Things Fall Apart Summary

Things Fall Apart cover image summary

Igbo warrior Okonkwo takes pride in his wealth and titles. He fears failure and abhors all weakness, laziness, and cowardice. He's deeply embarrassed by his father, Unoka, a debtor. Much of Okonkwo's success can be tied to the fact that he doesn't want to turn out like his father.

  • Okonkwo is appointed guardian of Ikemefuna, a boy from a rival village. When the Oracle demands that Ikemefuna be sacrificed, Okonkwo kills the boy himself so as not to appear weak.
  • At Ezeudu's funeral, Okonkwo's gun explodes, killing Ezeudu's sixteen-year-old son. To appease the earth goddess Ani, he is exiled to his mother’s village of Mbanta for seven years.
  • Okonkwo returns to a village plagued by white missionaries and their provincial government. Okonkwo and other village leaders burn the new church down, but are jailed and humiliated for it.
  • Okonkwo kills a colonial messenger, but the divided village fails to rally behind him. Okonkwo hangs himself, an act that violates Igbo traditions and prevents him from receiving a proper burial.


Part I

Part I introduces readers to the main character, the Igbo warrior Okonkwo, who lives in Nigeria in the 1890s. Okonkwo is the son of a lazy debtor, Unoka, who was irresponsible and seemed to never work. Embarrassed by his bad heritage, Okonkwo sets out to become a great man, winning early fame as a wrestler by throwing Amalinze the Cat. On the strength of this fame, he's able to borrow seeds from a man named Nwakibie in order to start a farm. After years of hardship, he's able to pay his debt and become a wealthy farmer with several barns full of yams (a sign of great social status). In the process, he also marries three wives, who bear him many children, including Nwoye, his eldest son, and Ezinma, his favorite, whom he often wishes were a boy.

In recognition of Okonkwo's great wealth and status, he's charged with the care of a prisoner of war, a young boy named Ikemefuna who was sacrificed by his home village of Mbaino so they might avoid war with Umuofia, Okonkwo's clan, after men from Mbaino slaughtered one of the daughters of Umuofia. Unsurprisingly, Ikemefuna is afraid of Okonkwo at first, because the man is curt and violent and often acts rashly, spurred on by his extraordinary arrogance; but with time the boy begins to think of Okonkwo as his father, and though Okonkwo won't show anyone, he feels great affection for his charge. More so than for his own son, whom he considers weak.

One day, Okonkwo's youngest wife goes to her friend's house to plait her hair and doesn't return in time to make the afternoon meal. Okonkwo beats her, but because it is the Week of Peace, he's punished for this, because his tribesmen fear that his actions will anger the earth goddess Ani and lead to trouble in Umuofia. He's required to repent by giving a tribute to the goddess. Soon after, during the Feast of the New Yam, Okonkwo is again driven to anger by his youngest wife when, after witnessing his poor shooting, she makes a snide remark about his pistol, of which he's very proud. He shoots at her, but misses. The Feast continues, and Okonkwo and his wives all enjoy watching the ceremonial wrestling matches.

Locusts appear in the village. They appear to be a good omen, at first. People roast the locusts to eat as a delicacy, but their arrival portends the death of Ikemefuna, which has been decreed by an Oracle. Okonkwo and several men from Umuofia agree to lead Ikemefuna away from the village on the pretense of taking him back to Mbaino. On the way, the men try to kill Ikemefuna. Scared, the boy turns to Okonkwo, calling him father, but Okonkwo strikes him down, afraid of seeming weak. He's understandably upset by this, and the elders question his actions. He's able to help his friend Obierika negotiate his daughter's bride price, but soon after, Ezinma grows gravely ill, and a medicine man must be called to heal her. This contributes to Okonkwo's downward spiral.

Following incidents where the fate of an abused wife is determined by Umuofia's spirit ancestors and Okonkwo's daughter Ezinma is roused from her sleep by Chielo, the priestess of Agbala, the village gathers to celebrate the day of Obierika's daughter's uri, when her suitor brings palm wine for her parents and the other villagers. The joyous occasion is immediately followed by a somber one: the funeral of Ogbuefi Ezeudu, the oldest man in their village. During the funeral, guns are fired in Ezeudu's honor. Okonkwo's gun, however, explodes, and the shrapnel pierces the heart of Ezeudu's son and kills him. Okonkwo is subsequently banished to his mother's village of Mbanta for seven years.

Part II

In his mother's village of Mbanta, Okonkwo is given some land and yam seeds in order to build a new farm and compound. He's well received in the village, but he falls into despair, so one of the elders has to explain to him that his suffering isn't nearly so terrible as those who are exiled from their villages forever or who bear sets of twins, who are left to die in the Evil Forest, because the villagers think that twins are like demons. In his second year of exile, his friend Obierika comes to visit, bringing him stories of how white men on "iron horses" (bicycles) came to their village, and because the Oracle said the white men were evil locusts come to destroy them, the villagers killed the white man, and the man's friends killed one of the villagers, a man named Abame. The visit ends with Obierika giving Okonkwo some of the money from the sale of his yams and yam seeds, which would have rotted in Umuofia had Obierika not sold them.

Two years later, Obierika again visits Okonkwo, this time to talk about his eldest son, Nwoye, who has joined the Christian missionaries. Okonkwo had disowned Nwoye because of this and had grown to hate the missionaries intensely, because they offended the Igbo gods. He and some of the other men in the village had given the missionaries part of the Evil Forest to build a church and some huts, thinking that the Evil Forest would destroy them, but the missionaries were never harmed by the gods, and they were able to convert Nwoye to their cause. However, when one of the missionaries kills a sacred python, tensions between the two groups heighten, and the men of the village consider taking action against the missionaries. Then, when the man supposed to have killed the python takes ill and dies, the villagers think the gods have spoken and decide to let the missionaries off the hook. Soon after, Okonkwo invites the great men of Mbanta to an enormous feast. This ends Part II.

Part III

Part III opens with Okonkwo planning a glorious return to Umuofia. He has convinced Ezinma, who has been dubbed the "Crystal of Beauty" in Mbanta, to refuse offers of marriage until their family returns to Umuofia. However, when the exile ends, Okonkwo is disappointed to learn the missionaries have built a church in his village, where white men have imposed their foreign form of government on the villagers. Mr. Brown, a kind Christian man who preached compromise and peace with the villagers, is replaced by Mr. Smith, who takes a more aggressive approach. Upset by the changes that have taken place in Umuofia, Okonkwo leads a group of men in burning the white man's church to the ground. He and the men are subsequently arrested and humiliated by a group of court messengers, who demand payment to set the warriors free.

Without the support of the villagers, Okonkwo decides to take matters into his own hands. After he kills the head messenger, he hangs himself in his compound. Suicide is an abomination in his culture, and the men in his village are not allowed to cut him down or even to touch his body. A white man has to cut him down under orders from the District Commissioner, who arrived at the compound intended to arrest Okonkwo. The Commissioner then leaves, thinking of the book that he'll write about this country and of the interesting paragraph that Okonkwo's story will make.

Things Fall Apart Summary

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Things Fall Apart tells the tragic story of Okonkwo, a middle-aged leader of the Igbo community of Umuofia. The three parts of the novel relate Okonkwo’s struggle to attain status in his community, his humbling exile, and his return to a much-changed Umuofia after seven years.

Part 1 briefly describes Okonkwo’s childhood and his determined effort to overcome the example of his lazy and imprudent father, Unoka, and to make himself a successful and admired member of the clan. The flexibility of Igbo society permits Okonkwo to elevate himself through acts of strength, courage, and endurance. His early triumphs as a wrestler and a warrior are complemented by his success as a farmer, and in time he is able to support three wives and several children. The Umuofians show their respect for Okonkwo by naming him guardian of Ikemefuna, a fifteen-year-old boy who has been given to Umuofia by a neighboring village as payment for damages. This honor marks the high point of Okonkwo’s status in the community, for afterward, the single-minded determination that helps him succeed eventually results in his downfall.

