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.
A distinctive culture known as Igbo (or Ibo) evolved in West Africa about 5,000 years ago. In the traditional worldview, the Creator God Chukwu was a remote masculine force who taught the people to survive through the cultivation of yams. The yam stood as an indicator of wealth and a type of currency. The masculine Chukwu was balanced by the Earth goddess Ani, or Mother Nature. The feminine Ani was closer to humankind than Chukwu, for she functioned as the goddess of fertility and the judge of morality.
These great masculine and feminine creative forces were augmented by localized deities, spirits, and oracles that were institutionalized by various Igbo communities. Each oracle spoke through a priest or priestess and served as a medium through which the divine was understood. The Igbo further personified the power of God in the concept of the chi. The chi was the personalized god force or invisible power of fate that guided each individual through life. It was the finely tuned chi that simultaneously controlled a person’s fortunes yet allowed the individual freedom to work creatively toward success or failure.
Political organizations and beliefs differed among the various groups of Igbo people. Historically, many Igbo villages were representative democracies bound to a group of villages by the decisions of a general assembly. The local life of each village was shaped by age grade associations, title making societies, work associations, religious fraternities, and secret societies. Men and women attempted to achieve prestige and status by accumulating wealth, which was used to purchase titles. Title holding leaders influenced the village assembly, came to decisions through consensus, made new laws, and administered justice.
Early on, the Igbo people developed relationships with European traders and missionaries. In 1472, the Portuguese arrived in Igboland in an attempt to discover a sea route to India; in 1508, the Portuguese transported the first West African slaves to the West Indies. The slave trade flourished for three centuries; however, the Igbo also traded copper rods, iron bars, and cowrie shells with the Portuguese and the Dutch over the next two centuries. The slave trade was abolished in 1807, and the Igbo began to trade palm oil with the British. The Anglican Church Missionary Society established a mission in Onitsha in 1857; later the Roman Catholic Holy Ghost Fathers and Society of African Missions set up stations east and west of the Niger River.
Friendly relations with Britain crumbled after 1875. Although Igboland had functioned as a British trade colony for decades, it was not formally declared a British Protectorate until 1900. In order to “pacify” Eastern Nigeria, the British destroyed much of Igboland and launched extensive military expeditions in 1914. Despite resistance, by 1928 Igbo men were forced to pay taxes, and British colonialism took hold.
During the colonial era, British officials sought to govern hundreds of decentralized Igbo villages clustered in various political constructs through a system of indirect rule. Igbo institutions were replaced with a native court system that was administered by appointed warrant chiefs, district officers, court clerks, and messengers who held no traditional status in the village. The Igbo resisted the corruption of the native court system, the destruction of indigenous political life, and increased taxation. The resistance culminated in the Women’s War of 1929–1930. Women throughout Nigeria demanded social reforms, respect for Igbo customs, and women’s rights. In the final analysis, their action forced the British to restructure Eastern Nigeria to comply more closely with traditional village organization.
In 1952, a regional government was set up which paved the way for independence. After decades of resistance, Nigeria finally gained independence from Britain in 1960. However, the new nation contained many ethnic groups, including the Hausa and the Yoruba people. The eastern region of Nigeria was inhabited by the Igbo. This area, which was later known as Biafra, unsuccessfully sought independence from Nigeria during the devastating civil war of 1966–1969.
Things Fall Apart depicts the tensions within traditional Igbo society at the end of the nineteenth century and the cataclysmic changes introduced by colonialism and Christianity in the twentieth century. Chinua Achebe writes in English; however, in order to recreate the cultural milieu of the Igbo people, he “Africanizes” the language of the novel. Specific Igbo words and complicated names are used freely. Profound philosophical concepts such as chi and ogbanje are explained in the text or glossary and are fundamental to the story. The use of idioms and proverbs also clarifies the conflict, expresses different points of view, and instructs the characters as well as the reader. Things Fall Apart has been translated into 30 languages and has sold 8 million copies. The novel is internationally acclaimed, has become a classic of African literature, and has served as a seminal text for postcolonial literature around the world.
