The Second Coming And Things Fall Apart

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“The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats describes a world about to reach yet another transition in its history, one much worse than the prior. In Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Okonkwo views the scenario presented in Yeats’ poem as his reality. The first four lines of “The Second Coming” which Achebe decided to preface his book with can be seen as a topical representation of Okonkwo’s experiences in the novel.

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ The falcon cannot hear the falconer” is how Yeats starts his poem, and consequently it is how Achebe begins Things Fall Apart.

For both the poem and the story, this line prepares the reader for what is to follow. The turning in the widening gyre suggests a continual cycle where things are becoming worse and worse.

For Okonkwo, this is how the novel plays out for him. Things Fall Apart is very episodic, that is to say that what happened in a prior event has absolutely no consequence on the next one. This structure allows us to see the individual and isolated hardships which Okonkwo suffered through. We’re first shown that because of his strong work ethic that one year he decided to plant his yams early, but because of terrible conditions his harvest failed completely.

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When Did Yeats Write The Second Coming

Those who had not started early had a plentiful harvest however. This small trial was easily overcome, and then the next one appears. He is caught beating his wife during the Week of Peace, and is forced to sacrifice that which the priest tells him. Similarly, a minor road bump in the road of life and is easily overcome by giving up a few material possessions. Okonkwo’s first real trial appears when Obierika informs him that Ikemefuna will be killed. Unfortunately for Okonkwo, the best case scenario is still a horrible one; his beloved adopted son will be killed.

Obierika actually advises Okonkwo to remain in the village and not participate in killing. Okonkwo goes anyway, and strikes down Ikemefuna to avoid being seen as weak. This action has numerous consequences for the main character. First of all, he destroys the relationship with Nwoye which he finally began to build. Secondly, he has done the unspeakable; he murdered one of his own kinsmen (Ikemefuna can be considered as kin because he ended up calling Okonkwo father). This was all done in the name of what he viewed as masculinity.

Ironically, no one else thought it would be considered weak to stay behind, that is indeed what he was told to do by the oracle! Ikemefuna was an example of how one could be masculine and gentle at the same time; Okonkwo’s murder of his son can be seen as him also killing the idea that masculinity isn’t the opposite of feminism and weakness. Okonkwo murdered more than just his son; he murdered his only possible way of overcoming his major flaw. Just as the first line of Yeats’ poem suggest, things will get worse before they truly fall apart.

And they do, Okonkwo’s later exile is an example of that. “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold/ Mere anarchy is loosed up on the world” continues the poem. Once again, it is important to realize that this statement holds true for Okonkwo only, as Things Fall Apart is his story, not Achebe’s story of an entire culture. The things which Okonkwo hold most dear and important to his life all begin to fall apart: his family, especially his son Nwoye, his religion, and his overall way of life. When still exiled at the village, we receive word of Nwoye’s conversion to Christianity.

This is an interesting point in the story, because unlike many novels the reader is not sure with whom to side. Okonkwo is the main character whom we’ve been following and more likely than not we tend to sympathize with him. Nwoye, however, seems to find a lot of answers he’s looking for in the initial description of Christianity by the missionaries. For Okonkwo, this has many consequences. First of all, as much as he may dislike it, Nwoye is how his legacy will live on. Secondly, Nwoye’s willingness to accept the new religion is actually caused in most part by how he was raised.

He was always looking for answers to questions about various incidences which happened in his life such as the death of his older brother Ikemefuna. Another component which illustrates things beginning to fall apart is the aspect of religion in Okonkwo’s life. As demonstrated by his actions, he very much respects his religion. But even this sacred seemingly untouchable aspect of his life becomes tainted by the white man, another aspect of his essence being ripped away. This is shown when the missionaries are offered a piece of land by the elders in the Evil Forest to build a church.

They built their church without any problems, negating the power that religion said the Evil Forest should have possessed. In turn this not only shattered Okonkwo’s own confidence of his religion, it won over even more converts. This action then not only affected Okonkwo’s intrapersonal side, but affected his interpersonal relationships as well. Lifelong friends began to convert, and while the reader may not see the huge issue, Okonkwo felt as if they had betrayed him and could therefore no longer associate himself with them. How are we supposed to view the white man’s affect on Umofia?

Clearly things are changing, is this change for the better or worse? In Okonkwo’s view any change is bad change. For many of the villagers, however, this change has brought them peace as well as a much greater financial success. But since this is Okonkwo’s story, we can view the progression of this novel as “anarchy being loosed upon the world. ” Achebe did not haphazardly use Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” in his novel Things Fall Apart. The poem sets the mood from the beginning for the main character Okonkwo, and provides a parallel storyboard to what is occurring in his life as well.

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The Second Coming And Things Fall Apart. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from

The Second Coming And Things Fall Apart
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