Things Fall Apart
THINGS FALL APART tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a &"strong man&" of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo's fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society. The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo's world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. These twin dramas are perfectly harmonized, and they are modulated by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul. THINGS FALL APART is the most illuminating and permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within.
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The title of this book comes from this poem. Written by William Butler Yeats, this poem is about a society that is unstable and cannot survive. (This annotation contains a video)
From the context of this paragraph, the word pounce in this sentence means ____________.
This simile compares Okonkwo's fame to "a bush-fire in the harmattan." A harmattan is a strong wind that blows south from Sahara into the Gulf of Guinea between the end of November and the middle of March. You can infer, since fire spreads quickly and wildly in a strong wind, that this is the way that Okonkwo's fame has grown. Watch this video, and be on the lookout for more powerful similes and metaphors. (This annotation contains a video)
How is Unoka the grown-up different than Unoka the young man? How has his character changed?
This is a Kola Nut. It is a symbol of hospitality to the Ibo people. (This annotation contains an image)
How does the narrator describe the Ibo style of conversation?
Why is Okonkwo ashamed of his father, Unoka?
We learn a lot about Okonkwo in the last two paragraphs, particularly that he is very respected in his community. We also get a key piece of foreshadowing in this sentence. We now know that Okonkwo is going to look after a boy named Ikemefuna, who will ultimately be sacrificed to the village. Watch this video, and look for other examples of foreshadowing in these early chapters! (This annotation contains a video)
The ogene instrument is a large metal bell. The ogene instrument has historically been made by the Igbo people of Nigeria. It is one of the most important metal instruments of the people. Ogene is also a style of Igbo music, taking its name from the instrument. (This annotation contains a video)
How do the Ibo people act on dark nights with no moonlight?
Now you learn the reason for this gathering: a woman from Umuofia, Okonkwo's village, has been murdered in a market in Mbaino.
How do the people of Umuofia decide when to go to war?
Theres Ikemefuna, the boy we were told about in the foreshadowing!
Okonkwo is a cruel and strict man because he fears ________________.
Capricious means "impulsive and unpredictable."
Here is a map of what Okonkwo's compound might look like. (This annotation contains an image)
An Oracle is a person who channels the gods to deliver predictions about the future. (This annotation contains an image)
The Oracle is an important part of Things Fall Apart. Based on this fact, I can predict that ____________ will be a major theme of this book.
Pay attention to the mysterious symptoms Unoka has. This swelling of the stomach and limbs is a symptom of protein-deficiency and starvation. Unoka's death is caused by his inability to work hard and provide food for himself, and he is rejected by his community.
How does Okonkwo feel about his father's death? How do you think his father's death might impact the choices he makes in his life?
What specific details from this passage does not support the idea that women are subject to men in Nwakibie's home?
Here, Okonkwo is following the Ibo practice of using proverbs to tell his own story. He is referencing a story about a lizard to say that he will prove himself to be hardworking.
Based on what you know about their relationship, how do you think Okonkwo feels about the fact that he has to support his father with his hard work on the yam farm?
This desperate, bad year showed Okonkwo a different kind of strength inside himself. He was already a famous warrior; now, he is a hardworking survivor too. Pay attention to the different ways that people are strong in this book. (This annotation contains an image)
When someone says words as he is dying in a book, it is a good idea to pay attention. Unoka tells Okonkwo that he can deal with this defeat because it is caused by an outside force, not himself. Perhaps Okonkwo will have to struggle with failure that only he causes later in the text...
What do you think the old man means when he says this about Okonkwo?
In Okonkwo's treatment of Ikemefuna, we can begin to see an internal conflict emerging. Okonkwo wants to be strong, but he also has emotions, so he is in a constant battle with himself to avoid showing closeness (and therefore weakness). Watch this clip about internal conflict, and keep an eye out for how Okonkwo struggles with this issue as the book goes on. (This annotation contains a video)
Why are the other citizens of Umuofia frustrated and concerned with Okonkwo's behavior?
Tradition vs. Social Change is a theme emerging at this point in the book. At many points in this text, people will talk about the importance of customs, and how those customs used to be practiced. The people talking here disagree about what is the best way to handle people like Okonkwo who violate the Week of Peace. It is a conflict many of the villagers grapple with: how should traditions change, and how should they stay the same?
Why is Okonkwo being so hard on the boys when they make mistakes in preparing the seed-yams?
During the rainy season, the people of Umuofia no longer try to interfere with the harvest, like they do with the Day of Peace. This becomes like a time of rest. (This annotation contains an image)
Make a prediction. What do you think will happen in the friendship between Ikefuna and Nwoye?
The New Yam Festival seems to be a time of new beginnings and abundance in Umuofia. (This annotation contains an image)
Why do you think Okonkwo does not enjoy feasts as much as other people do?
What does the juxtaposition of this very violent scene against the normalcy and joy of the New Yam Festival show us about life in Okonkwo's home?
Okonkwo attempts to shoot his wife in anger, and then the next day prays for the gods to protect everyone in the New Yam Festival. This is a perfect example of irony. (This annotation contains a video)
The spiritual and belief that spirits are all around us is always present in everyday life in this book.
