Things Fall Apart Summary

Overview

Summary of the Novel
Things Fall Apart is a story told by a skillful storyteller. The novel attempts to recreate the social, cultural, and religious fabric of traditional Igbo life between 1850 and the early 1900s. However, the novel cannot be interpreted as an accurate social and political history of the Igbo people, because it is a work of fiction. Nevertheless, the novel depicts conflicts and tensions within Igbo society as well as changes introduced by colonial rule and Christianity. The novel is structured in three parts. Part One depicts life in pre colonial Igboland. Part Two relates the arrival of the Europeans and the introduction of Christianity, and Part Three recounts the beginning of systematic colonial control in eastern Nigeria. Okonkwo, the protagonist, is a talented but inflexible Igbo who struggles to achieve success in the traditional world.

The setting of Part One is Umuofia, a union of nine villages. Okonkwo is introduced as a great wrestler, a renowned warrior, and a hardworking member of the community. He has amassed two barns filled with yams, three wives, many children, and two titles. His goal is to move through the traditional Igbo title taking system by balancing personal achievement and community service. However, although Okonkwo feels he is destined for greatness, his chi, or the god-force within him, does not seem destined for greatness.

Okonkwo seeks to overpower his mediocre chi by working hard. He is profoundly afraid of failure. As a result, he is unable to balance the feminine energy of love with the masculine energy of material success. Okonkwo often suppresses his feminine side as he pursues his goals and angers the Earth goddess Ani. His rage, inflexibility, and fear of appearing weak like his lazy father, the musician Unoka, consistently overshadow his respect for his community.

When a daughter of Umuofia is killed by the neighboring village of Mbaino, a young boy named Ikemefuna is given to Umuofia in order to avoid war. Okonkwo adopts the boy and seems to admire him, for Ikemefuna is both a talented musician and a great hunter. He is also a brother and role model for Okonkwo’s eldest son Nwoye, who appears to be lazy. Ikemefuna lives with Okonkwo for three years until the Oracle of the Hills and Caves demands his life. Ogbuefi Ezeudu, the oldest man in the village, advises Okonkwo not to take part in the ritual killing of the boy. Although Okonkwo loves Ikemefuna, he does not want to appear weak. He joins the ceremony and kills Ikemefuna. Okonkwo’s action ultimately shatters his relationship with his sensitive son, Nwoye.

Okonkwo is both affectionate and violent with his family. He loves his daughter Ezinma, who is an ogbanje, or a changeling child who seems to die continually only to return to her mother’s womb to be reborn and die again. In an attempt to break the power of the ogbanje, Okonkwo follows his wife Ekwefi, the priestess Chielo, and his daughter Ezinma on a journey to the oracle Agbala. Okonkwo also assists a medicine man locate and destroy his daughter’s iyi uwa, or the sacred stone that links the child with the spirit world. However, Okonkwo also has a dark and dangerous side, for he controls his family through anger. In bouts of rage, he beats his youngest wife, Ojiugo, for neglecting to cook dinner and braiding her hair instead during the Week of Peace. He also takes a shot at Ekwefi with a rusty gun during the Yam Festival.

Okonkwo’s immoral actions affect the community. During the funeral rite for the elder Ezeudu, Okonkwo’s gun accidentally explodes, killing Ezeudu’s son. Okonkwo’s crimes enrage the Earth Goddess Ani, for he has consciously and unconsciously chosen death by beating his wife, killing Ikemefuna, and now, killing Ezeudu’s son. His irrational actions are destroying the moral fabric of traditional life. Therefore, Ani banishes Okonkwo to Mbanta, his mother’s village, for seven years.

Part Two of the novel takes place while Okonkwo is in exile in Mbanta. Okonkwo flees to his mother’s village and takes refuge with the feminine principal represented by the Earth goddess. He is given time to learn the supremacy of a mother’s nurturing love. However, Okonkwo’s goals never change. He works hard to amass wealth through the production of yams, and he dreams of returning to Umuofia to become a judicial leader in the clan. While Okonkwo single-mindedly labors in Mbanta, the Europeans arrive in Igboland. His friend Obierika visits him twice with news of the political and social upheaval. Abame, one of the villages in the union of Umuofia, is razed by the British. Christianity, a new religion, is attracting the marginal members of the Igbo community. The disenfranchised among the Igbo include the anguished mothers of twins who are forced to discard their children in the Evil Forest, the osu, who are despised descendants of religious slave cults, and unsuccessful men who do not earn titles or achieve status in the traditional world. The new Christian converts include Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye.

In Part Three, Okonkwo returns from exile in Mbanta to a tense and radically changed Umuofia. At this point, a colonial government is taking root, the palm-oil trade is transforming the economy, and Christianity is dividing the Igbo people. Tensions escalate at the annual worship of the Earth goddess when the zealous Christian convert Enoch unmasks an egwugwu, a masquerader representing an ancestral spirit. His apostasy kills the spirit, unmasks the traditional religion, and throws Umuofia into confusion. Other egwugwu, who are actually Igbo men masked as ancestors, are enraged and retaliate. They raze Enoch’s compound to the ground and burn the new Christian church. Okonkwo and other village leaders are subsequently jailed and whipped by order of the District Commissioner. After paying a fine, the humiliated Igbo are released from prison.