Okonkwo is driven by an obsessive fear of failure, a reaction to the improvidence of his father. This self-imposed need to compensate makes Okonkwo an angry man whose independence and violence undercut his reputation in the community. In one incident, he disturbs a Week of Peace by brutally beating his youngest wife. In another, more disastrous incident, Okonkwo’s fear of appearing weak leads him to participate in the sacrificial murder of Ikemefuna, whom he has treated like a son for three years. When Okonkwo accidentally kills the young son of Ezeudu, his clansmen destroy his compound and exile him to live with his mother’s kinsmen in Mbanta for seven years.

Part 2 describes Okonkwo’s exile, a difficult time in which he must slowly reconstruct his life. Uchendu, Okonkwo’s uncle, reminds him of the limitations of success, the universality of suffering, and the importance of the clan as a source of comfort. Okonkwo’s growing sense of community and his first disturbing encounters with Christianity in Mbanta make him an inflexible defender of Igbo tradition. By the end of his exile, Okonkwo, who had earlier been known for his self-interest, has learned to appreciate the bonds of kinship and the comfort of speaking with one voice. Unfortunately, this newfound awareness comes after the unity of Igbo culture has already begun to break down.

Things fall apart for Okonkwo in part 3, when he returns to Umuofia that has been dramatically transformed by the active efforts of the missionaries. The new religion has divided the community, and Okonkwo senses that this change threatens his connection to his family, his culture, and his spiritual existence after death. When Nwoye, Okonkwo’s eldest son, converts to Christianity, he openly repudiates his father, ironically paralleling Okonkwo;s own earlier rejection of Unoka. This filial betrayal separates Okonkwo from his lineage. When Enoch, another young convert to Christianity, unmasks an egwugwu in public, thereby killing the ancestral spirit and disrupting the community’s religion, Okonkwo leads the destruction of Enoch’s compound and the missionaries’ church. Okonkwo and five other elders are briefly jailed by the District Commissioner as punishment, and Okonkwo is humiliated that Umuofia does not rise in their support. he realizes that he alone refuses accommodation and that Umuofia will not go to war against the white man, so in a final desperate and defiant act, he murders the chief messenger sent by the District Commissioner and then hangs himself.

Things Fall Apart Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Achebe’s title from William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming” invokes an ironic, apocalyptic vision warning of a new order from Africa that will destroy the status quo; thus, the novel describes the European destruction of Igbo culture but suggests a potential future shift of power reinvigorating Africa, a theme in Achebe’s later work Home and Exile. Things Fall Apart disproves white stereotypes of Igbo as primitive savages, amoral and unsophisticated, and asserts the viability of preconquest Igbo culture through the tragic story of Okonkwo and his village. A warrior determined to counter the reputation of his lazy imprudent father, Okonkwo wins community respect and titles for his hard work, public service, and martial courage. However, this hero, like William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, is flawed. His obsessive fear of repeating his father’s failures drives him to extremes in a culture proud of its balance. Humorless and short-tempered, he beats his wife in the Week of Peace, alienates his son with reprimands, joins the ritual killing of a boy he considers a son just to appear manly, and accidentally shoots a youth, resulting in his seven-year banishment to his mother’s village.

This period of separation distances him from the communal life of Umuofia, so while still ambitious after his return, he now appreciates the bonds of kinship and the comfort of a community speaking with one voice. Unfortunately, he fails to understand the inroads the British have made on his community. Christianity in particular divides families and undermines traditional systems of government, justice, and religion. His eldest son’s conversion to Christianity separates Okonkwo from his lineage, and when another convert desecrates a traditional totem, Okonkwo leads the Umuofians in destroying the missionaries’ church. Like Okonkwo, the Umuofians face separation from their past and a future requiring difficult compromises; yet Achebe carefully shows that the decentralized structure of Igbo society allows for such change.

Okonkwo, personally unwilling to adapt to cultural change and believing that his fellow Umuofians will wage war against the whites who have insulted their representatives, murders the district commissioner’s messenger. However, the village understands that this act will bring retaliation, possibly the deaths of everyone in the village, as happened to neighboring Abame. At the end of the novel, Okonkwo proves his worth and restores balance to his life and to his village by committing a womanly act, suicide, that renounces everything he has stood for but protects his people. His friend, Obierta, calls Okonkwo the best man among them, for he has given up his place in the memories of his people so they will not suffer from his act. He is an exceptional individual whose final act both restores him to his clan and forever alienates him from it. Okonkwo’s Christlike sacrifice confirms that Umuofia is a living culture capable of adapting to meet new challenges.

The central theme of all Achebe’s novels is the tragedy created by the British contempt for African religion, law, culture, and people, yet Igbo accommodation to change remains a survival mechanism enabling Africans to endure untold hardships. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe effectively refutes European stereotypes of African culture, offering instead a complex, fluid portrait of Igbo culture as essentially democratic, pluralistic, tolerant, and community-centered. It is, however, a society whose acceptance of difference within its community assured dramatic future change after English hegemony.

Things Fall Apart Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Okonkwo’s father is cowardly, foolish, and poor in his life, an outcast at his death. When his father dies, Okonkwo, on the other hand, though still a young man, has three wives, two barns full of yams, two of his people’s titles, and a reputation as the strongest wrestler and the bravest warrior in the nine villages of Umuofia. Okonkwo takes great pride in these accomplishments, sometimes forgetting the assistance of his personal god, or chi, and of the man from whom he borrowed yams to start his own farm.

Despite his accomplishments, Okonkwo fears being seen as like his father. One of his great disappointments is his eldest son, Nwoye, who seems to inherit Okonkwo’s father’s weakness. Nwoye dislikes the men’s stories of war, preferring his mother’s childish stories. Okonkwo, who has a quick temper, often tries to beat these behaviors out of Nwoye.

A change happens when the village leaders put under Okonkwo’s care a Mbaino boy named Ikemefuna. Ikemefuna comes to Okonkwo’s village because the Mbainos killed a Umuofian woman; eventually the boy is to be killed in retribution. While living in Okonkwo’s compound, Ikemefuna exerts a good influence on Nwoye and wins the affection of everyone, including Okonkwo.

During Ikemefuna’s stay, the village observes the sacred Week of Peace that always precedes planting season. Violence is strictly forbidden for that week. Nonetheless, Okonkwo, in a fit of anger, severely beats his youngest wife. This angers the earth goddess. As punishment Okonkwo pays a fine. He repents inwardly but does not admit his error outwardly, and so it is said that he lacks respect for the clan gods.

Three years after Ikemefuna’s arrival, the village council decides it is time for him to be killed. The oldest man in the village warns Okonkwo not to take part, because Ikemefuna is like a son to Okonkwo. Okonkwo, fearful of appearing weak, not only attends Ikemefuna’s killing but also deals his death blow. This act disturbs Okonkwo afterward, which puzzles him, because he followed his people’s practice. Nwoye, who greatly loved Ikemefuna, resents his father’s action bitterly. Later, Okonkwo confronts his friend Obereika, who did not take part in the killing. Obereika says that although the oracle said the boy had to die, it did not compel a man to take part.

Shortly, the elder who advised Okonkwo to stay away from Ikemefuna’s execution dies. At his funeral rites, as the cannons and guns sound, there is a sudden silence in the dancing crowd. Okonkwo’s gun mysteriously explodes and kills the dead man’s son. Guilty of another crime against the earth goddess, Okonkwo and his family are banished to his motherland for seven years. No longer can he hope to become a lord of the clan of his fathers, Okonkwo laments. His chi does not affirm his plans.

