Society Role in Literature: King Lear and Things Fall Apart Essay

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer


It is imperative to mention that the role of society in literary works is a fascinating topic that is actively discussed by many scholars. Moreover, one of the most important aspects that must be discussed is the way authors use societal changes and conditions to express their ideas and emotions. A play titled “King Lear” by William Shakespeare and a well-known novel “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe can be viewed as one of the best examples of these techniques. Both works are regarded masterpieces and had an enormous influence on modern literature and have inspired numerous authors. An analysis and comparison of these pieces would help to get a better understanding of the connection between societies and plot.


It is necessary to mention that there is a significant dissimilarity between the play and novel because of the focus on societal changes. Some parts of these works are used to distract the reader from societal problems that the characters had to deal with in the stories. For instance, Achebe has frequently focused on positive aspects such as traditions and values. On the other hand, Shakespeare utilized personal situations and dialogues. Another aspect that is worth mentioning is that there is a particular similarity between King Lear and Okonkwo, central characters. Both of them are influential, but they are affected by their surroundings and situations and they have made several questionable decisions over the course of these two pieces. The difference is that the leader of the plan is much tougher physically and emotionally, and it is evident that he would not give up his values and morals.

One of the most significant aspects that should be discussed is that the changes to the society have been quite significant over the seven years that he was absent, and the author has utilized this situation as a plot device. On the other hand, the society in Shakespeare’s novel did not change at all. The reasoning behind this approach is that the author wanted to highlight situations that the characters had to go through, and how they have impacted the lives of those individuals. King Lear has weakened significantly, and numerous problems have affected his mind and the process of decision-making. One of the biggest dissimilarities is that King Lear had to go through several challenges, and it has had an enormous impact on his perception of surroundings. For instance, he was able to identify the difference between what is important and what is not in the final scenes, and it is evident that his character is no longer the same as he used to be.

Other societal aspects in King Lear also should not be overlooked. The author has viewed it as an outstanding opportunity to criticize some of the issues that were present at that time. Differences between generations are regarded especially problematic by Shakespeare, and he wanted to ensure that the audience understands that it could lead to severe consequences. Some of those disagreements are not significant, and problems could have been easily avoided. “When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools” is a critical line (Shakespeare, 2007, p. 168). Moreover, it indicates that the author recognizes that the society that he lives in has numerous problems, and it is not likely that the situation is going to change anytime soon. Furthermore, it can be seen that it is one of the core themes in this work, and this factor should be taken into account.

Also, another factor that is worth mentioning is that conditions in the society have an enormous impact on the level of comfort of both characters. The situation was especially problematic for Okonkwo because he was used to being a leader, and was not ready to deal with such enormous changes. However, he was tough emotionally and did not change as an individual. He was determined to live according to his principles, and nothing could alter his perception. It is paramount to mention that he had to go through several internal struggles, but he did not want to show his emotions because he thought that it was not a right thing to do. He understood that he has a lot of responsibilities and his people trust in him and his decisions. Moreover, indecisiveness was not acceptable, and he has become a victim of circumstances. The problem is that he was not capable of dealing with such dramatic changes, and he was not that kind of person to accept this situation.

Achebe (2010) draws the attention of readers with the line stating “then they came to the tree from which Okonkwo’s body was dangling” (p. 189). It is necessary to mention that it was a crucial point in the story because a central character has demonstrated behavior that is not acceptable in his tribe. However, this decision was justified in his mind because he could not live in this society any longer. He understood that he may not do anything against intruders without support from his people, and believed that he was betrayed. The problem is that this approach may seem especially cowardly and selfish. He made the decision to take his life to protect his values and to show that he will not be forced to obey. On the other hand, Lear could not handle betrayal, and he did not expect that his daughters would act like this. The situation has a lasting impact on the character, and it can be seen that he starts to behave irrationally in some cases. King Lear was not the same at the end of the story because of all the pressure and tension and dies as a result. Also, it is necessary to mention that Shakespeare thought that bureaucracy would hurt the society, and he wanted to draw attention to this problem.


In conclusion, it is evident that the difference between these two pieces is quite significant. Moreover, one of the vital aspects that should be taken into consideration is that the dissimilarity between the roles of society is also tremendous. It is necessary to understand that Okonkwo was disappointed in his people and did not want to accept this situation. King Lear also had to deal with numerous changes, but they were mostly personal and were influenced by many internal and external factors. Shakespeare has focused on the critique of issues that were the most problematic at that time, and Achebe has used it as a plot device to move the story forward. Overall, it is necessary to understand that the analysis of these aspects can be vital, and would help to get a better understanding of these works and ideas suggested by the authors.


Achebe, C. (2010). Things Fall Apart: A Novel. New York, NY: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Shakespeare, W. (2007). King Lear. Minneapolis, MN: Filiquarian Publishing LLC.

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