The traditional Igbo gather to mourn the abominations suffered by the ancient gods, the ancestors, and the entire Igbo community. They decry the new religion, which has pitted Igbo against Igbo. When colonial officials arrive to disperse the crowd, Okonkwo blocks them. He draws his machete and decapitates the court messenger. Okonkwo marshals no support; however, for the divided Igbo community fails to rise in defense of traditional life. Okonkwo has no recourse. He retreats and hangs himself from a tree.

Okonkwo fails to achieve immortality according to Igbo tradition. Only strangers may touch him now, for he has committed suicide, the ultimate offense against the Earth goddess. Okonkwo does not even merit a simple burial among his own people. In the final denouement, a perplexed District Commissioner orders members of the Igbo community to appear in court with Okonkwo’s corpse. The commissioner decides to allot the tragedy of Okonkwo a paragraph in his anthropological study of the Igbo, which he has cruelly entitled “The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.” (p. 148)

Although the novel represents Igboland in the 1890s, it is crucial for the reader to remember that Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart in 1958, at the dawn of Nigerian independence. Achebe writes from a realistic third person point of view and questions assumptions about civilization, culture, and literature. Proverbs, folk tales, myths, and portraits of rituals and festivals support the basic plot line and paint a picture of Igbo life. In Morning Yet on Creation Day, Achebe explains his desire to show that precolonial Africa was “not one long nightmare of savagery.” (p. 45) Overall, Achebe succeeds in presenting Igbo society as an organic whole and providing a window into the heart of Africa.

The Life and Work of Chinua Achebe
Chinua Achebe is one of Africa’s most influential writers. Things Fall Apart, Achebe’s first novel, was published in 1958, just before Nigeria gained independence. The title of the novel echoes W. B. Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming,” which describes history as a succession of gyres, or spirals. Achebe applies the image to Africa as the nineteenth century traditional world of the Igbo people gives way to the colonial forces of the twentieth century.

Things Fall Apart is based upon Achebe’s life experience. Born in 1930, Chinua Achebe spent his early childhood in Ogidi, Nigeria, a large village near the famous marketplace of Onitsha. Achebe was a child of both the traditional Igbo world and the colonial Christian world, because his father, Isaiah Achebe, worked as a catechist for the Church Missionary Society. Although Achebe spoke Igbo at home, he studied English in school. At the age of 14, he advanced to the prestigious Government College in Umuahia.

In 1948, Achebe was awarded a scholarship to study medicine at the University College in Ibadan. However, he soon refocused his program on literature, religion, and history. Achebe was repelled by the fundamental racism of colonial classics such as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Joyce Cary’s Mister Johnson. These novels depicted a savage Africa that was humanized only through European colonialism. In reaction, Achebe expanded his own understanding of the Igbo world with a study of oral accounts and written colonial records; he also published his first essays, editorials, and short stories as the student editor of the University Herald.

After graduation, Achebe taught for a brief period. In 1954, he took a position with the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, and from 1961–1966, he served as the director of external broadcasting. As Nigeria moved toward independence, Achebe’s radio programs helped shape a national identity. During this time, Achebe also wrote his first four novels and became the founding editor of Heinemann Publisher’s “African Writers Series.” Things Fall Apart was followed by No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), and A Man of the People (1966).

In 1967, Achebe supported Biafra’s secession from Nigeria and left broadcasting to pursue research at the University of Nigeria. His reflections about the civil war were published as Beware Soul Brother and Other Poems (1971) and Girls at War and Other Stories (1972). His essays were published as Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975); The Trouble with Nigeria (1983); and Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays, 1965–87 (1988). His essays have had a great influence on contemporary thought about Africa and African literature. For example, “The Novelist as Teacher” explains the role of the writer in Africa, and “The African Writer and the English Language” explains Achebe’s use of language. These essays are among his most often quoted essays, and they are included in Morning Yet on Creation Day. Achebe also coedited Don’t Let Him Die: An Anthology of Memorial Poems for Christopher Okigbo (1978), and founded Okike: An African Journal of New Writing.

Achebe has also written several children’s books, including Chike and the River (1966), The Drum (1977), and The Flute (1977). He has also edited African Short Stories (1982) and The Heinemann Book of Contemporary African Stories (1992). Finally, Achebe published his fifth novel, Anthills of the Savannah, in 1987.

In addition to his research and writing, over the past 20 years Chinua Achebe has worked as a professor of literature, the director of African Studies, and a pro vice chancellor at the University of Nigeria. He has also served as a distinguished visiting professor of literature at the University of Massachusetts, the University of Connecticut, City College of New York, and Bard College. Achebe has lectured extensively throughout Africa and the United States, and he has received numerous awards, including the Nigerian National Merit Award. Chinua Achebe has influenced many African writers through his writing and his work as the chairperson of the Society of Nigerian Authors.