While exiled, Okonkwo maintains his material wealth with the assistance of his kinsmen and Obereika. Changes are happening, chief among them the arrival of white missionaries and governing officials. After some initial confusion and severe punishment for violence against the newcomers, there comes a time of peaceful coexistence. Some Umuofians are converted by the missionaries, and among them is Nwoye. He is attracted by the new religion’s criticism of such Umuofian practices as killing an innocent boy like Ikemefuna and throwing newborn twins into the Evil Forest to die. Learning of Nwoye’s conversion, Okonkwo beats him and banishes him from the family compound.

After seven years, Okonkwo returns to his fatherland with plans for regaining his former status and for leading his people in a war against the newcomers before they destroy Umuofia. Obereika says that by converting native people and employing them in government posts, the newcomers already inserted a “knife” into their community. The people have already fallen “part.”

Okonkwo’s opportunity to incite his people comes when a native convert desecrates a Umuofian ceremony. Okonkwo rejoices as his people take revenge by tearing down the missionaries’ church building. Government officials, however, soon capture Okonkwo and the other leaders, punishing them cruelly.

Once their leaders are released, the people gather to determine whether to respond with conciliation or with war. A Umuofian who works for the new government arrives and orders the meeting stopped. Angered, Okonkwo kills him, and, fearful, the people disband. The officials who come to arrest Okonkwo are led to the place where he hung himself. Suicide is against the Umuofian tradition; Okonkwo is buried as an outcast.

Things Fall Apart Chapter Summary and Analysis

Things Fall Apart Part One, Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis

Chapter One introduces readers to the main character, the Igbo warrior Okonkwo, who is famous in the nine villages for throwing Amalinze the Cat in a wrestling match at the age of eighteen. He has since become a great and powerful man in his village of Iguedo, one of the nine villages that make up Umuofia, where he has amassed much wealth and taken many titles. His dogged pursuit of success is fueled by his hatred of his father Unoka, a lazy debtor, who embarrassed Okonkwo all his life. There's a story about one of Unoka's lenders, who comes to see him one day to collect but is rebuffed by a self-satisfied Unoka, who says that he'll pay his biggest debts, pointing to the wall where he has recorded them with tick marks. Determined not to be like his father, Okonkwo makes himself into a great man. The respect he earns leads to him being charged with the care of a young boy named Ikemefuna, who has been sent as a peace offering from a rival village.


One example of a metaphor from this chapter is "proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten." Palm-oil was commonly used in Igbo culture and appears in most of the dishes characters eat in this novel. To say that proverbs are eaten with this palm-oil is to say that they are prepared in expert fashion and that they are an art form used every day in their culture.


Drums. Throughout the story, we'll hear the beating of drums, which often build up to wrestling matches and other great social events. In this chapter, the drums beat while Okonkwo wrestles Amalinze the Cat, heightening the tension of the scene.


Examples of similes from this chapter include "Okonkwo was as slippery as a fish in water" and "Okonkwo's fame grew like a bush-fire." Note that both of these similes compare Okonkwo to a part of the natural world. This underscores the fact that his life and culture are rooted in the earth and draw strength from nature.


Cowries. Cowries are shells that the Igbo use as units of currency. They symbolize wealth—or, in Unoka's case, debt, because he lacks cowries to pay off his loans.

Kola Nuts. When guests call on a member of the tribe, the host breaks open a kola nut and shares it with the guests. The kola nut is thus a symbol of fellowship and respect. Refusing to partake of a kola nut, such as Okoye does when he comes to collect on Unoka's debt, indicates that one doesn't respect the host and isn't interested in their fellowship.

Tick Marks. These tick marks are obvious symbols of Unoka's debt, and each tick mark represents a debt of a hundred cowries. That his entire wall is filled with these tick marks should indicate to the reader that Unoka has lived a life of laziness and financial irresponsibility.


Respect. The first chapter draws an obvious comparison between Okonkwo, a well-respected man, and his lazy father, Unoka, who never did anything commendable as long as he lived. In general, old age is highly respected in Igbo culture, but because Unoka took no titles and died with debt, he never earned the respect of his tribesmen. Okonkwo, however, strives to achieve the highest rank in his village, and he spend his life building his fame and wealth so that he'll be considered a great man (unlike his father). Achebe uses the stark differences between the two men to build up the image of Okonkwo as a great leader and warrior. His downfall will be all the more tragic because of his greatness.

Wealth. Like most cultures, the Igbo prize wealth and power in men, and this leads Okonkwo to a dogged pursuit of fame and prestige. Unlike his father, who dies in debt, Okonkwo builds himself a huge compound, becomes a prodigious farmer, and fathers eight children. Both men are measured by their wealth and thus subject to the same social constructs that determine what makes someone a man worthy of respect. However, Unoka doesn't seem to care about other people's expectations, and one could argue that he's the happier of the two men because of it.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis

One night, the town crier runs through the village, telling all the men to gather at the market that next morning. A girl from their village has been killed, the elders say, by men from Mbaino, one of the rival villages. Their course of action is clear: to present the bigger, stronger Umuofia with a sacrifice of a young man and a virgin or else prepare to fight a war. Naturally, Mbaino chooses the latter, and the girl is married off to the man whose wife was killed. The boy, however, is sent to live with Okonkwo and will later meet a terrible fate. His name is Ikemefuna, and he's afraid. He has been taken from his home and was terrified of Okonkwo. He didn't know the girl who'd been brought with him from Mbaino, and he never saw her again.


Achebe frequently uses repetition to emphasize sounds, such as when he repeats the call "Gome, gome, gome, gome" and describers the crier's voice as growing "dimmer and dimmer." This has the effect of aligning the reader with Okonkwo, from whose perspective we hear the voice grow dimmer and dimmer as the crier moves farther and farther away.


Human Heads. Okonkwo has five human heads, which he carried home as trophies from battles. Each of these heads is a symbol of Okonkwo's incredible brutality, both as a warrior and a person. That he uses the skull of his first human head as a drinking goblet demonstrates that he's an often ruthless and heartless character. However, it's important to remember that in his culture this is not an entirely uncommon practice, and that he's respected for the head collection modern readers might find macabre.


Evil. In Igbo culture, it's common practice to protect one's self from evil spirits, which can take many forms, including snakes, dangerous animals, and disembodied voices. Tradition holds that one is never to call a snake by its name or whistle at all at night for fear of evil spirits. Western readers will likely think of these as "superstitions." However, it's important to remember that this book is about a different culture and that belief in evil spirits is part of the Igbo religion. Henceforth, any and all "superstitions" will be referred to as essential parts of Igbo spiritual practices.

Justice. When Okonkwo travels to Mbaino to give their village elders an ultimatum, he's armed with the knowledge that, if it comes to war, his will be a "just war," meaning one that has a just cause and that no one can dispute Umuofia's reasons for giving Mbaino this ultimatum. Justice to them is a kind of balance: when one person wrongs you, then they must pay you for this wrong at an equal or greater value, whether it be in money, people, or yams. Later in the novel, we'll see somebody who kills a sacred python take suddenly ill and die. The villagers think this fair and consider the matter resolved.

Nature. Igbo peoples have a strong connection with nature, and their gods are all connected in some way to the natural world, like Ani, the earth goddess. Their religion consists of a complex network of beliefs and practices that incorporate offerings to the gods, communication with the spirits, and a strong belief in evil spirits, animals, and omens. Okonkwo's exile is an attempt on the part of the village elders to counterbalance and punish his misdeeds before the gods can intercede. In this, it becomes clear that the Igbo gods are both revered and feared. No one, not even Okonkwo, is safe from their judgment.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis

This chapter dips into Okonkwo's past, opening with a scene where his father Unoka pays a visit to the priestess of the god Agbala. He asks the priestess why his crops always fail, despite all the offerings he gives to the gods, and she tells him that he hasn't angered the gods; he's just lazy. So Unoka goes home and continues to plow the same barren soil. Okonkwo, realizing the futility of relying on his father, turns to a great man of their village for yam seeds to start his own farm. He has already proven himself as a wrestler, but is still a young man who must build a life and fight against the assumption that he will be lazy like his father. The great man, Nwakibie, loans him a starter crop of 800 yam seeds. With the seeds, Okonkwo establishes his farm. His first year turns out to be the worst Umuofia has even seen. "Since I survived that year," he says, "I shall survive anything."


