The story of Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart takes place in the Nigerian village of Umuofia in the late 1880s, before missionaries and other outsiders have arrived. The Ibo clan practices common tribal traditions—worship of gods, sacrifice, communal living, war, and magic.
Okonkwo is the main character. He is a strong leader. He rules his household with his strong hand. He looks fierce and walks very heavily. Okonkwo appears ready to pounce on people. His appearance is frightening. People learn to stay out of his way. He beats his wives and children when they get out of line.
Okonkwo practices the traditions of the Ibo culture. He has three wives. He has children by all three wives. He represents the Ibo culture as one of the leaders and is greatly respected by the clan. He is one of the ancestral spirits known as the egwugwu.
While Okonkwo is banned or exiled for seven years, the white missionaries come into his village and change years of tradition. There is a great clash in cultures. Tradition clashes with change and things begin to change in the village.
Chinua Achebe writes Things Fall Apart to show others the devastation when one's culture is challenged. Achebe shows how the tradition of the Ibo clan disintegrates.
When Okonkwo comes back home, he realizes that things have changed. He wants to fight the white missionaries. When he realizes that his clan will not go to war, Okonkwo feels helpless and he hangs himself. This action causes the clan to wake up and realize what they have lost. They come together to protect their traditions.
The novel is divided into three parts. Part One "depicts life in pre colonial Igboland." Okonkwo practices traditional living and works hard to succeed in the Ibo culture.
Part Two "relates the arrival of the Europeans and the introduction of Christianity."
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.
When Okonkwo realizes just how much his village has changed near the end of the novel, he tries to fight the change. He and others burn a church. Okonkwo is whipped for this action. Therefore, he hangs himself, feeling hopeless.