Glossary

Note: The “o” in Igbo words is pronounced “aw” as in “awesome.”agadi-nwayi—an old woman

agbala—a woman, the term is an insult to a man because it implies weakness

Amadioha—the god of thunder and lightning

bride-price—a dowry paid by the groom’s parents to the bride’s parents

chi—the god-force within each person; an individual’s character, destiny, or fate

cowries—shells used as money

diala—a freeborn individual

efulefu—a worthless man

egwugwu—leaders dressed as masked spirits representing the ancestors

ekwe—a wooden drum

eneke-nti-oba—a bird

eze-agadi-nwayi—an old woman’s teeth

foo foo—a pounded yam dish

harmattan—a dry wind from the north

iba—a fever

Iguedo—Okonkwo’s village

ikenga—a wooden carving containing a man’s personal spirit

ilo—the village playground or common where meetings are held

inyanga—showing off; bragging

isa-ifi—a ceremony determining a woman’s faithfulness to her fiancé after a long separation

iyi-uwa—a sacred stone that links the ogbanje child with the spirit world

jigida—a string of waist beads

kite—a bird that arrives during the dry season

kola nuts—nuts offered to guests as a symbol of hospitality

kotma—a court man or court messenger

kwenu—a greeting

ndichie—the elders who meet in a judicial council

nna ayi—our father

nno—welcome

nso-ani—a taboo or religious offense

nza—a small bird

obi—the living quarters of the head of a family

obodo dike—the land of the brave

ochu—murder or manslaughter

ogbanje—a child who dies and returns to his/her mother’s womb to be reborn

ogene—a gong

osu—a person dedicated to a god; a slave and an outcast

otu omu—a women’s council that controls the marketplace by imposing fines on anyone who disturbs the peace

Oye—one of the four market days

ozo—one of the titles a man could achieve

palm wine—a fermented beverage made from palm tree sap

tufia—a curse

udu—a type of drum

umuada—a gathering of daughters in a family

umunna—the extended family

Umuofia—Okonkwo’s clan, consisting of nine villages

uri—part of a betrothal ceremony where the bride-price is paid

Estimated Reading Time
Things Fall Apart is approximately 150 pages long. Reading time depends upon your reading level. You will read faster as you become familiar with Chinua Achebe’s style. Thirty to thirty-five pages may be covered in an hour’s sitting. The book may be completed in approximately seven to eight hours.

Things Fall Apart Summary (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Things Fall Apart tells the tragic story of Okonkwo, a middle-aged leader of the Igbo community of Umuofia. The three parts of the novel relate Okonkwo’s struggle to attain status in his community, his humbling exile, and his return to a much-changed Umuofia after seven years.

Part 1 briefly describes Okonkwo’s childhood and his determined effort to overcome the example of his lazy and imprudent father, Unoka, and to make himself a successful and admired member of the clan. The flexibility of Igbo society permits Okonkwo to elevate himself through acts of strength, courage, and endurance. His early triumphs as a wrestler and a warrior are complemented by his success as a farmer, and in time he is able to support three wives and several children. The Umuofians show their respect for Okonkwo by naming him guardian of Ikemefuna, a fifteen-year-old boy who has been given to Umuofia by a neighboring village as payment for damages. This honor marks the high point of Okonkwo’s status in the community, for afterward, the single-minded determination that helps him succeed eventually results in his downfall.

Okonkwo is driven by an obsessive fear of failure, a reaction to the improvidence of his father. This self-imposed need to compensate makes Okonkwo an angry man whose independence and violence undercut his reputation in the community. In one incident, he disturbs a Week of Peace by brutally beating his youngest wife. In another, more disastrous incident, Okonkwo’s fear of appearing weak leads him to participate in the sacrificial murder of Ikemefuna, whom he has treated like a son for three years. When Okonkwo accidentally kills the young son of Ezeudu, his clansmen destroy his compound and exile him to live with his mother’s kinsmen in Mbanta for seven years.

Part 2 describes Okonkwo’s exile, a difficult time in which he must slowly reconstruct his life. Uchendu, Okonkwo’s uncle, reminds him of the limitations of success, the universality of suffering, and the importance of the clan as a source of comfort. Okonkwo’s growing sense of community and his first disturbing encounters with Christianity in Mbanta make him an inflexible defender of Igbo tradition. By the end of his exile, Okonkwo, who had earlier been known for his self-interest, has learned to appreciate the bonds of kinship and the comfort of speaking with one voice. Unfortunately, this newfound awareness comes after the unity of Igbo culture has already begun to break down.