Why do you think Okonkwo feels so strongly about wrestling that he "trembled with desire" for it?
The use of sound imagery here builds suspense and excitement. It makes us feel anticipation for the wrestling match that is to come! (This annotation contains an image)
Describe the setting of this scene in your own words. Be sure to describe the location and the people in it.
Again, the imagery of the cheering crowd drowning out the drums helps us to feel the excitement! Imagery can be any sensory detail that helps you picture being there: touch, scent, sound, of visual imagery can all help us feel part of the story in a different way. (This annotation contains a video)
The imagery here is amazing... the air stretched "taut" like the skin of a drum. It is like the very setting becomes the drum, which is the symbol of suspense and drama.
Identify the simile in this passage. Type it below.
There's been a lot of focus on Okonkwo's quest to be a strong and good man. Now, as Nwoye grows up, we see him focusing on what it means to be a man. He is happy to take on new tasks in the home because it makes him feel like a man.
What does Okonkwo take as a good sign that his son is becoming the right kind of man?
"Feigned" means "to pretend." Right now, Nwoye is pretending to be the kind of man that Okonkwo wants him to be. It makes us wonder if a lot of the thing Okonkwo does to "be a man" are pretend, too. For example, Okonkwo is constantly pretending to be strong and without emotions. Another theme of the book is developing here: the theme of masculinity.
Locusts are a type of bug. They come in large swarms, and only come again after many years. They can be very dangerous and destructive to farms. (This annotation contains a video)
Based on what you know of Okonkwo's character, what do you predict he will do next? Why do you think he will do this?
We see these men trying to joke about the usual things, and to fit in, but they are going off on a very bad mission. How do you think the men are feeling right now?
Why do you think the author chooses to make Ikemefuna dance and wish for his mother right now?
Nwoye is questioning some of the more horrible traditions he sees in his society. The horror he feels now is similar to a horror when he caught women abandoning twin babies in the forest. Nwoye is struggling with an internal conflict: obey his father and honor tradition or fight against traditions he finds horrifying.
Why does Okonkwo wish that Ezinma was a boy?
Okonkwo is always seeking work to do, and he is often frustrated when he cannot be working (like during the earlier feast). When a character does something multiple times, it becomes a motif. Watch this video on motif, and keep an eye out for times when Okonkwo seeks out work or seems uncomfortable when he isn't working. (This annotation contains a video)
Why is Okonkwo worried about Nwoye?
Obierika is implying that Okonkwo will be punished for taking part in the Oracle's ordered killing of Ikemefuna. Okonkwo's conflict of whether to honor tradition or save Ikemefuna gets even more complicated here... We can imagine that Okonkwo is wondering whether or not he did the right thing by participating.
Why does Okonkwo question Ozoemena's strength?
Here is another example of people (in this case Obierika) questioning traditions.
Describe what Obeirika thinks Maduka's flaw is.
The men are here to negotiate the bride price for a woman to become Maduka's wife. This is the price that the husband's family traditionally pays the wife's family to secure a marriage.
What is Obierika saying in this passage about traditions?
Here is another example of how storytelling is a central part of Ibo culture.
What is Ekwefi's biggest problem in her life?
Ekwefi's character is being negatively shaped by the situation she is in. You should read on to see how she is impacted by this experience.
What do you infer her iyi-uwa is?
Notice how determined Okagbue is to believe her story. The people here are committed to this idea of how to fix Ekwefi's problem of her children returning only to die again.
What does putting the story of finding Ezinma's ibi-uwa here reveal about the situation?
You may have noticed before that women are on the outside, or the "fringes" of Ibo society. Here is another example of women being excluded from important community events or rituals.
Make an inference: what role do you think the egwugwu house and this cult play in Ibo society?
From this passage, you can infer that Okonkwo is a member of this powerful group, the egwugwu.
Based on this scene, it looks like the role that egwugwu play in Ibo society is that of _____________.
"Faggots" is another word for "Sticks" in this context. "Fire-that-burns-without-faggots" shows the Evil Forest to be an almost devilish figure. (This annotation contains an image)
In your own words, paraphrase the beginning of the Tortoise story that Okonkwo is telling.
This story seems to comment on class hierarchy and inequality. When you read this story (and others like it in the text), try to figure out what meaning they give.
Why do you infer Okonkwo is reluctant to let the priestess visit? And what does she say when she insists?
Like you have seen before, the people in this story are speaking in stories, which serve as metaphors in this story.
In this sentence, the phrase "shrill tremor" most nearly means _________.
Here, Chinua Achebe emphasizes the power of the darkness. He captures what it is like to be confused an walking through the dark, using words like "softened", "vague", and "melting", which captures the stress and confusion Ekwefi feels in this scene. (This annotation contains an image)
What do you predict will happen to Ekwefi and Ezinma?
It is interesting to see the relationship between Okonkwo and Ekwefi described here. She does not to seem to be an active participant, but rather she is controlled by what he wants.
What does this scene show about priestess' role in Ibo society?