When Unoka warns Okonkwo that it's more difficult for a proud man like him to fail alone, he's foreshadowing Okonkwo's inevitable fall, which comes at the end of the novel.


Kola Nuts. Once again, kola nuts are symbols of respect and fellowship. For more information on this, see Chapter 1, Symbols: Kola Nuts.

Machete. The priestess of Agbala tells Unoka that he's known for "the weakness of his machete," which in this context refers to his manhood and his abilities as a farmer. The priestess is essentially calling Unoka's masculinity into question, telling him that he has brought his misfortune on himself.

Palm-wine. Palm-wine, like kola nut, is consumed in social situations as a sign of fellowship. The thick dregs of the palm-wine are particularly meaningful and are given to a man named Igwebo, who it's said has "a job in hand," because he has recently gotten married. It's curious that Okonkwo, who must begin the hard work necessary to start a farm, isn't offered these palm-wine dregs, though he has what is arguably the hardest job of them all.

Yams. In Igbo culture, yams are a symbol of one's wealth and prestige. Essentially, the more yams (and yam seeds) a man has, the richer and more powerful he is. Thanks to Unoka's laziness, Okonkwo is forced to borrow his first yam seeds, but because of his resilience and work ethic, he's quickly able to pay back this loan and built up his own fortune. This adds to Okonkwo's fame and further differentiates him from his father. For more information on this, see Chapter 1, Themes: Respect.


Nature. This theme runs throughout the novel, becoming linked with the themes of religion, evil, wealth, and respect. Okonkwo's ability to manipulate the soil and produce barns full of yams brings him great respect. At the same time, nature proves fickle, as do the earth goddesses whose whims can determine a farmer's fate. His struggle to make his new farm successful could be read as an early indication that the gods will be against Okonkwo in the future.

Pride. Unoka tells Okonkwo that a proud man can survive failure, warning him that it's "more difficult and more bitter when a man fails alone." This is a comment on Okonkwo's arrogance, which has made him indifferent to the suffering of others, including his father. Okonkwo is so proud, in fact, that he appears to be living in his own world, requiring no help from others, and aspiring only to lord over them.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis

Umuofia's elders marvel at Okonkwo's sudden rise to fame, noting with some displeasure that he has no patience for men who can't prove themselves the same way he did. His great success leads to his being charged with the care of Ikemefuna, the young boy from Mbaino who (rightly) fears Okonkwo and his rages. Gradually, however, Ikemefuna starts to think of Okonkwo as his father and grows to love him.

One day, Okonkwo's youngest wife goes to plait her hair at a friend's house and doesn't return in time to cook the afternoon meal. This angers Okonkwo so much that he beats her, even though it disturbs the Week of Peace. This upsets his elders, and he's forced to make an offering to the god Ani. However, Okonkwo feels no real guilt and goes back to fussing over his seed yams. He tries to teach his eldest son Nwoye and his charge Ikemefuna how to prepare the yams, but they're too young, and he's disappointed in both of their work. In spite of this, Ikemefuna still loves his new father and only rarely thinks of his home.


Yams. As Achebe notes, "Yam stood for manliness." This further develops the yam as a symbol of great social status and masculinity. For more on this, see Chapter 3, Symbols: Yams.


Family. When Mbaino sacrificed Ikemefuna to Umuofia, they effectively broke up his family, separating him from everything he knew and loved. However, Ikemefuna gradually begins to see Okonkwo and Nwoye as his family, and they create a new extended family together. Unlike many Western cultures, the Igbo allow their men to have multiple wives, which creates a complex hierarchy of wives and children, with the first wife and eldest son having the highest rank after Okonkwo.

Fear. There are three instances in this chapter where a character feels great fear: when Ikemefuna first moves in with Okonkwo's family, when Okonkwo's first wife incites him to anger, and when the village elders fear that Ani will seek retribution because Okonkwo disturbed the Week of Peace. Each fear in some way stems from Okonkwo's tendency toward violence, which in itself signals that violence will lead to Okonkwo's fall.

Maturity. Okonkwo equates maturity with strength, wealth, and skill, such as the ability to prepare the seed yams. When Ikemefuna and Nwoye fail at this, he belittles them both, even though he knows that they're still too young. Okonkwo's idea of maturity, like his idea of manhood, is very rigid, and it leaves no room for serious emotional and intellectual development. His hardness will soon cause a rift between him and his children.

Violence. With Okonkwo's skill as a warrior comes a great propensity for violence, which we've seen in the past with his large collection of human heads. Here, his violence turns not against a rival clan but against his own wife, whom he beats savagely. His ability to do this without feeling pity or regret further characterizes him as a heartless and cruel person.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis

Umuofia celebrates the Feast of the New Yam before they begin their harvest. Though it's meant to be a joyous occasion, Okonkwo can't get into the spirit of things and starts stalking around his compound, looking for excuses to get angry. Okonkwo beats his second wife for cutting a couple leaves off a banana tree; then he goes out hunting with his pistol, even though he's a terrible shot. His wife laughs at his marksmanship, which incites a fit of rage. He shoots at her with the pistol, but misses badly. Nevertheless, the feast proves to be a happy one, and Okonkwo's wives prepare the afternoon meals so that they'll have time to watch the wrestling matches later.


When Okonkwo's daughter Obiageli drops the pot she uses to carry water, it foreshadows a later scene where Ikemefuna drops the pot he's carrying when the men from Umuofia try to kill him.


Drums. Achebe uses the repeated sound of the drum beats to build anticipation for the wrestling match in the next chapter. These drums remind Okonkwo of his days as a wrestler, stirring his ever present desire to prove himself in battle and conquer other people. In stirring up these memories, Achebe subtly reminds the reader that Okonkwo's glory days are behind him and that he himself won't be taking part in the wrestling matches. He's growing old.

Fire. Achebe repeatedly uses the image of fire to suggest passion, violence, and potential danger, as in the case of Ekwefi lifting a pot off the fire with her bare hands. When Okonkwo hears the drums beating, the sound "fill[s] him with fire," meaning that it stirs a desire to fight, reminding him of his great strength and his abilities as a warrior. Thus, fire becomes a destructive force, which will reappear later in the novel, to disastrous results.


Pistol. Okonkwo's pistol is a clear symbol of death and violence, particularly when he attempts to shoot his wife with it. This pistol is also a symbol of increased industrialization, because the Igbo, who primarily use iron tools like machetes, are incapable of fashioning such firearms themselves. The mere presence of the pistol hints at the colonization that will soon take place in Umuofia.

Pots. Obiageli's broken pot is a clear symbol of disaster. When it shatters, she's goofing off, acting like a child, so that, when it falls from her head, it can be said that she brought the disaster on herself. She's (rightly) afraid that Okonkwo will punish her for this act, which seems to portend doom. In a later chapter, Ikemefuna will break another pot, solidifying the item's association with disaster.


Gender. Igbo culture draws a sharp line between femininity and masculinity, with "female" traits, such as weakness, being treated with disdain. There's no room for men in Igbo culture to be "soft" or for women to exercise their own power. Though the first wife of any household typically carries her husband's titles and thus commands a similar level of respect, women are generally forced to be subservient to men, and there's no such thing as a truly independent woman.