Things fall apart for Okonkwo in part 3, when he returns to Umuofia that has been dramatically transformed by the active efforts of the missionaries. The new religion has divided the community, and Okonkwo senses that this change threatens his connection to his family, his culture, and his spiritual existence after death. When Nwoye, Okonkwo’s eldest son, converts to Christianity, he openly repudiates his father, ironically paralleling Okonkwo;s own earlier rejection of Unoka. This filial betrayal separates Okonkwo from his lineage. When Enoch, another young convert to Christianity, unmasks an egwugwu in public, thereby killing the ancestral spirit and disrupting the community’s religion, Okonkwo leads the destruction of Enoch’s compound and the missionaries’ church. Okonkwo and five other elders are briefly jailed by the District Commissioner as punishment, and Okonkwo is humiliated that Umuofia does not rise in their support. he realizes that he alone refuses accommodation and that Umuofia will not go to war against the white man, so in a final desperate and defiant act, he murders the chief messenger sent by the District Commissioner and then hangs himself.

Things Fall Apart Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Achebe’s title from William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming” invokes an ironic, apocalyptic vision warning of a new order from Africa that will destroy the status quo; thus, the novel describes the European destruction of Igbo culture but suggests a potential future shift of power reinvigorating Africa, a theme in Achebe’s later work Home and Exile. Things Fall Apart disproves white stereotypes of Igbo as primitive savages, amoral and unsophisticated, and asserts the viability of preconquest Igbo culture through the tragic story of Okonkwo and his village. A warrior determined to counter the reputation of his lazy imprudent father, Okonkwo wins community respect and titles for his hard work, public service, and martial courage. However, this hero, like William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, is flawed. His obsessive fear of repeating his father’s failures drives him to extremes in a culture proud of its balance. Humorless and short-tempered, he beats his wife in the Week of Peace, alienates his son with reprimands, joins the ritual killing of a boy he considers a son just to appear manly, and accidentally shoots a youth, resulting in his seven-year banishment to his mother’s village.

This period of separation distances him from the communal life of Umuofia, so while still ambitious after his return, he now appreciates the bonds of kinship and the comfort of a community speaking with one voice. Unfortunately, he fails to understand the inroads the British have made on his community. Christianity in particular divides families and undermines traditional systems of government, justice, and religion. His eldest son’s conversion to Christianity separates Okonkwo from his lineage, and when another convert desecrates a traditional totem, Okonkwo leads the Umuofians in destroying the missionaries’ church. Like Okonkwo, the Umuofians face separation from their past and a future requiring difficult compromises; yet Achebe carefully shows that the decentralized structure of Igbo society allows for such change.

Okonkwo, personally unwilling to adapt to cultural change and believing that his fellow Umuofians will wage war against the whites who have insulted their representatives, murders the district commissioner’s messenger. However, the village understands that this act will bring retaliation, possibly the deaths of everyone in the village, as happened to neighboring Abame. At the end of the novel, Okonkwo proves his worth and restores balance to his life and to his village by committing a womanly act, suicide, that renounces everything he has stood for but protects his people. His friend, Obierta, calls Okonkwo the best man among them, for he has given up his place in the memories of his people so they will not suffer from his act. He is an exceptional individual whose final act both restores him to his clan and forever alienates him from it. Okonkwo’s Christlike sacrifice confirms that Umuofia is a living culture capable of adapting to meet new challenges.

The central theme of all Achebe’s novels is the tragedy created by the British contempt for African religion, law, culture, and people, yet Igbo accommodation to change remains a survival mechanism enabling Africans to endure untold hardships. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe effectively refutes European stereotypes of African culture, offering instead a complex, fluid portrait of Igbo culture as essentially democratic, pluralistic, tolerant, and community-centered. It is, however, a society whose acceptance of difference within its community assured dramatic future change after English hegemony.

Things Fall Apart Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Okonkwo’s father is cowardly, foolish, and poor in his life, an outcast at his death. When his father dies, Okonkwo, on the other hand, though still a young man, has three wives, two barns full of yams, two of his people’s titles, and a reputation as the strongest wrestler and the bravest warrior in the nine villages of Umuofia. Okonkwo takes great pride in these accomplishments, sometimes forgetting the assistance of his personal god, or chi, and of the man from whom he borrowed yams to start his own farm.

Despite his accomplishments, Okonkwo fears being seen as like his father. One of his great disappointments is his eldest son, Nwoye, who seems to inherit Okonkwo’s father’s weakness. Nwoye dislikes the men’s stories of war, preferring his mother’s childish stories. Okonkwo, who has a quick temper, often tries to beat these behaviors out of Nwoye.

A change happens when the village leaders put under Okonkwo’s care a Mbaino boy named Ikemefuna. Ikemefuna comes to Okonkwo’s village because the Mbainos killed a Umuofian woman; eventually the boy is to be killed in retribution. While living in Okonkwo’s compound, Ikemefuna exerts a good influence on Nwoye and wins the affection of everyone, including Okonkwo.

