Things Fall Apart Questions and Answers
by Chinua Achebe

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What are some of the language challenges that students might encounter in the reading of the novel? Refer to specific words, pronunciation, and cultural references (proverbs, idioms and/or folk tales). 

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Michelle Nietfeld, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Many words in Things Fall Apart can challenge students. Since the story takes place in Nigeria (around 1900), many of the words are unique to their culture. Chapter one, for example, is filled with unusual vocabulary. For instance, the story explains that Okonkwo's father (Unoka) is known for his debt:

"Unoka was, of course, a debtor, and he owed every neighbor some money, from a few cowries to quite substantial amounts" (ch. 1).

Cowries refers to a type of sea shell that was once used as a form of money in this region of Africa.

Unoka is also known for his love of music and for the leisurely period of time after the harvest is completed. Unoka is so talented at playing his flute that he is invited by nearby villages to play for them:

"Sometimes another village would ask Unoka’s band and their dancing egwugwu to come and stay with them and teach them their tunes" (ch. 1).

Egwugwu are dancers who dress and act like ancestral spirits. Unoka loves every part about the season after harvest, when he can finally rest, play music, and enjoy time with people in his community. He also enjoys observing the natural world:

"Unoka loved it all, and he loved the first kites that returned with the dry season, and the children who sang songs of welcome to them" (ch. 1).

In this sentence, kites are large hawk-like birds.

In chapter one, as well as the rest of the novel, many words and phrases are new to English-speaking readers. Readers therefore need to make use of context clues, as well as glossaries and outside resources, to best understand the text.

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