Master List of Major Characters
Okonkwo—the protagonist; a strong, proud, hardworking Igbo
Obierika—Okonkwo’s confidant; he refuses to participate in killing Ikemefuna
Ikemefuna—a boy taken from Mbaino as a compensation for murder
Ani—the Earth goddess who calls for Ikemefuna’s death
Unoka—Okonkwo’s father; he loves to play the flute and appears to be lazy
Nwoye—Okonkwo’s eldest son; he takes the Christian name Isaac
Ekwefi—Okonkwo’s second wife; mother of Ezinma
Ezinma—Ekwefi’s only daughter
Agbala—Oracle of the Hills and Caves
Chielo—Agbala’s priestess; she is a widow with two children
Nwoye’s mother—Okonkwo’s first wife; she is very strong
Ojiugo—Okonkwo’s youngest wife, who is beaten during the Week of Peace
Uchendu—Okonkwo’s uncle; his mother’s brother and the elder in Mbanta
Ezeudu (Ogbuefi Ezeudu)—an elder and a friend of Okonkwo
Nwakibie—an important man in Umuofia; he helps Okonkwo begin his farm
Ndulue—a respected elder who dies shortly before his beloved wife Ozoemena
Ozoemena—Ndulue’s wife; she dies shortly after her husband
Mr. Brown—a European missionary based in Umuofia
Mr. Kiaga—an Igbo missionary in charge of the congregation in Mbanta
Mr. Smith—a zealous, rigid missionary who takes over for Mr. Brown
District Commissioner—the British official in charge of Igboland
Enoch—a zealous Christian
Okoli—a convert to Christianity who kills the sacred python and dies
Chukwu—the supreme Creator God of the Igbo traditional religion
Akueke—Obierika’s daughter; her marriage is negotiated
Amalinze—called the Cat; a great wrestler who is thrown by Okonkwo
Anene—Ekwefi’s first husband
Chika—Agbala’s priestess during Unoka’s time
Ezeani—the priest of the Earth goddess
Ezeugo—a powerful orator
Maduka—Obierika’s son; a great wrestler
Ogbuefi Udo—his wife is murdered by the people of Mbaino
Okagbue—the medicine man who destroys Ezinma’s iyi-uwa
Okeke—the interpreter for Mr. Smith
Okoye—a neighbor who unsuccessfully tries to collect a debt from Unoka
Osugo—a man without titles
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
eze-agadi-nwayi—an old woman’s teeth
foo foo—a pounded yam dish
harmattan—a dry wind from the north
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
ndichie—the elders who meet in a judicial council
nna ayi—our father
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
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
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.
Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
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...
(The entire section is 593 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised 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,...
(The entire section is 563 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
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 entire section is 761 words.)
Chapter Summary and Analysis
Part One, Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Maduka: the son of Obierika
Chielo: a priestess of Agbala
Okafo: a wrestler
Ikezue: a wrestler
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
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
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
Okonkwo does not eat for two days after...
(The entire section is 1008 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis
Okagbue Uyanwa: a famous medicine man
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
Mgbafo: a woman who is beaten by her husband
Odukwe: Mgbafo’s eldest brother
Uzowulu: Mgbafo’s husband
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
Nwayieke: woman who is notorious for her late cooking
Anene: Ekwefi’s first husband
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
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
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
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
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
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
Nweke: a young man who accompanies Obierika
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
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
Mr. Kiaga: Igbo interpreter for the missionaries
Nneka: the wife of the prosperous farmer Amadi
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
Okeke: a man in Mbanta; interpreter for Mr. Smith
Mr. Brown: the white missionary
Okoli: a convert who kills the sacred python
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
Unachukwu: an old man in Okonkwo’s mother’s clan
Emefo: an old man in Okonkwo’s mother’s clan
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
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
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
Enoch: a zealous convert; his father is a priest of the snake cult
Akunna: one of the great men of the village
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
Reverend James Smith: Mr. Brown’s successor
Okeke: Mr. Smith’s interpreter
Ajofia: the leading egwugwu of Umuofia
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
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
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
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
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.)