During Ikemefuna’s stay, the village observes the sacred Week of Peace that always precedes planting season. Violence is strictly forbidden for that week. Nonetheless, Okonkwo, in a fit of anger, severely beats his youngest wife. This angers the earth goddess. As punishment Okonkwo pays a fine. He repents inwardly but does not admit his error outwardly, and so it is said that he lacks respect for the clan gods.

Three years after Ikemefuna’s arrival, the village council decides it is time for him to be killed. The oldest man in the village warns Okonkwo not to take part, because Ikemefuna is like a son to Okonkwo. Okonkwo, fearful of appearing weak, not only attends Ikemefuna’s killing but also deals his death blow. This act disturbs Okonkwo afterward, which puzzles him, because he followed his people’s practice. Nwoye, who greatly loved Ikemefuna, resents his father’s action bitterly. Later, Okonkwo confronts his friend Obereika, who did not take part in the killing. Obereika says that although the oracle said the boy had to die, it did not compel a man to take part.

Shortly, the elder who advised Okonkwo to stay away from Ikemefuna’s execution dies. At his funeral rites, as the cannons and guns sound, there is a sudden silence in the dancing crowd. Okonkwo’s gun mysteriously explodes and kills the dead man’s son. Guilty of another crime against the earth goddess, Okonkwo and his family are banished to his motherland for seven years. No longer can he hope to become a lord of the clan of his fathers, Okonkwo laments. His chi does not affirm his plans.

While exiled, Okonkwo maintains his material wealth with the assistance of his kinsmen and Obereika. Changes are happening, chief among them the arrival of white missionaries and governing officials. After some initial confusion and severe punishment for violence against the newcomers, there comes a time of peaceful coexistence. Some Umuofians are converted by the missionaries, and among them is Nwoye. He is attracted by the new religion’s criticism of such Umuofian practices as killing an innocent boy like Ikemefuna and throwing newborn twins into the Evil Forest to die. Learning of Nwoye’s conversion, Okonkwo beats him and banishes him from the family compound.

After seven years, Okonkwo returns to his fatherland with plans for regaining his former status and for leading his people in a war against the newcomers before they destroy Umuofia. Obereika says that by converting native people and employing them in government posts, the newcomers already inserted a “knife” into their community. The people have already fallen “part.”

Okonkwo’s opportunity to incite his people comes when a native convert desecrates a Umuofian ceremony. Okonkwo rejoices as his people take revenge by tearing down the missionaries’ church building. Government officials, however, soon capture Okonkwo and the other leaders, punishing them cruelly.

Once their leaders are released, the people gather to determine whether to respond with conciliation or with war. A Umuofian who works for the new government arrives and orders the meeting stopped. Angered, Okonkwo kills him, and, fearful, the people disband. The officials who come to arrest Okonkwo are led to the place where he hung himself. Suicide is against the Umuofian tradition; Okonkwo is buried as an outcast.

Things Fall Apart Chapter Summary and Analysis

Part One, Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Okonkwo: famous in the nine villages of Umuofia for his personal achievements

Amalinze: the Cat; the greatest wrestler in Umuofia

Unoka: Okonkwo’s father; he is a lazy debtor

Okoye: Unoka’s neighbor who attempts to collect a debt

Ikemefuna: a young boy who is given to Umuofia by a rival village

Summary
Okonkwo is a man of great personal achievements. After he threw the great wrestler Amalinze the Cat, at the age of 18, his fame spread. He is a wealthy farmer with three wives, many children, two barns full of yams, and two titles. He has also proven his prowess in two intertribal wars. Because he is so well respected, Okonkwo is...

(The entire section is 689 words.)

Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Ogbuefi Ezeugo: a powerful orator who accuses Mbaino of murder

Ogbuefi Udo: a man of Umuofia; his wife is murdered by the people of Mbaino

Nwoye: Okonkwo’s 12-year-old son, who appears to be lazy

Summary
The ogene, a kind of gong, pierces the night in Umuofia. Umuofia is a community of nine Igbo villages related to one another in political matters. Every man is called to meet at the marketplace where Ogbuefi Ezeugo, a powerful orator, shouts the greeting “Umuofia kwenu,” and 10,000 men respond “Yaa.” In anger he explains that the wife of Ogbuefi Udo has been murdered in Mbaino, a rival village. An ultimatum is given to the...

(The entire section is 485 words.)

Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Agbala: Oracle of the Hills and Caves; a kind of god

Chika: the priestess to Agbala in Unoka’s time

Ani: the Earth goddess; the owner of the land

Ifejioku: the god of yams

Nwakibie: a successful man who has taken all the titles except one in the clan

Anasi: one of Nwakibie’s wives

Ogbuefi Idigo: a villager at Nwakibie’s homestead

Obiako: a palm-wine tapper who suddenly gives up his work

Akukalia: a villager at Nwakibie’s homestead

Igwelo: Nwakibie’s elder son

Summary
People like Unoka consult Agbala, the Oracle of the Hills and Caves, during times of misfortune....

