egwugwu–ancestral gods.

No one in the village seemed to notice that when these gods descended from their throne—wherever it might be—that suddenly none of the tribe’s leaders were around.

How can that be? It’s like the Nigerian tribal version of Clark Kent and Superman—come on people…they are never together!

To give you an idea of some of Achebe’s description of the spirit world, I pulled together a few examples:

  • “‘Beware Okonkwo!’ she warned. ‘Beware of exchanging words with Agbala. Does a man speak when a god speaks? Beware!'”
  • “Darkness held a vague terror for these people, even the bravest among them. Children were warned not to whistle at night for fear of evil spirits.”
  • “I am Evil Forest. I kill a man on the day that his life is sweetest to him.”
  • “Whenever you see a toad jumping in broad daylight, then know that something is after its life.”
  • “It is against our custom, It is an abomination for a man to take his own life. It is an offense against the Earth, and a man who commits it will not be buried by his clansmen. His body is evil, and only strangers may touch it.”
  • “Their clan is full of evil spirits of these unburied dead, hungry to do harm to the living.”

Keep in mind, something about a spirit or a god appears on almost every page. The spirits are everywhere.

If you haven’t read Things Fall Apart, I’m going to highly recommend it. I love this book.

Review coming next week.

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12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Lol. That’s the spirit of Africanism. Spiritual beliefs are held strongly and sacred. Nearly 80percent of the movies are genres with different scenes of the evil spirit or heavenly one. This is begining to be anathema to underworld of the vampire and all other movies depicting evil. All i need to read from things fall apart had been made up for in the history class

    Like

    June 7, 2012
  2. teresa #

    Glad that you are getting a reprieve from all the heavy books with this one! Have you decided on the next book? I’m going to try and read along with you.

    Like

    June 7, 2012
    • #44 will be “An American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser. I’m working ahead just a little so go ahead and start if you want to. It’s one of the longer ones on the list!

      Like

      June 7, 2012
      • I will. I am fresh for it having just finished “The English Patient” in which the protagonists did not wallow in alcohol, leer at young girls, deal heroin, use chain saws, maltreat prisoners, steal relative’s finance’s, take advantage of the family’s liver dinner, desert his/her family or poison relatives – to name a few of the interesting Time 100 neurotic behaviors. Sigh. So this is the one where we knock off the wife, right? 🙂

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        June 7, 2012
        • Yeah, I think that’s the one. I believe it’s a pregnant girlfriend though.

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          June 7, 2012
  3. As I commented earlier, I read “Things Fall Apart” for Cultural Anthro class many years ago and I loved it.I was also puzzled about the comings and goings of the Elders and the magical, supernatural appearance of these musical, dancing spirit world beings. Many cultures have mythical beings and ancester connections to magical powers. I kept my book for several years and reread Achebe a couple of times. You are right about how well he brings the reader right into this other world. I eventually went to Africa as a Humanitarian Aid Worker and witnessed a couple of ceremonies held deep in the bush that made me remember this book. ooh, I want to read it again!

    Like

    June 7, 2012
    • Do it! Such a great book. And seeing those ceremonies first hand must have been a really cool experience.

      Like

      June 7, 2012
      • Yes, interesting and very dramatic. It was like being inside a theatrical production under star studded velvet sky. Complete with costumes, drumming, chanting, flickering fire and candle light and unknown sounds just outside the perimeter. Much more like Things Fall Apart than the Lion King. It was very real and a little scarey and it was difficult for me to keep from applauding at times.

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        June 7, 2012
  4. Sounds fascinating. I’ll have to give it a try.

    Like

    June 7, 2012
  5. Great post. I just finished reading this …. I’m challenging myself with the Guardian 1000 best novels (that should take a while). One thing I love is that I’m reading books like this that I probably never would. Are you going to read his other ones?

    Like

    June 12, 2012
  6. You’ve done it justice 🙂

    Most of Achebe’s writing is just as good, even his non-fiction!

    Like

    June 19, 2012

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