Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Umofia (oo-moh-FEE-uh). Area in southeastern Nigeria, comprising nine villages, where the Umofia clan live. “Umofia” is the Igbo word for “people of the forest.” The word “village” is a loose translation of a complicated concept in Igbo society and is used in Things Fall Apart to represent both the nine villages and the larger area; thus, the village of Umofia comprises nine villages. In Umofia at the end of the nineteenth century, homes are mud huts set in compounds. Each of the villages is advised by a male elder, and the nine elders meet to make decisions for the clan. The center of village life is the market. Okonkwo is known throughout Umofia for his strength and his success in warfare, unlike his father, who also came from Umofia. He is not an elder and has no official status as a leader, but he is relied upon as a man of action and he hopes one day to become a leader. In his father’s village, a male-dominated society, Okonkwo knows his place, and the place of his wives and his children. For him, social order is bound up in tradition and home.
When Okonkwo returns to Umofia after seven years in exile, he finds that the Christian missionaries have made several changes. New buildings—a church, a courthouse—have appeared in the village, representing new ideas and rules. For Okonkwo, the physical changes in the village symbolize the erosion of the Igbo culture—the things that are falling apart....
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Achebe uses the traditions, narrative and otherwise, of two cultures in a highly allusive work that fully exploits their proverbs, tales, religious rituals, and customs. Narrative structure is only apparently simple in this novel. Okonkwo's life is evaluated in the light of both Igbo and Christian traditional values — values that often intersect. His fear of being thought of as weak causes him to negate the importance Igbo culture places on peaceful settlement of conflict and diplomacy. When telling stories to his children, he tells only tales of violence and bloodshed. Indeed, as critics have pointed out, his rigidity makes him resemble Old Testament figures from the Bible more than New. The sacrifice of Isaac is evoked both in his actual murder of Ikemefuna and his psychic murder of his own son Nwoye, who takes the name Isaac upon his conversion. (His accidental killing of a third male child causes his banishment.) The more rigid British characters, such as Mr. Smith and the District Commander then appear like his white counterparts. Achebe is able at the same time to use Christian values to expose what is arbitrary and cruel about the Igbo religion, such as the existence of the pariah osu, and the throwing away of twins, and the Igbo custom and belief to expose the absurdities and contradictions in the Christian/ European perspective. The efforts of the missionaries in Mbanta (the place where Okonkwo is exiled) to explain the trinity right after telling the crowd that there is only one God are met with hilarious rejoinders.
References to the white prelates as albinos and officials wearing beige shorts as "ashy buttocks" have even led some critics to see the book as a reversal of Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1902) — the novel is presenting the white man as other and absurd, a sort of horror. Yet the existence of even one sympathetic Christian cleric in Mr. Brown seems to undercut this reading. Achebe is aware that the interplay between the two cultures has gone too far to be reversed, and the most optimistic moments in the book are those that point to the preservation of human values and productive lives despite the trauma of change. That Nwoye gains a productive life that he could not have had with his father is a blessing, as is the saving of his sister from the plight of the changeling.
The manipulation of proverbs, both Igbo and biblical, and the testing of them against experience is also a common technique....
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Ideas for Group Discussions
Achebe's Things Fall Apart is a ground-breaking novel, specifically African in vision, yet universal in themes and scope. The fictional time for the novel is around 1920, and although his locations are fictional, they are based on his actual experiences of life in an African village. Provocative areas for group discussion lie in comparisons of Igbo life and values to the European Christian culture that sought to supplant them, comparison of the African "hero" Okonkwo to predecessors in Western literature — he has been compared in his stature and flawed nature to the heroes of Greek tragedy, and the question of the problem of colonialism. Comparisons to his literary predecessor Joseph Conrad, and the question of whether Conrad was racist in his portrayal of Africa, especially when his novel is set against Achebe's fuller picture, will also stimulate debate. The charge some critics aim at Achebe — that his portrayals of Europeans make him a Conrad in reverse, may be evaluated.
The political situation in present day Nigeria is so alarming that many of Achebe's writings, this one included, have appeared prophetic. Bringing the values expressed in Achebe's novel to bear on the behavior of the present regime, and the West's reaction to it, may also be useful.
1. Okonkwo kills three people in the course of the novel. Look carefully at each of these episodes. Is he to be exonerated for any of the deaths? Is the killing of Ikemefuna premeditated, spontaneous, or done in obeisance to the Earth goddess? Do you believe Okonkwo's participation was necessary? The act has been compared to the biblical sacrifice of Isaac; do you see any parallels?
2. Mr. Smith can be called a fanatic compared to the more circumspect Mr. Brown; some have compared Smith's narrow views to the rigidity of Okonkwo. Does such a comparison hold up?
3. Look carefully at Chapter 11 where Ekwefi and Okonkwo keep an all night vigil over their only daughter, Ezinma, and at the flashback in Chapter 12. How does this chapter qualify your view of Okonkwo? Is this a break in his character, or are there other places in the novel that work in a similar way?
4. Evaluate the relationship between Okonkwo and his son, Nwoye. Is Okonkwo's view of the masculine idiosyncratic or does he reflect the mores of his culture?
5. Umuofia benefits materially when the British and the Christians gain a foothold there. What is the...
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As the title, taken from W. B. Yeats's poem "The Second Coming," implies, the chief social concern of Things Fall Apart is the undermining of traditional Igbo society as it is dominated and misunderstood by British colonizers bringing with them the Anglican Christian religion. Although the hero, Okonkwo, is a deeply flawed man, cruel to his wives and children, whose major tragic flaw is his fear of failure and an accompanying inflexibility, his ill-fated progress through the novel is as much the result of errors in judgment and inflexibility on the side of the British as his own. Consequently, rather than presenting Igbo society as a pristine one, and the British as totally evil, Achebe acknowledges faults on both sides and therefore creates a credible view of his own Igbo society.