(The entire section is 703 words.)

Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Osugo: a man who has taken no titles

Ojiugo: Okonkwo’s youngest wife

Ezeani: Ani’s priest

Ogbuefi Ezeudu: oldest man in the village

Nwayieke: old woman who lives near the udala tree

Summary
Okonkwo is successful because he works hard. However, he is rude to unsuccessful men. For example, he calls Osugo a woman because he has not taken any titles. Okonkwo continues to rule his family with an iron hand. Ikemefuna, the hostage from Mbaino, has stayed with Okonkwo for three years. Nwoye’s mother, Okonkwo’s first wife, is kind to the boy and treats him as one of her own children. Ikemefuna gradually overcomes his fear and...

(The entire section is 732 words.)

Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Ekwefi: Okonkwo’s second wife

Ezinma: Okonkwo’s daughter of his second wife; Ekwefi’s only daughter

Obiageli: Okonkwo’s daughter of his first wife; Nwoye’s sister

Nkechi: Okonkwo’s daughter of his third wife

Summary
The Feast of the New Yam is a big event. It is held every year before the harvest to honor the ancestral spirits and Ani. Ani is the most important deity in Igbo cosmology because she is the source of all fertility. In addition to playing an active role in the daily lives of the people, she judges morality and conduct.

Okonkwo is edgy as his family prepares for the feast because he would rather be working in...

(The entire section is 846 words.)

Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Maduka: the son of Obierika

Chielo: a priestess of Agbala

Okafo: a wrestler

Ikezue: a wrestler

Summary
The whole village turns out for the wrestling match involving the nine villages of Umuofia. The drummers face the elders and a huge circle of spectators. There are seven drums arranged according to size in a long wooden basket. Three men beat the drums feverishly as if they are possessed by the spirits of the drums. Several young men keep order by beating the crowd back with palm branches. Finally, the two wrestling teams dance into the circle. The younger boys wrestle first, and the crowd roars as the third boy throws his opponent. Maduka,...

(The entire section is 548 words.)

Chapter 7 Summary and Analysis

Summary
The elders seemed to have forgotten about Ikemefuna, who has been living in Okonkwo’s household for three years. Ikemefuna is a positive influence on Nwoye. He is described as a yam tendril in the rainy season. Ikemefuna and Nwoye listen to Okonkwo’s stories about war and violence. Nwoye remembers the stories his mother used to tell of the tortoise, the bird eneke-nti-oba, and the quarrel between Earth and Sky. Nwoye knows his father wants him to be a man, so he pretends he does not like women’s stories.

Ogbuefi Ezeudu, the oldest man in the village tells Okonkwo that Umuofia has decided to kill Ikemefuna because the Oracle of Hills and Caves has pronounced the boy’s death. However,...

(The entire section is 720 words.)

Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Obierika: Okonkwo’s friend and confidant

Ofoedu: a villager who comes with a message

Ogbuefi Ndulue: the oldest man in Ire

Ozoemena: Ogbuefi Ndulue’s first wife

Akueke: Obierika’s daughter

Obidrika: a brother of Obierika

Machi: the eldest brother of Obierika

Dimaragana: a man who would not lend his knife for cutting up a dog

Umezulike: a man who taps Okonkwo’s palm trees

Ibe: a young suitor of Akueke

Ukegbu: the father of Ibe

Amadi: a leper who often passes by Obierika’s compound

Summary
Okonkwo does not eat for two days after...

(The entire section is 1008 words.)

Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Okagbue Uyanwa: a famous medicine man

Summary
Okonkwo finally sleeps. He questions his uneasiness about killing Ikemefuna. As a mosquito buzzes in his ear, he remembers a story his mother used to tell him. When Mosquito asked Ear to marry him, she fell on the floor laughing. Ear thought Mosquito looked like a skeleton and insinuated that he would not live much longer. Mosquito was humiliated. To this day, any time Mosquito passes by, he tells Ear that he is still alive. Later in the chapter, Ekwefi tells Ezinma another story. The snake-lizard gave his mother seven baskets of raw vegetables to cook; they yielded three baskets of cooked vegetables. As a result, the snake-lizard...

(The entire section is 722 words.)

Chapter 10 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Mgbafo: a woman who is beaten by her husband

Odukwe: Mgbafo’s eldest brother

Uzowulu: Mgbafo’s husband

Summary
Trials are held in the center of Umuofia. Only the men participate; the women observe as outsiders. The titled elders sit on stools, and a powerful gong sounds. The people hear the terrifying, guttural voices of the egwugwu, or the nine masked spirits of the clan. Each egwugwu represents one of the villages in Umuofia. The leader is named Evil Forest; he is the eldest egwugwu, and smoke pours out of his head. All the other egwugwu sit in order of seniority after him. He looks terrible. His body is made of smoked raffia,...

(The entire section is 752 words.)

