Things Fall Apart is set in the 1890s and portrays the clash between Nigeria's white colonial government and the traditional culture of the indigenous Igbo people. Achebe's novel shatters the stereotypical European portraits of native Africans. He is careful to portray the complex, advanced social institutions and artistic traditions of Igbo culture prior to its contact with Europeans. Yet he is just as careful not to stereotype the Europeans; he offers varying depictions of the white man, such as the mostly benevolent Mr. Brown, the zealous Reverend Smith, and the ruthlessly calculating District Commissioner.
Achebe's Things Fall Apart derives its title from a line from William Butler Yeats" poem "The Second Coming," which foretells the end of the world. And Achebe's novel indeed foreshadows the end of a world: the incursion of the white man into the society of the African Ibo, and the subsequent dissolution of the indigenous culture. The image of things falling apart is an extremely apt one, for we learn that from the author's point of view, Ibo culture is held together by one string -- its own traditions. This string will not break, but when pulled it will unravel, causing everything it holds together to literally fall apart.
Things Fall Apart is the most widely read and influential African novel. Published in 1958, it has sold more than nine million copies and been translated into fifty-two languages. African culture is not familiar to most American readers, however this casebook provides a wealth of commentary and original materials that place the novel in its historical, social, and cultural contexts. Ogbaa, an Igbo scholar, have selected a wide variety of historical and first hand accounts of the Igbo historical and cultural heritage. These accounts illuminate the historical context and issues relating to the colonization of Africa by European powers, in particular, the British colonization of Nigeria.