While the Igbo have practices that are rigid and cruel, such as that of invariably throwing away twins and occasionally killing innocent hostages — the death of Ikemefuna inflicted in part by Okonkwo's own hand is the subject of much critical debate — they also have clan meetings to resolve disputes and a fair-minded flexibility in their encounters with the British and their religion. Furthermore, when the Igbo openness and flexibility are greeted by double crossing, as when the tribal elders are imprisoned, brutalized, and humiliated after they seek to make peace after the burning down of a church, the reader is encouraged to be sympathetic.
No matter what social forces are seen to be at play at any given moment in the novel, individual responsibility is never discounted. Things get worse when Mr. Brown, the flexible Anglican preacher, is supplanted by Mr. Smith, a fanatic. Likewise, the decision to kill Ikemefuma, prompted supposedly by Oracle of the Hills and the Caves, has severe repercussions, especially for Okonkwo. The fanaticism of Enoch, a Christian convert who unmasks an egugwu (a sacred impersonator of an ancestral spirit) is likewise condemned as it leads to the burning down of the church. Furthermore, the novel authenticates the spirituality of both Christian and Igbo religions, as transgressions of either belief by the fanatics of the other lead to dire consequences.
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Achebe wrote his first and most famous novel partly in response to two works by European writers whom he had found wanting in their view of Africa: Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson (1951). To quote his own famous essay on Conrad, "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness," the European sets "Africa up as a foil to Europe, as a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe's own state of spiritual grace will be manifest." Africa's "triumphant bestiality" mocks European "intelligence and refinement"; it is projected as "the other world." Metaphors of silence and frenzy characterize Africa as a whole, and the people are treated as subhuman creatures lacking any real speech (they have only "a violent babble of uncouth sounds"). Conrad is "a purveyor of comforting myths," and only F. R. Leavis was astute enough to complain about "Conrad's adjectival insistence on inexpressible and incomprehensible mystery." The falsification reaches its nadir in his caricatures of Africans as dancing dogs; Achebe notes especially the fire stoker on the boat. Achebe admits that it is the narrator, Marlowe, and a secondary narrator, who tell the story, but lacking an alternative frame of reference, he finds Conrad very close to Marlowe. That Conrad's racism was not picked up by white critics, argues Achebe, is owing to the ingrained nature of racism in our culture. Although Conrad saw the evils of imperialism, his view was flawed because he did not connect it with racism. Although some critics have accused Achebe of being Conrad in reverse, his negative views of the British (often communicated through characters) are invariably qualified and balanced by his inclusion of many flawed African characters, and at least a sprinkling of wise British ones.
The case of Cary's Mr. Johnson (which Achebe considers "appalling") is different and regarded by some critics as a step in the right direction that falls short of the mark. The novel centers on the building of a road — a task justified as an incentive to commerce but one that finally makes unanticipated inroads into the African culture threatening it with dissolution. The breakup, however, is callously witnessed through the eyes of chief characters who are British. Achebe, as Christopher Wren has pointed out, shares the central proposition that colonialism destroyed African culture and does not...
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As this is Achebe's first novel, there really are not any earlier related titles. No Longer at Ease (1960) can be considered a sequel, as it tells the story of Okonkwo's grandson, who by being educated in England rises to a good position as a colonial civil servant only to meet his downfall when he takes a bribe. The book is narrated as a flashback, and is less about the hero's moral culpability as it is about his being caught in the complex web of circumstances and contradictions which colonialism has woven since the time of his grandfather. Like his grandfather, Obi Okonkwo has serious flaws, yet unlike his grandfather, his flaw is basically his indecisiveness, which ironically prompts him to leave the twenty pounds in marked bills on his desk as he ponders his predicament. His personal life suffers from the same indecisiveness and falls apart as well when he neglects his girlfriend Clara and she undergoes a botched abortion.
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Things Fall Apart was published in 1958 just prior to Nigerian independence, but it depicts pre-colonial Africa. Achebe felt it was important to portray Nigerians as they really were—not just provide a shallow description of them as other authors had. The story takes place in the typical tribal village of Umuofia, where the inhabitants (whom Achebe calls the Ibo, but who are also known as the Igbo) practice rituals common to their native traditions.
The Ibo worshipped gods who protect, advise, and chastise them and who are represented by priests and priestesses within the clan. For example, the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves grants knowledge and wisdom to those who are brave enough to consult him. No one has ever seen the Oracle except his priestess, who is an Ibo woman who has special powers of her own. Not only did the gods advise the Ibo on community matters, but also they guided individuals. Each person had a personal god, or chi, (Jiat directed his or her actions. A strong chi meant a strong person; people with weak chis were pitied. Each man kept a separate hut, or shrine, where he stored the symbols of his personal god and his ancestral spirits.
A hunting and gathering society, the Ibo existed on vegetables, with yams as the primary crop. Yams were so important to them that the Ibo celebrated each new year with the Feast of the New Yam. This festival thanked Ani, the earth goddess and source of all...
(The entire section is 1247 words.)
Part One, Chapter 1 Questions and Answers
1. Why is Okonkwo’s defeat of Amalinze the Cat such a great achievement?
2. Describe Okonkwo.
3. What does Unoka do with his money?
4. What is the harmattan?
5. Why does Unoka sing to the kites?
6. Why does Unoka enjoy playing music for the egwugwu, or the masqueraders who impersonate the ancestral spirits of the village?
7. What is the meaning of the proverb “He who brings kola brings life”? (p. 5)
8. Why is Okonkwo ashamed of his father, Unoka?
9. Compare Okonkwo with his father.
10. Why is Ikemefuna offered to the village of Umuofia?
1. The Cat, the greatest wrestler in the region, was unbeaten for seven years.
2. Okonkwo is huge with bushy eyebrows and a wide nose. He breathes heavily and seems to walk on springs as if he is about to pounce on someone. He has no patience with unsuccessful men like his father.
3. Unoka buys gourds of palm wine and drinks with his neighbors.
4. The harmattan is a dry wind that blows across West Africa from the north.
5. Unoka loves to sing a welcome to the birds, or kites, who return to the village from their long journey south.
6. Unoka enjoys eating and drinking at the feasts.
7. The kola nut is a symbol of hospitality and friendship.
8. Okonkwo’s father has no titles; he...
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Chapter 2 Questions and Answers
1. How does Okonkwo display his fierce and warlike nature at important occasions in the village?
2. Give examples illustrating the Igbo people’s vague terror of darkness.
3. Why would the people of Umuofia be beaten in the war with Mbaino if they disobeyed the Oracles of the Hills and Caves?