Chapter 11 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Nwayieke: woman who is notorious for her late cooking

Anene: Ekwefi’s first husband

Summary
Ekwefi tells Ezinma a story about the Tortoise. It was a time of famine, and all the birds were invited to a feast in the sky. Tortoise, a great orator, convinced the birds to take him along. He told them to select new names for the feast. Tortoise took the name “All of you.” The men in the sky thought Tortoise was the king of the birds and declared they had prepared the feast for “all of you.” Since that was Tortoise’s new name, he ate the best portions of food and drank two pots of palm wine. The birds ate the leftovers. They were very angry and left Tortoise in...

(The entire section is 681 words.)

Chapter 12 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Nwankwo: a man in Obierika’s household who is sent to buy a goat

Mgbogo: a woman who is home with a fever

Udenkwo: a woman who is home with her infant

Ezelagbo: a woman whose husband’s cow is let loose

Summary
Okonkwo has not slept during the night because he is worried and anxious. However, he does not show his feelings. He has gone to the shrine, but he realizes that Chielo has traveled through the nine villages. He waits at home and returns to the shrine four times. Finally, he finds Ekwefi. While he waits with her, Chielo crawls out of the shrine on her belly like a snake. Ezinma is sleeping on her back. The priestess does not look at...

(The entire section is 664 words.)

Chapter 13 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Ezeudu, one of the oldest men in the clan, is dead. The last time Ezeudu visited Okonkwo, he told him not to participate in Ikemefuna’s death because the boy called him father. Ezeudu was a great man, and he is given a warrior’s funeral. The drums of death are beaten, and the guns are fired. Warriors painted with chalk and charcoal assemble in age groups wearing smoked raffia shirts. Several ancestral spirits or egwugwu appear from the underworld speaking in unearthly voices. Some egwugwu, like Evil Spirit, are violent and have to be restrained. There is another dreaded egwugwu who is always alone. He is shaped like a coffin; a sickly odor hangs in the air, and flies travel with him....

(The entire section is 1120 words.)

Part Two, Chapter 14 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Uchendu: Okonkwo’s uncle; his mother’s brother

Amikwu: the youngest of Uchendu’s five sons

Njide: Uchendu’s eldest daughter

Akeuni: Uchendu’s daughter who has borne and thrown away many twins

Summary
Part Two takes place in Mbanta, the home of Okonkwo’s mother. Okonkwo’s crime of killing Ezeudu’s son is involuntary manslaughter, a female ochu. Okonkwo is banished by Ani, the Earth goddess, to Mbanta for seven years. Uchendu, Okonkwo’s mother’s brother, arranges the rites of purification. Okonkwo is given land for his homestead and farm. He works hard, but work no longer holds any pleasure for him. The passion to become one...

(The entire section is 797 words.)

Chapter 15 Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Nweke: a young man who accompanies Obierika

Summary
Two years after Okonkwo’s banishment to Mbanta, his friend Obierika comes to visit him. He is accompanied by two young men carrying heavy bags of cowries. Obierika tells Okonkwo that the clan of Abame has been wiped out. Fugitives from Abame explained that a white man appeared. The Oracle explained that the strange man would break their clan and spread destruction among them. The Igbos of Abame killed the white man and tied his iron horse to a sacred tree. He said a word that resembled Mbaino. Perhaps he had been traveling to Mbaino and lost his way. Sometime later, three white men led by a band of ordinary men like the Igbo...

(The entire section is 585 words.)

Chapter 16 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Two years later, Obierika visits Okonkwo again. He has seen Nwoye among the missionaries in Umuofia. They have built a church and won a handful of converts. The converts are considered to be efulefu, or worthless men, by the Igbo community. The missionaries have also come to Mbanta. One is a white man who speaks through an interpreter. He preaches about a new God, the Creator of all the world. He says this God judges the dead. Good men who worship the true God live forever. Evil men who worship wood and stone are thrown into an eternal fire.

An old man asks if the Christian God is the goddess of the Earth, the god of the sky, or Amadiora. He asks about protection from the anger of the neglected gods...

(The entire section is 630 words.)

Chapter 17 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Mr. Kiaga: Igbo interpreter for the missionaries

Nneka: the wife of the prosperous farmer Amadi

Summary
When the Christians ask the Igbo for a plot of land to build a church, the elders offer them the Evil Forest, which is filled with sinister forces. The Igbos know the gods and ancestors of Mbanta have a limit; they expected the missionaries to be punished by the seventh market week. However, the missionaries live on, and they build a new house for their teacher, Mr. Kiaga.

Nwoye is secretly interested in the new faith, and he listens when the missionaries preach in the open marketplace. He learns some of the simple stories. Mr. Kiaga tells the people to...

(The entire section is 599 words.)

Chapter 18 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Okeke: a man in Mbanta; interpreter for Mr. Smith

Mr. Brown: the white missionary

Okoli: a convert who kills the sacred python

Summary
The clan is not too worried about the church. The Christians rescue twins from the bush but never bring them to the village. Some converts are beaten after boasting that the Igbo gods are dead. Otherwise, there is little interaction between the church and the clan. Mr. Kiaga is quite harmless, and anyone who kills a convert will be forced into exile. If the Christians become more troublesome, they will simply be driven out of the clan.