Tradition. There are many traditions in Igbo culture, including those related to their religious, spiritual, and agricultural practices. These traditions together dictate when one eats one's meals, who prepares them, what they consist of, and in what order they're served. This is all tied up with the hierarchy imposed on families, which determines who has the most status or "value" among the wives and children. Traditionally, the first wife and the firstborn son are the most valuable, but all women and children are valued in the sense that they perform much of the manual labor on the farm.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis

This chapter consists entirely of a recreation of all the wrestling matches at the Feast of the New Yam, one of the most important traditions in Igbo culture. Young men of the nine villages come to prove themselves in the ring and build their reputations. Okonkwo was once one of these boys (a fact which is not forgotten). During the matches, Chielo, the priestess of Agbala, comes up to Ekwefi, asking about her daughter Ezinma, whom Chielo affectionately calls "my daughter." In her everyday life, Chielo is a widow who shares a stall with Ekwefi at the market, but when she feels the spirit of Agbala inside her, she becomes the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves. She will show an even greater interest in Ezinma in the chapters to come.


The celebratory villagers use hyperbole when they ask, "Has he thrown a hundred Cats? / He has thrown four hundred Cats," which the reader of course knows not to be true, because Okafo, the boy they're singing about, has only fought one match that we've seen.


Drums. Achebe continues to build on the drum motif, equating these drum beats with the collective pulse of the people. In this way, the drums come to represent the enormous vitality of the wrestlers and their audience.


One example of a simile is "the air shivered and grew tense like a tightened bow."


Cats. Here, "Cats" are likely an allusion to Amalinze the Cat, the great wrestler whom Okonkwo threw in his youth. The lyrics "Has he thrown a hundred Cats? / He has thrown four hundred Cats" are a clear reference to Okonkwo's victory, indicating that this great feat is highly revered among the people of his village. Thus, the thrown Cat becomes a symbol of a man's strength and prowess in the ring, as in the battlefield.

Chi. One's chi is a personal god that one worships and gives offering to so that one might be blessed with luck and good fortune. In Ekwefi's case, her chi is considered "very much awake" because it spared her from being killed by Okonkwo's gun. Thus, Ekwefi is seen as being under the care of a very powerful chi, who has changed her fate for the better.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 7 Summary and Analysis

Ikemefuna has been living with Okonkwo's family for three years. He has been a good influence on Nwoye, Okonkwo's eldest son, whom Okonkwo thinks weak. Though Nwoye shows definite improvement, he stills dislikes the thought of bloodshed and prefers the folktales that his mother used to tell him about the Earth and the Sky and their heated quarrel. Then one day locusts come to Umuofia, and the villagers go out every night to collect cicadas and roast them for snacks.

This event is immediately followed by the bad news that Ikemefuna will be sacrificed, according to the will of Agbala. Ogbuefi Ezeudu informs Okonkwo of this, warning him not to have a hand in Ikemefuna's death, because it would be wrong, given that the boy calls him "father." Okonkwo lies to Ikemefuna, telling him that he's to be taken back to his village of Mbaino. During the long journey to his homeland, Ikemefuna is surprised when some of the men in their group attempt to kill him. He runs to Okonkwo for help, crying, "My father, they have killed me!" But Okonkwo strikes him down for fear of looking weak.

That night, Okonkwo returns to the village, and Nwoye knows, just by looking at the expression on his face, that Ikemefuna is dead. Something snaps inside Nwoye then, and he will never truly forgive his father.


Earth and Sky. Nwoye's mother tells stories and folktales about the natural world and their gods. In one of these, Earth and Sky, personified as characters with unique and oppositional desires, quarrel over Sky's refusal to bring the rain. Meanwhile, the crops die, and the human beings suffer. In this example, personification is used to suggest that the natural world has intentionality, and that rain and shine are both determined according to the will of the gods and spirits.


Locusts. Like the broken pot, the swarm of locusts is a clear omen of doom. Achebe calls the first swarm "harbingers sent to survey the land," where a harbinger is a kind of messenger that announces the arrival of another person or being (in this case, both the full swarm of locusts and the tragic death of Ikemefuna). Though the villagers of Umuofia collect the locusts and eat them as a snack, their presence symbolizes danger ahead and foreshadows Ikemefuna's death, as well as the inevitable downfall of Okonkwo.


Family. With the death of Ikemefuna comes a reexamination of the theme of family, which means little to nothing to Okonkwo. When he kills Ikemefuna, it's clear that his main priority is maintaining his public image as a brave and powerful warrior. Everything else is secondary, or even tertiary, and the fact that he doesn't think twice before striking Ikemefuna down indicates that "family" has no real emotional weight for him. On the other side of the spectrum is Nwoye, who feels something give way inside him when he realizes that Ikemefuna is dead. For him, family means everything, and this, more than anything else, differentiates Nwoye from his father.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis

Okonkwo barely eats anything for two days, upset about Ikemefuna. Soon enough, however, he's able to pull himself out of this depression, and berates himself for acting, as he says, like "a shivering old woman." He then visits his good friend Obierika, who needs Okonkwo's help negotiating his daughter's pride price with her suitor. Obierika rebukes Okonkwo for taking part in Ikemefuna's death, but their argument is quickly brought to and end by a messenger who brings them news of a truly strange event: the oldest man in their sister village of Ire has died, but the drums have not beaten for him, because his first wife, who wailed over his body, died shortly after, and so they'll have to wait to bury him until she is in the ground, as is the custom.

Okonkwo goes to tap his trees for palm-wine, then returns to Obierika's hut for the negotiations. Obierika's daughter Akueke, the soon-to-be married one, offers the men kola nuts, then returns to her mother's hut to prepare food. Meanwhile, the men discuss her bride price, finally settling on a sum of twenty bags of cowries. Then they exchange stories of the strange customs practiced by a different village, where they don't decide bride prices fairly. Obierika compares a white man to a piece of chalk, and the men laugh at the image of a man with leprosy, a disease known to them as "the white skin."


Achebe uses a metaphor when he equates the disease leprosy with white skin, suggesting that the white men are a kind of disease that will blight the people of Nigeria.


Obierika uses a simile when he says that white men are "white like this piece of chalk."


Palm-Wine. Once again, palm-wine is offered as a symbol of respect and fellowship. In this chapter, however, palm-wine takes on an added layer of meaning, as men who tap palm trees are given the title ozo, which is highly respected in Umuofia but means nothing in many other clans, such as the Abama and the Aninta. Thus, palm-wine is also a symbol of one's social status.

Threads. When a man takes a title in Igbo villages, he wears the colored thread associated with the title on his ankle. Essentially, the more threads one wears, the more titles one has, and the more titles one has, the higher one's social status.


Death. There has already been much death in this novel: the warriors Okonkwo killed, the girl that was slaughtered by men from Mbaino, and of course Ikemefuna. These are all untimely deaths, each stemming either from acts of war or sacrifice, and emphasize the violent nature of life and war in these villages. There haven't been many natural deaths, however, and Ndulue's is the only one so far to receive this much attention in the novel. His wife Ozoemena's death is strongly suggested to have been caused by Ndulue's, suggesting that the two were irrevocably linked by their love, and that one could not live without the other. This is a rare sentiment in an often brutal novel and won't be repeated.