4. Why is Ikemefuna selected by the people of Mbaino to serve as the peace sacrifice for Umuofia?
5. Okonkwo is very strong and rarely feels tired. How would you describe Okonkwo’s three wives and children?
6. Why is Nwoye developing into a sad-faced youth?
7. Which one of Okonkwo’s wives is the most afraid of him and why?
8. Why does Okonkwo rule his household with a heavy hand?
9. How is Unoka regarded by many members of the village?
10. Why is Okonkwo asked to become Ikemefuna’s guardian?
1. Okonkwo displays his warlike nature on occasions such as funerals by drinking his palm wine from the first human head he captured in battle.
2. The Igbo people do not play in the open fields on dark and silent nights.
3. The people of Umuofia would be beaten in the war with Mbaino if they disobeyed the Oracles of the Hills and Caves because their gods would not allow them to fight a war of blame.
4. The people of Mbaino select Ikemefuna as the peace sacrifice because his father...
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Chapter 3 Questions and Answers
1. Why is Unoka, who dies of swelling in the stomach, abandoned and left to die in the Evil Forest?
2. Why is Nwakibie considered a successful man in Igbo society?
3. Nwakibie says, “You will have what is good for you and I will have what is good for me. Let the kite perch and let the eagle perch too. If one says no to the other, let his wing break.”
(p. 14) What is the meaning of Nwakibie’s words?
4. What is the meaning of the proverb “A toad does not run in the daytime for nothing”? (p. 15)
5. Why does Okonkwo laugh uneasily at the story of Obiako and the oracle?
6. What is the meaning of the proverb “The lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did”? (p. 16)
7. Why is sharecropping a slow way to build up a barn?
8. Give two examples of how Okonkwo tries to save his yams during the drought.
9. Why is the poor harvest like a sad funeral for the Igbo people?
10. What does Okonkwo learn through the drought and poor harvest?
1. Unoka is left to rot in the Evil Forest because the swelling in his stomach is an abomination to the Earth goddess.
2. Nwakibie has earned all but one title in Umuofia. He owns three huge barns, and he has nine wives and 30 children.
3. Nwakibie means that both he and Okonkwo...
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Chapter 4 Questions and Answers
1. An old man refers to Okonkwo saying, “Looking at a king’s mouth, one would think he never sucked at his mother’s breast.” (p. 19) What does he mean?
2. How does Okonkwo demonstrate his fondness for Ikemefuna?
3. Why does Nwoye’s mother claim that Ojiugo has asked her to feed her children?
4. Why is Okonkwo’s first wife always called “Nwoye’s mother”?
5. What does the kola nut symbolize, and why does Ezeani refuse to accept it from Okonkwo during the Week of Peace?
6. Why do Okonkwo’s enemies called him the little bird nza?
7. In the past, a man who broke the sacred peace was dragged around the village until he died. Why was the custom stopped?
8. In some clans, if a man dies during the Week of Peace, he is cast into the Evil Forest. He is not buried. What is the result of this action?
9. Compare and contrast the planting season with the month of harvest.
10. What does Nwoye mean when he decides that Nnadi lives in the land of Ikemefuna’s favorite story?
1. The old man thinks it is incredible that Okonkwo, who has risen so suddenly from desperate poverty and misfortune and is now one of the lords of the clan, should forget his own humble origins and treat less successful men with disrespect.
2. When Okonkwo goes to feasts or meetings, he allows Ikemefuna to carry...
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Chapter 5 Questions and Answers
1. What is Ani’s relationship with the ancestors?
2. Why are new yams offered to Ani and the ancestors at the festival?
3. Describe the New Yam Festival.
4. Does Ekwefi, Okonkwo’s second wife, really kill the banana tree?
5. Nwoye’s mother often calls Ezinma “Ezigbo.” What does this name mean?
6. How does Okonkwo react when he hears the beating of the drums?
7. Why is Obiageli, Nwoye’s sister, crying?
8. Why does Ikemefuna look at the other children sternly when Obiageli tells the adults the story about breaking her pot?
9. Why do Obiageli, Ezinma, and Nkechi serve their father food in this order?
10. Why can’t Ezinma carry her father’s chair to the wrestling match?
1. Ani is in close communion with the ancestors of the clan.
2. The people give honor and thanks to Ani and the ancestors by offering them new yams at the festival.
3. The New Yam Festival is a big event; the women scrub the walls of their houses and wash all the pots and bowls thoroughly. Wives and children decorate themselves; relatives are invited to the feast; and huge quantities of yam foo-foo and vegetable soup are prepared. The feast is held on the first day; the wrestling matches are held on the second day.
4. Ekwefi does not kill the banana tree. She simply removes some of the...
(The entire section is 362 words.)
Chapter 6 Questions and Answers
1. Using context clues, define the Igbo word ilo.
2. Why is the ancient silk-cotton tree considered sacred?
3. Why do the young boys of 15 and 16 wrestle first?
4. Describe Chielo in ordinary life.
5. Give an example of Chielo’s fondness for Ezinma.
6. What does Ekwefi mean when she says Ezinma is probably going to stay?
7. What is the most exciting moment in a wrestling match?
8. How do you know that Okafo and Ikezue are equally matched wrestlers?
9. What role do the drums play in the wrestling match?
10. Using context clues define the word Amadiora.
1. The Igbo word ilo refers to a playground or a large open area where meetings and sports events take place.
2. The ancient silk-cotton tree is considered sacred because the spirits of good children who are waiting to be born live there.
3. The young boys of 15 and 16 wrestle first in order to set the stage. They are actually practicing.
4. In ordinary life Chielo is a widow with two children. She is friendly with Ekwefi, and they share a common shed in the market.
5. Chielo shows her fondness for Ezinma by sending her bean cakes.
6. When Ekwefi says Ezinma is probably going to stay, she means she is probably going to live.
7. The most exciting moment in a wrestling match is when...
(The entire section is 297 words.)