In this paragraph, we can see more references to gender. Okonkwo is scared to show fear or any other emotion over the struggle of his daughter, because he is scared that doing this would make him less manly.
The word penalty means __________.
In this section, note how bringing the correct wedding gift is very connected to identity and "being a man." It is important that this group brings enough palm wine for the situation.
What is valued in an Ibo wife, based on the ceremony in the last few pages?
When a sound is described in words, as is done here in the sound of the ekwe, it is called Onomatopoeia. (This annotation contains a video)
What is the philosophy that the Ibo people have towards death?
Okonkwo has accidentally shot the dead man's young son. This is a devastating scene. Notice the effect on the crowd, "as if a spell had been cast."
Quiz, Part I
What is Obierika questioning here?
Okonkwo and his family have relocated to Mbanta, his mother's village. Note that already we can see that Mbanta already understands the same traditions and shows respect for them. They even arrange for sacrifices to cleanse Okonkwo of his crime.
What is Okonkwo struggling with at this point in the book?
Uchendu is trying to remind Okonkwo of the powerful connection he has with this "new" place, that it is not only a symbol of being shamed and banished. He is trying to make him see that he belongs.
What message is Uchendu trying to communicate to Okonkwo?
Uchendu feels protective of Okonkwo, and he worries that Okonkwo only feels connection to where he comes from, not where he is living now.
What do you infer the mysterious white man was doing in their village?
This scary story foreshadows that the world of the Ibo people is about to change dramatically. Foreshadowing is when there are hints of big events to come. Watch this video on foreshadowing, and look for more hints of how Okonkwo's world will change soon. (This annotation contains a video)
What is Obierika's reasoning for selling off the seed-yams?
Christian missionaries converted many people in different parts of Africa, strongly impacting their culture and traditions. This part of the book ushers in another important theme: cultural change. (This annotation contains an image)
The Holy Trinity is a concept in Christianity that God is made up of three parts, referred to as "father," "son," and "Holy Spirit." The missionary tries to impart this idea to answer the man's confusion about how God has a son (Jesus Christ), yet God has no wife.
What do you think is the symbolism of the church setting up in the villages "evil forest"?
You have probably noticed the interesting relationship the people in this book have with their religious tradition. Notice the direct relationship they have with gods, the idea that the gods will reward or punish immediately. It is the fact that this does not happen (that the missionaries do not get punished) that wins them so many converts.
The word annihilation means _____________ in this context.
The villagers are experiencing a conflict: do they trust the new visitors because they have survived the Evil Forest, or fear that the visitors will bring misery upon them because they set up a church in the evil forest?
What is conflict between the church and the new members?
A python is a type of large snake. (This annotation contains an image)
Who do you think whipped and harassed the women?
This is important information about Okonkwo's perspective. He is bitter and regretful that he will never get to be the great man he knew he was supposed to be, because of his seven years of exile.
Why won't Okonkwo go home when he wants to?
It is interesting how many rituals, structures, and rules are connected to this meal. Including these details connected to the theme of tradition. Watch this video on theme, and keep watching for signs of tradition and how it comes into conflict with social change. (This annotation contains a video)
Quiz, Part II
The word irreparable means _________.
It is nteresting that Okonkwo's favorite child, Ezinma, has become moody and angry like he has. This may show that their characters will have similar outcomes.
Umuofia seems to have been colonized by these outsiders. How does Okonkwo feel about his people's reaction to this colonization?
Here, we see an acknowledgement of how these white people came to seize control of Umuofia, and we also see a connection to the title. "He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart."
Why was Mr. Brown respected in the community?
Quickly, a structure gets set up where modernity takes over and tradition cannot hold on anymore.
Why is Okonkwo's return to Umuofia barely noticed?
Here is another use of a story or saying to teach a lesson about Umuofia. Mr. Smith is getting frustrated and so the situation is intensifying. (This annotation contains an image)
What did the unmasking of an egwugwu symbolize to the members of Umuofia?
This is what the bad of egwugwu might look like. (This annotation contains an image)
Pacified means _____________.
Here, we see the conflict of this new system of justice and Umuofia's system of justice. The legitimacy, or rights, of the egwugwu to give out punishments is in question, but the Queen's government is not questioned.
What does the government threaten to do to Okonkwo and the other leaders of Umuofia?
Not only is the government cruel, it is corrupt.
Why do you think Okonkwo is now excited?
Just like when the men went to the courthouse, they are carrying their weapons. This repeated image is a bad sign, since last time they brought out their weapons it ended badly. (This annotation contains an image)
"Umuofia kwenu!" has become a symbol of __________.
Here Okonkwo murders a messenger of the court and realizes, chillingly, that he is alone. Instead of going to war with the white men, as he had hoped, his people view him as a crazy man or murderer. Everything has fallen apart.
This line is especially hurtful: the love of language, stories, and "superfluous" words is one of the prides of the Ibo people. This insult cuts deep and shows us the profound disrespect these men have for Ibo culture.
Who does Obierika hold responsible for Okonkwo's death?
Quiz: Part III