Gender. Men in Igbo culture associate weakness with femininity. This idea is so deeply ingrained in their culture that Okonkwo actually berates himself for being sad about Ikemefuna's death, referring to himself as a "shivering old woman" because of this uncharacteristic show of emotion. Similarly, when he hears the story of Ndulue, who couldn't do anything without telling his wife, he shakes his head, considering this weak, though his friend Obierika quickly disabuses him of that notion: Ndulue was a great warrior in his time and led Umuofia in his time. Love for a woman, Achebe implies, isn't weak, no matter what Okonkwo thinks.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis

Okonkwo is finally able to sleep after three days of being upset about Ikemefuna. Not long after falling asleep, however, his wife Ekwefi wakes him to say that their daughter Ezinma is ill. This isn't the first time Ezinma has been on the verge of death. Ekwefi had nine children who died in their infancy before Ezinma, and for years after Ezinma's birth everyone expected her to die. The girl was often sick, but persevered, and now Ekwefi believes that she will stay (meaning that her spirit won't leave her body again, as it did with Ekwefi's other children). A medicine man called Okagbue had examined Ezinma the year before and was convinced that Ezinma was an ogbanje (a changeling child) who had buried her iyi-uwa (a special stone that linked her to the spirit world). Okagbue dug up the iyi-uwa, and the girl was said to be cured. So Ekwefi and Okonkwo do not call the medicine man when Ezinma gets sick this time. They make her some medicine, and she recovers.


Ekwefi directly addresses Death by naming one of her children Onwumbiko, a name that literally means "Death, I implore you." The child dies, and Ekwefi's prayers aren't answered.


Okonkwo remembers a story in which the Mosquito and the Ear are personified and engage in an unrequited love affair where Mosquito asks Ear to marry him and is rebuffed. Ear laughs that the Mosquito looks like a skeleton, so every time Mosquito flies by, he whispers to Ear that he's still alive. This explains why mosquitoes love to buzz around ears. It also ascribes the natural world a level of intentionality that a human would have, suggesting that mosquitoes have feelings and are capable of talking like a person.


Eggs. In Igbo culture, children are forbidden eggs, because it's believed eggs will lead them to become thieves. Ekwefi, however, can't deny Ezinma eggs when she asks for them, and the two eat eggs behind closed doors so that Okonkwo won't see them. Over time, the eggs come to symbolize the love between mother and daughter and the special connection they share.


Illness. In Chapter 8, we learned that "the white skin" is the Igbo term for "leprosy," a disease that affects the skin and often causes discoloration. When Ezinma gets sick in this chapter, illness is elevated from a mere fact of life to a major theme in the novel, which can be linked to other major themes like religion, tradition, and death. Ezinma's illness appears to stem from a connection to the spirit world, which prevents her spirit from being happy in the human world. When that connection is finally severed, the worst of her illness passes, and her mother Ekwefi believes that Ezinma has "come to stay."

Things Fall Apart Chapter 10 Summary and Analysis

This chapter opens with a trial, in which the egwugwu (masked men impersonating the villagers' ancestors) interrogate a man who is accused of being excessively cruel to his wife, who wants to return to her parents. Her father argues in front of the egwugwu that her husband doesn't deserve her, because he once beat her so badly that she miscarried. Eventually, the egwugwu decide that the husband shall make offerings to his wife's family, and that if he does this for them, then she'll return to him. The implication is that he will no longer beat her, because, as the egwugwu say, "It is not bravery when a man fights with a woman."


Egwugwu are physical manifestations of the ancient spirits, who are represented by men wearing large, fearsome masks. These spirits are given bodies and voices by the great men of the village, who give the spirits form and allow them to make informed, logical decisions, as a living person would.


Once again, Achebe uses the repetition of "gome, gome, gome, gome" to represent the beating of the drums.


Courage. Though Okonkwo himself is one of the egwugwu, they disapprove of domestic violence against women, if for no other reason than that they believe "it is not bravery when a man fights with a woman." In other words, if a man beats a woman, that doesn't show his strength, because women are neither warriors nor enemies. Okonkwo, who has himself beaten his wives and children many times, takes the same stance as the egwugwu and in so doing proves himself a hypocrite. Achebe is clearly using this trial to imply that Okonkwo isn't as brave as he thinks he is, because after all he still feels the need to beat his wives.

Gender. Many critics have pointed out that the Igbo women aren't accurately represented in this novel. In Igbo culture, women run the marketplaces, act as judges, and wield far more power than they do in this novel. It's unclear why exactly Achebe has overlooked the facts and chosen to selectively misrepresent his culture. It's possible that he did it to place emphasis on Okonkwo's brutality and strength and that it was easier for him to build Okonkwo up at a woman's expense. This is just an educated guess, however.

Justice. Together, the nine egwugwu from a kind of tribunal that judges cases brought before them by the villagers of Umuofia. Their justice is meant to be impartial, favoring no party, and judging by the traditions of their culture. Thus, the wife beater isn't punished, but is expected to change his ways for fear of eventually being punished. This is considered justice in the eyes of the Igbo. However, it's worth noting that men weren't the only judges in Igbo cultures and that women often acted as judges in cases of domestic violence.

Violence. In a surprise turn, the egwugwu take a hard stance against domestic violence. After chapters and chapters of Okonkwo beating his wives and children for no real reason, it's natural for the reader to assume that domestic violence is simply part of Igbo culture. The egwugwu make it clear that this isn't the case and that Okonkwo's actions, were they brought before the judge, would likely be condemned. Of course, he won't be brought before the judges, because the other men tend to look the other way. Still, Achebe uses the trial to suggest that Okonkwo's violence is excessive and that it will lead to his downfall.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 11 Summary and Analysis

One night, Ekwefi tells a story about Tortoise, who was very cunning and, because of this, wasn't invited to a great feast in the sky. After sweet-talking the birds into giving him feathers so that he can make himself a set of wings, he tricks them into taking new names for the feast, telling them that it's an old custom. He takes the name "all of you," so that when the cook was asked whom he made the feast for, he replied, "For all of you," and unwittingly gave the best food to Tortoise. He eats until there's practically nothing left, and the birds, angered, take their feathers back and leave him.

One of the birds, Parrot, agrees to take a message to Tortoise's wife, but instead of telling her to bring all the soft things out of their house so that they might break Tortoise's fall, Parrot tells her to put all of the hard things on the ground. When Tortoise jumps from the sky, he breaks his hard shell, and this, Ekwefi says, is why tortoise shells aren't smooth. Soon after Ekwefi finishes this story, Chielo, the priestess of Agbala, arrives and demands to see Ezinma. Ezinma is afraid, but Chielo carries the child on her back to see the god in the hills and the caves. Ekwefi, also afraid, follows them into the night.

Chielo realizes that someone is following her, but doesn't know that it's Ekwefi. Despite Chielo's threats of retribution from Agbala, Ekwefi doesn't stop following the two. Eventually, the moon rises, and this increases Ekwefi's fear, causing her to see terrifying shapes in the shadows. Later, when Chielo reaches the cave of Agbala, Ekwefi waits outside, determined to rush in if she hears her daughter scream. Okonkwo then reveals himself, telling Ekwefi that he will take over for her as a watchman.


Ekwefi's story about the cunning and ungrateful Tortoise is an allegory meant to teach children a lesson about the evils of greed and treachery. It's at once a kind of alternate history, in which the personified Tortoise doesn't evolve its ridged shell so much as break it, and an allegorical folktale that may be commenting on the evils of colonialism. As we'll see in later chapters, the white men will arrive in Nigeria, use placating and confusing language to lull the villagers into a false sense of security, and then destroy their culture and use up their resources, just as Tortoise managed to insinuate himself amongst the birds and eat up all their food.


Ekwefi thinks of the moon as "sullen" because it hasn't risen yet. This clearly ascribes the moon human characteristics, personifying it as a moody person who doesn't want to get up.


Achebe uses a simile when he explains that "each hut seen from the others looked like a soft eye of yellow half-light set in the solid massiveness of night" and again when he says "nights were as black as charcoal."