The little church is absorbed in its own troubles. The Christians protest...

(The entire section is 847 words.)

Chapter 19 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Unachukwu: an old man in Okonkwo’s mother’s clan

Emefo: an old man in Okonkwo’s mother’s clan

Summary
Okonkwo’s exile drags to an end. Even though he prospered in Mbanta, Okonkwo is still bitter; he would have prospered more in Umuofia. In seven years he would have climbed to great heights. Nevertheless, his mother’s kinsmen have been very kind to him. He calls the first child born to him in Mbanta Nneka, or “Mother is Supreme.” However, two years later he calls his newborn son Nwofia, which means “Begotten in the Wilderness.” During his last year in exile, Okonkwo asks Obierika to build him two houses in Umuofia; he will construct the rest of his...

(The entire section is 662 words.)

Part Three, Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Ogbuefi Ugonna: a man who has taken two titles and joined the Christian church

Oduche: a man who dies over a land controversy

Aneto: a man who kills Oduche and is hanged by the white authorities

Summary
Seven years is a long time to be away. Okonkwo has lost his place among the nine masked spirits who administer justice in the clan; he has also lost his chance to lead his people against the new religion. Furthermore, Okonkwo has lost time during which he could have taken the highest titles. He is determined to return to Umuofia with a flourish and regain the seven years he has wasted. Therefore, he decides to build a magnificent compound and initiate his...

(The entire section is 818 words.)

Chapter 21 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Enoch: a zealous convert; his father is a priest of the snake cult

Akunna: one of the great men of the village

Summary
Okonkwo hates the white man. However, some Igbos are happy because even though the white man has brought a lunatic religion, he has also brought a trading store. The economy is booming due to the trade in palm oil.

Mr. Brown, the white missionary, is very gentle. He restrains the Christians from provoking the clan and preaches against the kind of excess zeal demonstrated by Enoch, who has killed and eaten a sacred python. The clan has given Mr. Brown a carved elephant tusk as a sign of respect. Akunna, a great man, sends his son to Mr....

(The entire section is 796 words.)

Chapter 22 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Reverend James Smith: Mr. Brown’s successor

Okeke: Mr. Smith’s interpreter

Ajofia: the leading egwugwu of Umuofia

Summary
Reverend Smith openly condemns Mr. Brown’s policy of compromise, and he suspends a woman from the church who has allowed her heathen husband to mutilate her dead ogbanje child. Overzealous converts who smarted under Mr. Brown now flourish. Enoch, the son of the snake priest who is believed to have eaten the sacred python, sparks a great conflict between the church and clan in Umuofia. At the annual ceremony for the Earth goddess, the ancestors of the clan emerge as egwugwuthrough tiny antholes. Christian...

(The entire section is 861 words.)

Chapter 23 Summary and Analysis

Summary
For the first time in many years Okonkwo feels happy. Things seem to be getting back to normal. The clan that had turned false appears to be making amends. He speaks about violence, and his clansmen listen with respect. It is like the good old days when a warrior was a warrior. The clansmen do not agree to drive away the Christians, but they do agree to do something substantial. Nothing happens for two days after the destruction of the church. Yet, the men of Umuofia are armed because they do not want to be caught unaware like the men of Abame. The District Commissioner finally sends a sweet-talking messenger to the leaders of Umuofia asking them to meet in his headquarters. That is not strange; he often...

(The entire section is 807 words.)

Chapter 24 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Egonwanne: a coward who moves the men of Umuofia to impotence

Okika: the first man to speak, one of those imprisoned

Onyeka: the man who salutes Umuofia first

Summary
The leaders are released by the District Commissioner, who speaks about the Queen of England, peace, and the colonial government. The Igbo trudge home silently. Okonkwo’s friends and family see the marks on his back where he has been whipped. Okonkwo swears vengeance on the white man’s court. If Umuofia does not go to war, he will avenge himself. Okonkwo remembers the noblest war of the past, which was against Isike. Okudo was alive then; he was not a fighter, but his song turned every...

(The entire section is 1058 words.)

Chapter 25 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Some of the men of Umuofia are sitting in Okonkwo’s obi when the District Commissioner arrives. They tell him that Okonkwo is not present. The commissioner becomes angry and he says he will lock them all up if they do not produce Okonkwo. Obierika says they will take him to Okonkwo; perhaps the commissioner will be able to help them. The commissioner is annoyed at the way the Igbo use superfluous words. The District Commissioner is armed, and he warns Obierika that he and his men will be shot if he pulls any tricks.

The men lead the commissioner into a small bush behind Okonkwo’s compound. They come to the tree from which Okonkwo’s body is hanging. Obierika explains that perhaps the...

(The entire section is 877 words.)