Chapter 7 Questions and Answers
1. Why is Ikemefuna compared to a yam tendril in the rainy season?
2. What are some of the difficult masculine tasks Nwoye enjoys doing?
3. Why would Nwoye pretend to be annoyed and grumble about women?
4. How does Okonkwo feel when he hears Nwoye grumbling about women?
5. Even though Nwoye knows it is right to be masculine, he still prefers the stories that his mother tells. Why?
6. Explain the story of the bird eneke-nti-oba.
7. Why are the people of Umuofia so excited about the locusts?
8. Describe some of the chores the men and women do after the harvest.
9. What does Ikemefuna remember when the men speak in low tones?
10. Why do the women walk quickly when they hear abandoned infants crying in the forest?
1. Ikemefuna is like a yam tendril in the rainy season because he is full of the sap of new life.
2. Some of the difficult masculine tasks Nwoye enjoys doing around the homestead include splitting wood and pounding food.
3. Nwoye grumbles about women in order to appear more masculine.
4. Okonkwo is happy when he hears Nwoye grumbling about women.
5. Nwoye prefers his mother’s stories because Okonkwo’s masculine stories are about violence and bloodshed. Nwoye is a sensitive youth.
6. The bird eneke-nti-oba challenged the...
(The entire section is 317 words.)
Chapter 8 Questions and Answers
1. What does Okonkwo mean when he says a bowl of pounded yams can throw Nwoye in a wrestling match?
2. What does Okonkwo mean when he says, “Where are the young suckers that will grow when the old banana tree dies?” (p. 46)
3. Why would Okonkwo have been happier if Ezinma had been a boy?
4. Okonkwo springs to his feet to visit his friend Obierika. What does this image reveal about Okonkwo?
5. What is the meaning of the proverb “A child’s fingers are not scalded by a piece of hot yam which its mother puts into its palm”. (p. 47)
6. Explain Okonkwo’s reaction to the deaths of Ogbuefi Ndulue and Ozoemena and the idea that they had “one mind.” What does this reaction reveal about Okonkwo’s understanding of the feminine principle?
7. Why does Obierika think Maduka is too sharp?
8. What is the meaning of the proverb “When mother-cow is chewing grass its young ones watch its mouth”? (p. 49)
9. Why does Akueke’s mother say that waist beads and fire are not friends?
10. What is Akueke’s bride-price, and how do the men arrive at the price?
1. Nwoye is not a powerful or skillful wrestler.
2. Okonkwo wonders who will follow in his footsteps. His children do not seem to resemble him.
3. Ezinma has the right spirit.
4. Okonkwo is a man of action....
(The entire section is 367 words.)
Chapter 9 Questions and Answers
1. Describe the story Okonkwo’s mother used to tell him that explained why mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears.
2. Give two examples proving that the relationship between Ezinma and Ekwefi was a companionship of equals.
3. Why did Ekwefi stay with her people during her third pregnancy?
4. How was Ekwefi’s despair reflected in the names she gave her children?
5. Describe the medicine man famous for his knowledge of ogbanje children.
6. Why did the medicine man drag the corpse of the dead ogbanje child into the Evil Forest?
7. Why did Ekwefi grow bitter about her own chi?
8. Why did Ezinma take the medicine man and her family through the bush and back to the homestead in order to find the iyi-uwa?
9. As Ezinma and Ekwefi are cooking yams, they discuss the fact that large quantities of vegetables cook down to smaller quantities by telling the story of the snake-lizard. Why did the snake-lizard kill his mother and himself?
10. Why does Okonkwo tell Ekwefi to watch the medicine pot carefully?
1. 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, so any time he passes by, he tells Ear that he is still alive.
2. Ezinma does not call her mother...
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Chapter 10 Questions and Answers
1. Why does Evil Forest address Uzowulu saying, “Uzowulu’s body, I salute you”? (p. 64)
2. Why does Evil Forest say, “Uzowulu’s body, do you know me?” (p. 64)
3. What is the law of Umuofia concerning the bride-price of a woman who runs away from her husband?
4. How does Evil Forest keep order when the crowd roars with laughter during the trial?
5. What role do Uzowulu’s neighbors play in the trial?
6. Why do Evil Forest and the other egwugwu run a few steps in the direction of the women?
7. What are some of the names Evil Forest gives himself?
8. What is the purpose of the metal gong, the drums, and the flute?
9. Why will Uzowulu listen to the decision of the egwugwu?
10. The egwugwu hear a land case after Uzowulu’s case. What is a land case?
1. Spirits always address humans as bodies.
2. Evil Forest asks Uzowulu if he recognizes him as one of the living. Uzowulu responds, “How can I know you father? You are beyond our knowledge.” (p. 64) Evil Forest emphasizes the point that he is not one of the living.
3. The law of Umuofia says that if a woman runs away from her husband, the bride-price must be returned.
4. Evil Forest keeps order when the crowd roars with laughter during the trial by rising to his feet. A steady cloud of...
(The entire section is 326 words.)
Chapter 11 Questions and Answers
1. Why don’t the birds want Tortoise to join them at the feast in the sky?
2. How does Tortoise convince the birds to allow him to join them at the feast?
3. How is Tortoise able to fly with the birds of the sky?
4. What are some of the hard things Tortoise’s wife takes out of the house to prepare for Tortoise’s fall?
5. Why does Ezinma cry when Chielo calls her “my daughter”?
6. Why does Ekwefi recoil from Chielo when she turns around?
7. Why does Ekwefi doubt the wisdom of her coming to the hills and caves?
8. How could a woman like Chielo carry a child the size of Ezinma for such a long distance?
9. How does Ekwefi know they have reached the ring of hills?
10. Who joins Ekwefi as she waits for Chielo and Ezinma?
1. The birds do not want Tortoise to join them at the feast in the sky because it is a time of famine. Tortoise is cunning and ungrateful.
2. Tortoise convinces the birds to allow him to join them by explaining that he is a changed man. Tortoise has a sweet tongue, and he is a great orator.