Things Fall Apart Chapter 12 Summary and Analysis

The next morning, after Okonkwo and Ekwefi return from following Chielo and Ezinma into the foothills, their entire village comes out to celebrate the day of Obierika's daughter's uri, when her suitor brings palm-wine to her family and to the rest of their kinsmen (a large group that includes Okonkwo and Obierika's good friends). Okonkwo and Ekwefi are tired from their trip, but attend the celebration, bringing the bride food and water in honor of her impending marriage. Obierika gives his daughter a very large goat the size of a small cow, which he sent a relative to buy at the market. This market is famous because of a "medicine" (magic) that the founders used to attract people to come.

While the women prepare food for the uri, a cow gets loose and has to be corralled. After they all drink some palm-wine, the real celebration begins, and Obierika's clansmen come over and make many toasts to Obierika, their family, their future children, and Okonkwo, whom they praise (yet again) for his skills as a warrior. This stands in sharp contrast to the image of him as a very tired, worried, and humbled father that readers saw at the beginning of this chapter. After dancing and feasting, the bride is taken to live with her suitor's family for seven weeks, and the chapter ends.


Achebe uses a simile when he says Chielo crawled out of the cave on her belly "like a snake" and again when he says Obierika's compound was "as busy as an anthill."


Gifts. Traditional gifts in Igbo culture include the kola nut, food, water, palm-wine, livestock, and large sums of money in the form of cowries. Generally, the more important the ceremony is, the larger the gift is expected to be. Giving less than this amount or being stingy is frowned upon, because it's not in keeping with Igbo traditions.

Magic. Igbo spiritual practices include a belief in magic and the supernatural, which they use to explain a wide variety of phenomena, including the popularity of the market. It's important that Western readers in particular differentiate between mere superstitions and fundamental spiritual practices. Belief in magic is essential to the Igbo identity and shapes how they relate to the natural world.

Nature. This novel makes it clear that Igbo culture is firmly rooted in the land: people grow all their own food on the land, draw their wealth from the land, worship earth gods, and build their huts out of the earth. Everything relates back to nature, and nature in itself becomes a kind of character, with various earth gods and natural phenomena (like rain) personified in order to explain them.

Tradition. Igbo people live their entire lives according to tradition, planting their crops using time-honored methods, getting married only after certain criteria have been met, and observing traditional war practices, such as delivering ultimatums. These traditions are essential to understanding the Igbo culture and help readers understand how different characters relate to each other.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 13 Summary and Analysis

One morning, the village is shaken by the news that Ogbuefi Ezeudu, the oldest man in Iguedo, has died. Everyone attends his funeral. One egwugwu even gets violent in his grief. Ezeudu took three titles in his life, conferring him the right to be buried at night in a sacred ceremony. Before he's buried, there's much tumult and dancing, and guns are fired in his honor, as when a soldier is buried. A one-handed spirit then comes to beseech Ezeudu's spirit to be reborn just as he was: an infinitely brave warrior and a good man. Then, when the dancing begins again, Okonkwo's pistol explodes and a piece of shrapnel pierces Obierika's son Maduka in the heart, killing him. For this accident, Okonkwo is exiled to his mother's village of Mbanta for seven years. Thus ends Part I.


Fire. The day after Okonkwo accidentally kills Maduka, Obierika and other men from the village burn Okonkwo's compound to the ground and slaughter his animals. This is their way of cleansing the land of their clansman's blood. Achebe again uses fire as a destructive force, allowing the fire to reduce Okonkwo's home to ashes. This symbolizes the end of Okonkwo's greatness.


Blood. Blood has several different meanings. It can be shed righteously, as in war, or it can be shed in an dirty or offensive way, becoming like a pollutant that sullies the earth. In this context, blood isn't a symbol of glory or victory but, rather, a potent symbol of danger and evil. Its influence must be counterbalanced in order to appease the gods. Hence, the destruction of Okonkwo's compound.

Coffin. One of the egwugwu, a one-handed spirit carrying a bucket of water, wears a costume that makes him look like a coffin. This coffin is a clear symbol of death, emphasizing the fact that death can be ugly, smelly, and horrific. Men run away from this spirit. People give him room to speak. He's respected in the sense that he's feared.

Pistol. Okonkwo's pistol is again a symbol of violence and death. Unlike in Chapter 5, when Okonkwo's aim was so bad that he couldn't hit anything, his pistol proves chillingly effective, exploding with no warning amidst the tumult of Ezeudu's funeral. Prior to this, Okonkwo's gun had been more or less an empty threat, a joke that posed no real threat to anyone, but in this chapter it becomes the tool of death it was always meant to be. The thing Okonkwo was most proud of his (his strength and wealth, as evidenced by his possession of the gun) eventually causes his downfall.


Age. Old age carries great weight in Igbo culture, and the village elders are highly respected, with the greatest of them having taken as many as four titles, the maximum that a man can have. Ezeudu had taken three titles, making him one of the most prominent men in the village at the time of his death. Okonkwo aspires to be as great or greater than Ezeudu when he reaches that age, but, as is made clear in this chapter, that will never happen.

Death. This chapter marks the death of two men: Ezeudu and Maduka, the latter of which was viewed as an intelligent young man who promised to be a great warrior and a credit to his people. Maduka's death is an affront to the gods, whereas Ezeudu's, having occurred naturally, earns him a raucous, glorious funeral that would've been perfect, had Okonkwo's gun not exploded. The general tumult seen at the funeral indicates that the Igbo peoples, though saddened by death, see funerals not as collective experiences of grief but rather as opportunities to celebrate the dead person's life. This isn't how most Western cultures view death and emphasizes the differences between the Igbo and the white men who colonize their country.

Things Fall Apart Part Two, Chapter 14 Summary and Analysis

Part II sees Okonkwo rage inwardly against his misfortune. Though he hates that he's been exiled to his mother's homeland of Mbanta, he understands that there's no way to appeal his punishment and that he must accept his fate. His uncle Uchendu greets him, and Uchendu's five sons pitch in to give Okonkwo a large number of seed yams so that he might build his farm. That year, the rain comes in the form of hail, which the villagers of Mbanta name "the nuts of the water of heaven." Not long after the rains begin, one of Uchendu's five sons gets married and Okonkwo attends the isa-ifi ceremony, which is held to confirm that the bride has been faithful to her suitor. Following the ceremony, the bride and groom start their life together, and Uchendu calls a family meeting.

Uchendu brings everyone together so that he can speak to Okonkwo. He poses a question: why is it that the Igbo say "Nneka" (meaning, "Mother is Supreme")? Okonkwo doesn't know. Uchendu, having anticipated this, tells Okonkwo that, like a child who seeks sympathy in its mother's hut, a man comes home to his motherland to seek solace and protection. That's why they say "Mother is Supreme." Uchendu then tells Okonkwo that many men have suffered more than him and that his fate is not such a terrible one. Uchendu himself has buried twenty-two children, and his daughter has had to leave many twins to die in the Evil Forest. Twins, it's believed, are evil spirits that take the form of children and must be disposed of in the forest.


Though Uchendu has buried twenty-two children, he says, "[He] did not hang [himself]." Suicide is considered one of the most dishonorable acts a man can commit. Uchendu's words foreshadow Okonkwo's eventual suicide by hanging at the end of the novel.


Fire. Thus far in the novel, fire has primarily been made use of because of its destructive properties. It does, however, have other applications, and in this chapter the image of fire is used to describe a long, oppressive heat wave that broke only when hail began to fall from the sky. "Fire" has been figured variously as a creator (a means of preparing meals), a destroyer (as in the destruction of Okonkwo's compound), and, here, an oppressor. Achebe emphasizes its destructive qualities and in so doing highlights the violent actions of the novel's many characters.


Achebe uses a simile when he says that Okonkwo had been cast out of his clan "like a fish onto a dry, sandy beach."


