I need to find as many passages as I can that refer to "chi" in Things Fall Apart.  Below are the ones I have found.  Can you help find another and explain it?

  • Chapter 14: a "man could not rise beyond the destiny of his chi."
  • Chapter 4: "But the Ibo people have a proverb that when a man says yes his chi says yes also."
  • Chapter 3: "He had a bad chi or personal god, and evil fortune followed him to the grave, or rather to his death, for he ha no grave."
  • Chapter 9: "But she had grown so bitter about her own chi that she could not rejoice with others over their good fortune."

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Achebe explores the concept of one's chi throughout his classic novel Things Fall Apart by examining Okonkwo's fate. While the concept of chi can be interpreted in several different ways, it can be defined as one's personal god, which is determined by a person's positive or negative fortune. One's chi is also connected to their willpower and internal energy. In chapter four, Okonkwo disturbs the Week of Peace by beating one of his wives, which upsets the clan's elders. Okonkwo is forced to give a sacrifice to appease the gods, and Achebe writes,

His enemies said his good fortune had gone to his head. They called him the little bird nza who so far forgot himself after a heavy meal that he challenged his chi. (23)

According to this quote, one can challenge their chi, or personal god, in an act of hubris. Although Okonkwo's chi is initially described as positive, his arrogance and pride seem to oppose his chi. As the story progresses, Okonkwo remains callous, aggressive, and arrogant, which negatively affects his chi and leads to tragedy. Therefore, the well-being of one's chi seems to be connected to the practice of humility and gratitude. If one challenges their chi, they risk experiencing bad luck like Okonkwo.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Another reference to "chi" happens in chapter 15, when the story of a village's destruction by a group of white men is described. A white man appeared in the village and out of fear he was killed. Eventually, an armed party of white men comes to the village on market day, opens fire, and kills everyone present. Only those whose chi was "wide awake" and kept from the market were spared.

The concept of "chi" is hard to grasp, because its meaning is characteristically fluid. In this case, you can understand it as meaning "luck," but that is not completely accurate. In some of the other examples you mention, one's chi is responsive to strong feelings: it functions as a kind of spiritual affirmation, perhaps, or even helper. In other cases, chi can oppose one's wishes and cause hardship; in this case, chi operates independent of one's wishes. I think the best way to understand chi is to think of it as a name for an ever-changing personal connection to the spiritual.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Your second reference to chi is actually on part of the quote, and this is a very important quote that includes another reference to chi. Note what the narrator tells us about the character of Okonkwo through the following quote and how it reveals the kind of person that he is:

At the most one could say that his chi or personal god was good. But the Ibo people have a proverb that when a man says yes his chi says yes also. Okonkwo said yes very strongly; so his chi agreed.

This is an interesting quote, as it reveals that people are impacted by their chi. It is not simply a case of somebody's life being shaped by the personal god or chi that they have without any involvement or input from themselves. The quote indicates that such matters are shaped very much by the willpower of the chi, and as Okonkwo was the kind of man who had massive willpower, his own chi responded in kind, and this is what lay behind his dramatic rise to power in his village and amongst his people. This quote demonstrates that Okonkwo is a character to watch; a character whose willpower is so strong that he has the potential for greatness, but also for tragedy. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial