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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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The novel is structured in three parts. What do the divisions reflect in the protagonist's life and the move toward and collapse of Igbo society?  

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There are three parts of Things Fall Apart, and they trace the rise, fall, and attempted but tragically unsuccessful return to power of Okonkwo . When we meet Okonkwo in the first part of the novel, we learn that he is one of the most respected and influential members...

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There are three parts of Things Fall Apart, and they trace the rise, fall, and attempted but tragically unsuccessful return to power of Okonkwo. When we meet Okonkwo in the first part of the novel, we learn that he is one of the most respected and influential members of his tribe. We hear about how he gained his position, through his wrestling prowess and skill at growing yams, two major markers of masculinity. He does, however, sometimes cross the line of what is expected in his tribe, as when he beats one of his wives during peace week and kills the hostage boy who he has housed in his own family's huts. This part of the novel, though, recounts the height of Okonkwo's power in the tribe.

At the end of the first part, Okonkwo commits a "female crime," by firing a gun that inadvertently kills the son of a man whose funeral was being celebrated at the time. Okonkwo is exiled to his motherland for seven years, which is clearly humiliating for him. He loses his power and influence through his crime and his absence, and by the time he returns, the Christian missionaries have a foothold in the village.

The third part of the novel traces Okonkwo's attempt to reclaim his position and revert to a time when his tribe was independent and not victims of colonialism. He is unsuccessful, ultimately, as the missionaries have already won over too many of the tribespeople, and the way of life has irreparably altered. Okonkwo ends up hanging himself in despair, either showing that he's given up or that he's too stubborn or tied to the old ways to live in this new world.

The structure helps to define Things Fall Apart as a tragedy and Okonkwo as its tragic hero. We see his admirable qualities, his downfall, and how his personal flaws lead to his eventual death.

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The first part of the novel introduces Umuofia, a coalition of nine vlllages of the Igbo people. Okwokwo is introduces as the protagonist of the novel. He is well off, having worked hard with his three wives to fill two barns with yams; he is a respected warrior and has two titles. The main purpose of part one is to show the successful side of Okwonkwo and to show him as the personification of the Igbo culture.

In Part 2, Okwonkwo is disgraced and sent to live in his mother's village. The purpose of this part is to show Okwonkwo's refusal to change his ways and to allow timre for the Europeans to arrive in Umuofia and begin changing life there. Okwonkwo is supposed to be learning how to learn about a mother's love, but he ends up gathering wealth through farming yams and dreams of returning to his village, which he believes will be unchanged and allow him to once again take a leadership role.

In Part 3, Okwonkwo returns to his village to find it has greatly changed. Christianity and the Europeans are changing traditional Ibgo beliefs and Okwonkwo simply cannot adapt to the changes and sees his way of life collapsing. In the end "things fall apart" and Okwonkwo takes his own life.

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