3. Tortoise is able to fly because the birds give him feathers to make wings.
4. Tortoise’s wife takes out hard things like hoes, machetes, spears, guns, and a cannon to prepare for Tortoise’s fall.
5. Ezinma cries because Chielo’s voice is...
(The entire section is 363 words.)
Chapter 12 Questions and Answers
1. How do the people of Umuike develop their market?
2. The story of the man and the goat shows that the Umuike market is often filled with thieves. What happens in this story?
3. What do Okonkwo’s first and third wives contribute to the betrothal feast?
4. Why does Ekwefi join the betrothal feast later?
5. The members of Obierika’s extended family sit in a half-moon. When his in-laws arrive, they complete thecircle. What is the significance of the seating arrangement?
6. Describe the difference in the attire of the married women and that of the girls who greet the in-laws.
7. What does the eldest man among the in-laws mean when he says, “This is not the first time my people have come to marry your daughter”? (p. 83)
8. Why does Obierika’s family say their daughter will be a good wife and bear nine sons?
9. What kinds of men are respected and praised by Obierika’s in-laws?
10. How do you know that Okonkwo is a respected member of Obierika’s extended family?
1. The people of Umuike make a powerful medicine. It takes the form of an old woman who beckons the neighboring clans to the market.
2. Once a man went to lead a goat by a thick rope to the Umuike market. Someone stole the goat and replaced it with a heavy log of wood.
3. Nwoye’s mother and Ojiugo,...
(The entire section is 409 words.)
Chapter 13 Questions and Answers
1. What is the role of the esoteric language of the ekwe, or the drum?
2. What is the name of the clan, and what villages are part of the clan?
3. What is the name of Okonkwo’s village?
4. How do the men express their anguish at Ezeudu’s death?
5. What does the one-handed spirit mean when he asks Ezeudu to come again the way he came before?
6. How does Okonkwo accidentally kill Ezeudu’s son during the farewell dance?
7. Why do Okonkwo and his family leave their homestead?
8. Where do Okonkwo and his family go?
9. Why does Obierika begin to wonder about the justice of the Earth goddess?
10. What do the elders mean when they say “If one finger brought oil it soiled the others”? (p. 88)
1. The esoteric language of the ekwe, or the drum, carries the news of Ezeudu’s death to all nine villages of Umuofia and beyond.
2. The name of the clan is Umuofia. The clan includes all the members of the nine villages of Umuofia.
3. Okonkwo’s village is Iguedo.
4. The men dash around in a frenzy, cutting down trees and animals, jumping over walls, and dancing on the roof.
5. Ezeudu is lacking nothing. He is rich, brave, and he lived a long life. The one-handed spirit asks Ezeudu to come back to Earth this way again.
6. Okonkwo accidentally kills...
(The entire section is 334 words.)
Part Two, Chapter 14 Questions and Answers
1. Why does Okonkwo seek refuge in his motherland?
2. What is the frozen water called “the nuts of the water of heaven”? (p. 92)
3. How does Okonkwo start his yam farm in Mbanta?
4. How does Okonkwo feel about the elders’ belief that if a man says “yes,” his chi will also affirm him?
5. Explain the significance of the isa-ifi ceremony.
6. How does Uchendu establish his authority when he addresses Okonkwo?
7. Why was the name “Nneka,” or “Mother is Supreme,” a common name among the Igbo people?
8. According to Uchendu, what is Okonkwo’s duty and responsibility during his time of exile?
9. What is the meaning of the song the Igbo people sing when a woman dies that says, “For whom is it well, for whom is it well? There is no one for whom it is well.” (p. 95)
10. Why does Uchendu have nothing else to say to Okonkwo?
1. Okonkwo seeks refuge in his motherland because he accidentally killed a clansman; he is banished by Ani, the Earth goddess.
2. The rain called “the nuts of the water of heaven” is hail. (p. 92)
3. Uchendu has five sons. Each son contributes 300 seed-yams to enable their cousin Okonkwo to plant a farm.
4. Okonkwo feels that the elders’ belief is false; he is a man whose chi says “no” to greatness despite his own efforts...
(The entire section is 400 words.)
Chapter 15 Questions and Answers
1. Why does Uchendu say that Obierika’s generation stays at home and even a man’s motherland is strange to him?
2. What are the names of some of the clans Uchendu knows in the area?
3. What did the fearless men of Abame do when they met the white man?
4. Why did the Oracle say the white men were like locusts?
5. Why did the white man seem to speak through his nose?
6. Why did the white men wait for the market day to slaughter Abame?
7. Give an example proving that a great evil descended upon Abame just as the Oracle warned.
8. What is the significance of the story of Mother Kite, the bird?
9. Why does Obierika get a late start on his journey?
10. Why does Obierika bring Okonkwo the money?
1. The younger generation does not travel to distant clans. They are so afraid of their neighbors, they do not even visit their mothers’ homes.
2. Some of the clans Uchendu knows in the area are Aninta, Umuazu, Ikeocha, Elumelu, and Abame.
3. The fearless men of Abame touched and killed the white man.
4. The Oracle said the white men were like locusts because the first one was a scout who was sent to explore the terrain. Other white men would follow him.
5. The white man seemed to speak through his nose because his language and intonation were unfamiliar to the...
(The entire section is 386 words.)
Chapter 16 Questions and Answers
1. How do the leaders of Umuofia feel about the new religion?
2. What does Chielo, the priestess of Agbala, mean when she calls the converts “the excrement of the clan”? (p. 101)
3. Why doesn’t Okonkwo want to speak to Obierika about Nwoye?
4. Why do the Igbo people laugh at the interpreter even though he is speaking Igbo?
5. What is an iron horse?
6. Why are the people excited by what the missionary says?
7. Why do the men of Umuofia laugh at the missionary?
8. Why does Okonkwo stay and listen to the missionary?
9. How does the interpreter explain that the true God has a son but no wife?
10. How does Nwoye feel when he hears the Christians’ hymn?
1. Christianity is a source of great sorrow to the leaders of Umuofia, but many believe the faith will not last.
2. When Chielo calls the converts “the excrement of the clan,” she means that they are the outcasts and the lowest members of the clan. (p. 101)
3. Okonkwo does not want to speak to Obierika about Nwoye because he is so furious with his son. Obierika learns the story from Nwoye’s mother.
