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.
Okonkwo’s compound. The home of Okonkwo and his immediate family. Okonkwo has a hut for himself and one for each of his three wives, a barn, and several yam fields, all enclosed in a red mud wall. None of this was inherited from his father,...
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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...
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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...
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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.
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...
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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...
(The entire section is 160 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...
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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?
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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...
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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...
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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...
(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...
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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...
(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...
(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...
(The entire section is 503 words.)
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 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?
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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...
(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?
(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?
(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...
(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?
(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...
(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...
(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?...
(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...
(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?...
(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...
(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...
(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...
(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...
(The entire section is 375 words.)
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
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...
(The entire section is 151 words.)