4. The interpreter is from a different region, and he speaks a different dialect. Instead of referring to himself as “myself,” he refers to himself as “my buttocks.” This makes everyone laugh. (p. 102)...
(The entire section is 329 words.)
Chapter 17 Questions and Answers
1. What difficulty do the missionaries encounter when they try to speak to the leaders of the village?
2. Describe the Evil Forest.
3. Why is the Evil Forest a strange site for the missionary’s church?
4. Why does Nneka convert to Christianity?
5. Why do some converts suspend their new faith until after the seventh market week?
6. Where does the white missionary go when he leaves Mbanta?
7. Why does it seem like the Evil Forest is going to gobble up the church?
8. What does Mr. Kiaga refer to when he says, “Blessed is he who forsakes his father and his mother for my sake. . . . Those that hear my words are my father and my mother”? (p. 108)
9. According to Okonkwo, what is Nwoye’s crime?
10. Why is Okonkwo called “Roaring Flame”?
1. The missionaries ask for the king of the village, but there is no king. Mbanta is ruled by men of high title, the chief priests, and the elders.
2. Every clan and village has an Evil Forest where they bury those who die of diseases like leprosy and smallpox. The Evil Forest is a dumping ground for the potent fetishes of great medicine men when they die.
3. It is a strange site for the church because it is an evil place, filled with sinister forces.
4. Nneka converts to Christianity because she gave birth to four sets of...
(The entire section is 394 words.)
Chapter 18 Questions and Answers
1. Why do the villagers think the Evil Forest is a good home for the Christians?
2. Why would an Igbo who killed a Christian have to flee from the clan?
3. Why are the Igbo Christians upset about admitting the osu?
4. How does Mr. Kiaga react to the osu?
5. Why are some of the osu afraid to shave off their long hair?
6. How does Mr. Kiaga reason with the osu about shaving their dirty hair?
7. Why is the python revered?
8. Why do some villagers want to remain uninvolved in the conflict surrounding Okoli?
9. Okonkwo asks the clan to reason like men. What does he say he would do if a man came into his hut and defecated on the floor?
10. When does Okonkwo grind his teeth and why?
1. The villagers feel that if a gang of efulefu decide to live in the Evil Forest, it is their own affair. The Evil Forest is filled with sinister forces; therefore, it is a good home for such marginal people.
2. Anyone who kills a Christian will be banished because even though Christians are considered worthless, they still belong to the clan.
3. The church is upset about admitting the osu because they are outcasts and slaves.
4. Mr. Kiaga says that all people are children of God; there is no slave before God. The church must receive their osu...
(The entire section is 409 words.)
Chapter 19 Questions and Answers
1. Why does Okonkwo regret his exile so bitterly even though he prospers in his motherland?
2. What is the significance of the names Okonkwo gives the children who were born during his seven years in exile?
3. Why doesn’t Obierika build Okonkwo’s obi or the walls of his compound in Umuofia?
4. Why can’t Okonkwo return to Umuofia before the rains stop?
5. Why does Obiageli call Ezinma “Salt” while they harvest the cassava?
6. Why do the women put the cassava in shallow wells?
7. Why does Uchendu throw one of the kola nuts on the ground?
8. Why do some of the family members whistle when the food is laid out?
9. What does Okonkwo mean when he says that “A child cannot pay for its mother’s milk”? (p. 117)
10. Why are the elders fearful for the young people?
1. Okonkwo regrets his exile even though he prospers in his motherland because he feels he would have prospered even more in Umuofia.
2. He names his daughter Nneka or “Mother is Supreme” and his son Nwofia or “Begotten in the Wilderness.” Although Okonkwo shows reverence to his kinsmen by naming a child in honor of mother or the feminine principal, he still feels like his mother’s home is a wilderness for him.
3. Obierika doesn’t build Okonkwo’s obi or the walls of his compound because a man...
(The entire section is 364 words.)
Part Three, Chapter 20 Questions and Answers
1. What is the significance of the saying “The clan was like a lizard; if it lost its tail it soon grew another”? (p. 121)
2. How is Okonkwo able to grow yams in Umuofia when he is actually located in Mbanta?
3. What is a kotma?
4. How does Okonkwo want his sons to be raised?
5. Why does Okonkwo regret that Ezinma is a girl?
6. Why is Ezinma able to convince Obiageli, her half-sister, to marry in Umuofia?
7. What is the sacrament of Holy Communion called in Igbo?
8. Describe the city of Umuru and explain its significance.
9. The Igbo prisoners sing a song about the “kotma of the ashy buttocks.” How do the court messengers react to being called “Ashy-Buttocks”? (pp. 123–124)
10. How does Okonkwo compare the people of Abame with the people of Umuofia?
1. The saying means that if a man left the clan, someone soon filled his place.
2. Every year Obierika distributes Okonkwo’s yams to sharecroppers.
3. A kotma is a “court man.” This is derived from the English term. It is also translated as “court messenger.”
4. Okonkwo wants his sons to hold their heads high among the Igbo people. He wants his sons to be raised in traditional Igbo culture.
5. Okonkwo regrets that Ezinma is a girl because she alone understands his...
(The entire section is 380 words.)
Chapter 21 Questions and Answers
1. What arguments does Akunna use to convince Mr. Brown that lesser gods act as messengers to Chukwu?
2. Why does Mr. Brown disapprove of Enoch’s behavior?
3. What is Mr. Brown’s attitude toward the traditional Igbo religion?
4. Akunna explains that the Igbo know Chukwu as the great creator god because many children are named Chukwuka. What does the name mean?
5. Why does Mr. Brown visit Okonkwo?
6. What is Nwoye’s new Christian name?
7. How does Okonkwo respond to Mr. Brown’s visit?
8. Why does Mr. Brown leave his mission?
9. Why does Okonkwo feel as though he has returned in the wrong year?
10. Describe Okonkwo’s homecoming.
1. Akunna says that the lesser gods act as messengers to Chukwu just like Mr. Brown acts as a messenger of his church and the District Commissioner acts as a messenger of the ruler in England.
2. Mr. Brown disapproves of Enoch’s action because he is overzealous and provokes the clan. Enoch is the son of the snake cult’s priest. He killed and ate a sacred python.
3. Mr. Brown respects the traditional Igbo religion.
4. The name Chukwuka means “Chukwu is Supreme.”
5. Mr. Brown visits Okonkwo to tell him that he has just sent Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye, to a new training college for teachers.
6. Nwoye’s new...
(The entire section is 323 words.)
Chapter 22 Questions and Answers
1. In Umuofia they say “as a man danced so the drums were beaten for him.” (p. 131) How does this saying relate to Reverend Smith?
2. Why is Reverend Smith filled with wrath when he hears that a woman in the congregation allows her husband to mutilate her dead child?
3. Why do the villagers call Enoch “The Outsider who wept louder than the bereaved”? (p. 131)
4. What is the greatest crime a man can commit in Umuofia?
5. Why is Enoch disappointed to be hidden in the parsonage?
6. Why does Ajofia address Mr. Smith by saying, “The body of the white man, do you know me?” (p. 134)
7. Explain why Okeke is not on the best terms with Reverend Smith.
8. How does Reverend Smith feel about Okeke, his interpreter, as he stands by him confronting the angry spirits?
9. Explain how Okeke interprets Mr. Smith’s words to the spirits and leaders of Umuofia.
10. Why is the spirit of the clan pacified by the action of the egwugwu?
1. The people said Reverend Smith dances a furious step; therefore, the drums go mad. They mean that Reverend Smith is an overzealous pastor who provokes anger among the traditional Igbo.
2. Reverend Smith believes the people are putting the old wine of the Igbo faith into the new wineskins of the Christian faith. One of his congregation has followed Igbo...
(The entire section is 470 words.)
Chapter 23 Questions and Answers
1. How does the District Commissioner coax the Igbo leaders?
2. What code of law does the District Commissioner use to judge the six Igbo leaders?
3. Why aren’t the leaders of Umuofia suspicious when the District Commissioner invites them to the courthouse?
4. What pretense does the District Commissioner use to bring his 12 men into the talks with the Igbo leaders?
5. The District Commissioner tells his men to treat the leaders of Umuofia with respect. Describe how the court messengers humiliate the leaders.
6. How does Okonkwo react to the way the court messengers treat him?
7. How is the story of the detained leaders elaborated by the villagers?
8. Why is Umuofia described like a startled animal with erect ears, sniffing the silent air, and not knowing where to run after her leaders are imprisoned?
9. Why does Ezinma break her long visit to her future husband’s family?
10. Why do the court messengers increase the fine from 200 bags of cowries to 250 bags of cowries?
1. The District Commissioner invites the leaders to talk like friends to ensure that the situation will not happen again.
2. The District Commissioner will administer justice according to the British code of law and “native” court system.
3. The men are not suspicious because the District Commissioner...
(The entire section is 416 words.)
Chapter 24 Questions and Answers
1. Why are the women and children afraid to welcome the leaders home?
2. What are the long stripes on Okonkwo’s back?
3. Why does Okonkwo have trouble sleeping that night?
4. Why does Okonkwo refer to the war with Isike saying, “Those were days when men were men”? (p. 141)
5. What does Okonkwo mean when he says he would show Egonwanne his back and his head if he talks about a war of blame?
6. Why does Okonkwo grind his teeth?
7. What does Okika mean when he says, “Whenever you see a toad jumping in broad daylight, then know that something is after its life”? (p. 143)
8. Okika says Eneke the bird was asked why he is always flying. He replied “Men have learnt to shoot without missing their mark and I have learnt to fly without perching on a twig.” (p. 144) What is the meaning of the proverb, and how does it apply to the novel?
9. Why does Okonkwo decapitate the court messenger?
10. Why don’t the people of Umuofia support Okonkwo and capture the other four messengers?
1. The leaders walk silently with heavy and fearsome looks on their faces.
2. The long stripes on Okonkwo’s back are the marks left by the whip.
3. Okonkwo is excited about the meeting planned for the next day.
4. Okonkwo believes that men were brave in the past. The glorious war with...
(The entire section is 388 words.)
Chapter 25 Questions and Answers
1. Is Okonkwo’s suicide entirely unexpected?
2. Why does Obierika send for strangers from another village?
3. Why does Obierika ask the commissioner to bury Okonkwo’s body?
4. Why is suicide such an abomination among the Igbo?
5. Why is Obierika so angry at the District Commissioner?
6. Why does the District Commissioner think he is bringing civilization to the Igbo people?
7. How does the District Commissioner trivialize the great tragedy of Okonkwo?
8. Explain why the title of the District Commissioner’s book is ironic.
9. Why do you think Okonkwo hung himself?
10. Why does Achebe have Okonkwo hang himself “off stage”?
1. Okonkwo’s suicide happens very quickly offstage. The reader may not be aware of what is happening at first. However, Okonkwo’s suicide has been foreshadowed throughout the novel. Refer to pages 17, 95, and 100 of the text.
2. Obierika sends for strangers to cut down and bury Okonkwo. The Igbo cannot bury Okonkwo because he has committed suicide.
3. Obierika has sent for strangers from another village, but he is afraid it will be a long time before they arrive. He asks the District Commissioner to bury Okonkwo instead.
4. Suicide is an offense against the Earth goddess.
5. Obierika is Okonkwo’s best friend. He says...
(The entire section is 375 words.)
Things Fall Apart chronicles the double tragedies of the deaths of Okonkwo, a revered warrior, and the Ibo, the tribe to which Okonkwo belongs. In literature, tragedy often describes the downfall of a great individual which is caused by a flaw in the person's character. Okonkwo's personal flaw is his unreasonable anger, and his tragedy occurs when the tribe bans him for accidentally killing a young tribesman, and he returns to find a tribe that has changed beyond recognition. The Ibo's public demise results from the destruction of one culture by another, but their tragedy is caused by their turning away from their tribal gods.
Things Fall Apart is set in Umuofia, a tribal village in the country of Nigeria, in Africa. It is the late 1800s, when English bureaucrats and missionaries are first arriving in the area. There is a long history of conflict between European colonists and the Africans they try to convert and subjegate. But by placing the novel at the beginning of this period Achebe can accentuate the clash of cultures that are just coming into contact. It also sets up a greater contrast between the time Okonkwo leaves the tribe and the time he returns, when his village is almost unrecognizable to him because of the changes brought by the English.
In Things Fall Apart, the Ibo thrive in Umuofia, practicing ancient rituals and customs. When the white man arrives,...
(The entire section is 1076 words.)
Compare and Contrast
1800s: Prior to colonization, common language and geography differentiated African societies. Six types of societies existed: hunting and gathering societies, cattle-herding societies, forest dwellers, fishermen, grain-raising societies, and city (urban) societies. The geographic area in which people lived determined their lifestyle.
Colonial Africa: Africa was divided into more than fifty nation-states, with no regard for maintaining groups sharing common language and livelihood.
Today: Societies are no longer as clear-cut. People have more opportunities for education, better jobs, and improved means of communication and transportation. They marry individuals from other societies. As a result, the societies have become mixed, but ethnic conflicts still lead to violence.
1800s: While religion varied from society to society, most Africans shared some common beliefs and practices. They believed in a supreme creator god or spirit. Other lesser gods revealed themselves as, and worked through, community ancestors.
Colonial Africa: Missionaries arrived and introduced Christianity Many tribesmen converted to the new religion.
Today: While more than an estimated 25% of Africa is Christian, traditional African religion is still practiced, as is Islam. Islam is a monotheistic religion related to the Jewish and Christian traditions....
(The entire section is 268 words.)
Topics for Further Study
How does the displacement from one's culture affect a person psychologically? Explain possible reactions a person might have and the steps someone might take to help him or her adjust. School integration is being attempted across America. How successful has it been? Cite specific examples, such as court cases, to support your answer.
Integration is being attempted in a high school in Capetown, South Africa. At the beginning of each school day, white students and students from one of the black societies are required to attend a formal assembly. Students are also required to wear school uniforms. What might the students infer from these requirements? Support your answer by discussing the purpose of assemblies and uniforms in our society and researching cultural aspects of one of the black societies in Capetown.
Compare and contrast American and African colonization by discussing the events and their effects.
Investigate women's roles in tribal society. Find and discuss specific examples from Things Fall Apart.
Women in tribal societies were often forced to undergo female circumcision. Investigate the purpose of this ritual. What are the medical implications of this procedure?
Language is an important means of communication as well as a prominent culture marker. What does a person's language tell us about him or her? What effects could loss of one's language—through physical disability or societal...
(The entire section is 313 words.)
What Do I Read Next?
One of Chinua Achebe's more recent novels, Anthills of the Savannah, was published in 1988 by Anchor Books. It tells the story of three childhood friends who become leaders in their West African country and who are destroyed by their ambition.
Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays is a nonfiction work by Achebe also published in 1988. The collection of political essays and speeches shows the depth of Achebe's thoughts about his homeland and its problems.
After reading Things Fall Apart, a person feels compelled to read Achebe's sequel, No Longer at Ease, which first came out in 1960. The story of Okonkwo's family continues with Okonkwo's grandson, Obi, as the main character. Obi has been raised a Christian and has been educated at a university in England.
Ben Okri's The Famished Road won England's prestigious Booker Prize in 1991. The novel is set in a West African ghetto during British colonial rule and tells of the spirit-child Azaro, who has broken a pact with the spirit world.
In 1990, Barbara K. Walker collected eleven tales from folklore in The Dancing Palm Tree and Other Nigerian Folktales.
Migrations of the Heart (1983) is Marita Golden's autobiography that relates her marriage to a Nigerian native. It recounts how she felt as an African American woman making her first trip to Africa and her troubles fitting into the traditional role of a Nigerian...
(The entire section is 225 words.)
Bibliography and Further Reading
Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1996.
Chinua.Achebe, Morning Yet on Creation Day. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1996.
Kofi Awoonor, The Breast of the Earth, Doubleday, 1975.
C. L. Innes and Bernth Lindfors, eds. Critical Perspectives on Chinua Achebe. London: Heinemann, 1979.
Elizabeth Isichei, A History of the Igbo People. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1976.
G. D. Killam, The Novels of Chinua Achebe, Africana Publishing, 1969.
Charles Larson, "Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart: The Archetypal African Novel" and "Characters and Modes of Characterization: Chinua Achebe, James Ngugi, and Peter Abrahams," in The Emergence of African Fiction, revised edition, Indiana University Press, 1972, pp. 27-65, 147-66.
Bernth Lindfors, ed. Approaches to Teaching Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1991.
Don C. Ohadike, Anioma: A Social History of the Western Igbo People. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1994.
Don C. Ohadike, “Igbo Culture and History” in Chinua Achebe. Things Fall Apart. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1996. (xix-xlix)
Eustace Palmer, The Growth of the African Novel, Heinemann, 1979.
Adrian A. Roscoe, Mother Is Gold: A Study of West African Literature,...
(The entire section is 708 words.)
Bibliography (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Carroll, David. Chinua Achebe. New York: Twayne, 1970. A general introduction to Achebe’s first four novels.
Gikandi, Simon. Reading Chinua Achebe: Language and Ideology in Fiction. Portsmouth, N.H.: J. Currey, 1991. Study of the interplay of the creative process and the political situation in Achebe’s five novels. Devotes a chapter to Things Fall Apart, analyzing writing, culture, and dominance.
Lindfors, Bernth, ed. Approaches to Teaching “Things Fall Apart.” New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1991. Suitable for students and teachers. Contains Chinua Achebe’s only essay on the novel, as well as articles of literary and cultural analysis and an excellent bibliographical essay.
Wren, Robert M. Achebe’s World: the Historical and Cultural Context of the Novels of Chinua Achebe. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1980. Study of the historical and cultural setting of Achebe’s novels. Compares Achebe’s presentation of the Ibo world with archaeological and sociological research.
(The entire section is 151 words.)