Home. In Part I, "home" for Okonkwo meant Umuofia, Iguedo, his compound, and his farms. In Part II, the theme of "home" becomes more complicated, and as Okonkwo loses his home he rediscovers his motherland. The motherland, Uchendu says, is a place of comfort, of physical and emotional safety, or even, as Okwonko seems to think, of licking one's wounds. Okonkwo spends so much of his time moping, in fact, that Uchendu must teach him a lesson both about respecting women and (to put it bluntly) growing up. In many ways, Okonkwo is like a child, because he has never considered the possibility that his life might not be perfect and that he might not be perfect.

Identity. Having been exiled from his village, Okonkwo loses his identity. His entire life "had been ruled by a great passion—to become one of the lords of the clan." Without that passion, he just wilts. He becomes depressed. He doesn't know who he is anymore. Achebe makes it clear that identity for Okonkwo is wrapped up in titles and possessions, in yams and sons, and in things that are all simple, quantifiable, and discrete. Okonkwo isn't interested in emotional development. He isn't a sentimental or a forgiving person, and he doesn't want to be. His identity isn't his personality. It's his things. His prestige. Without that, he's no one.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 15 Summary and Analysis

In Okonkwo's second year of exile, Obierika comes to visit him. Obierika has been taking care of Okonkwo's business affairs for him and has brought him the profits from the sale of his yams. As the friends talk, Obierika relates the sad story of Abame, a clan that was wiped out by white men. The clan's Oracle called the white men locusts, and this led some of the great men of their village to kill a white man. In retribution, the white men came one day when everyone was at the market and slaughtered them all. Only a few men got away and were able to tell the story.

Okonkwo says that the Abame were fools for killing the first white man, because it's dumb to kill a man who says nothing. You don't know what he wants, and the silence is ominous. Okonkwo is afraid that the Abame are just the first and that more clans will be wiped out. He's heard all of the stories about white men making guns, drinking alcohol, and selling African slaves overseas. He'd never believed the stories before, but now he realizes that the white men are a threat.


Change. Unsurprisingly, the changes taking place in Umuofia and Mbanta upset Okonkwo, who has lived his entire life according to a strict set of rules and customs that determine how powerful a man is, how respectable he will be, and what constitutes masculinity. With the changes in his country, it's easy to see why Okonkwo would feel that he is losing his identity. His way of life is in peril, and the changes in Umuofia, though inevitable, aren't for the better.

Colonization. Achebe spent the first third of the novel worldbuilding, introducing readers to a culture and place that's likely very different from their own. He does this so the reader will understand, when white men begin colonizing Umuofia, what is at stake and what will, in the end, be destroyed: a culture and a way of life that has existed for centuries, if not longer. Achebe uses colonization to impress upon the reader that things can fall apart on both a personal and national scale and that, for some, the two are inextricably linked.

Suicide. Achebe frequently references suicide in the novel, using these references to foreshadow the final, tragic scene of the novel, in which Okonkwo is found dead, the victim of an apparent suicide. As Achebe builds this theme, he offers several different reasons why a man might commit suicide in this society: because he has been exiled, because he has buried his children, or because his friend has asked him to do so as a sign of thanks (Obierika makes this request of Okonkwo in jest, as an indirect way of saying that Okonkwo doesn't need to thank him at all). Though there is still much debate over Okonkwo's reasons for committing suicide, one could make the argument that all the reasons listed here influence his ultimate decision.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 16 Summary and Analysis

When Obierika visits Okonkwo again two years later, he brings sad news: that missionaries have built their churches in Umuofia and begun turning people against their brothers. Consequently, the village has been weakened, and Nwoye, Okonkwo's son, has joined the Christians, finding in their religion the solace he needed after the death of Ikemefuna. He'd joined the church when the missionaries came to Mbanta, preaching that the Igbo gods were just wood and stone and that the true God had made them all and loved them all. Most of the villagers thought the white men mad and didn't take them seriously, but Nwoye was drawn to their preachings and disowned his father because of them.


Chielo uses metaphor when she refers to the Igbo converts as "the excrement of the clan" and to Christianity as "a mad dog that had come to eat [the excrement] up."


Music. Music has always been important to the Igbo, and throughout the course of the novel we've heard many of their songs, both new and traditional. In this chapter, the Christian hymns pluck at some "silent and dusty chords" in a man's heart, reinforcing the idea that music is primarily a religious experience. It's used to foster a feeling of fellowship and joy in the community and thus becomes a powerful tool for the new Christian church, which seeks followers.


Communication. In Chapter 15, communication (or, rather, the lack of it) played an important role in the death of a white man in Abame. In this chapter, the white man's African translator has trouble talking to the people of Mbanta because he keeps referring to himself as "my buttocks." His preaching has less of an impact on the people than his hymns, which move the villagers in the same way their songs do. These spiritual songs strike a chord with the villagers who had been silently questioning their clan's violent ways.

Religion. When the missionaries visit Mbanta, the villagers don't think much of their religion, and because of this there aren't any serious clashes between the two religions. Like Okonkwo, those who don't convert simply shrug and walk away, so secure in their own religion that they don't even consider the possibility of Christianity being a threat. The Igbo, it turns out, don't have missionaries. They don't convert people, but simply expect their gods to prove themselves. This essential difference between the two religions will prove disastrous for the Igbo.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 17 Summary and Analysis

Shortly after the missionaries arrive, they ask for an audience with the elders of the village. They asked the elders for a plot of land to build their church, and instead of refusing, as they should've, the elders gave the missionaries a plot of land in the Evil Forest, assuming that this would bring the evil spirits down on the Christians and destroy them. When the missionaries don't die, the Igbo begin to think that the white men have power, and this leads them to convert. At first, Nwoye isn't sure that he wants to join the church, but is drawn to their kindness. Soon, a pregnant woman named Nneka joins the church, because she's heartbroken that she has borne four sets of twins and had to throw them away. Her family has no problem letting her go, however, just as Okonkwo has no problem disowning his son. He's embarrassed that he fathered such a weak son.


Fire. Near the end of this chapter, the reader learns that Okonkwo has earned the nickname "Roaring Flame." He's embarrassed by Nwoye's betrayal and feels implicated because Nwoye is "weak" and "womanly." He wonders how someone with such incredible passion could beget a more or less passionless son. As he says, "Living fire begets cold, impotent ash." This proverb equates Nwoye with a lifeless thing, suggesting that Okonkwo's destructive, roaring flame has eaten him up and destroyed him.


Chi. One's chi is one's personal god, which is physically represented by a totem and a shrine to which one makes an offering in order to curry favor from one's personal god. Okonkwo's chi appears to have turned against him (as it did when he was exiled) and threatened once again to strip him of his identity. In this way, Okonkwo's chi becomes a symbol of his fate and his failure as a father, which will lead to his death.

Evil Forest. Unsurprisingly, the Evil Forest is a symbol of evil, the physical manifestation of the fears that the villagers harbor. Evil spirits, diseases, abominations, and so-called changelings live in the forest, making "evil" a tangible thing that can be avoided and, therefore, set aside. If they obey the gods, the Igbo believe, then they can combat the machinations of evil and, hopefully, defeat it.


Evil. When the missionaries ask for land to build their church, the elders give them a plot in the Evil Forest, expecting the evil spirits to kill them. The missionaries, however, aren't afraid, and in this we can clearly see that the two groups have very different definitions of evil. The Igbo believe a few things that might seem monstrous to Western readers (for instance, that twins should be left to die in the Evil Forest, because they're abominations). The missionaries win converts in part by making evil an abstract thing, a kind of disembodied idea that has no physical obvious physical presence like the Evil Forest. This appeals to villagers who feel stunted by the fear ingrained in them by their elders. The converts, however, fail to realize that colonization is in itself evil and that it will result in the near death of a culture that has every right to exist.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 18 Summary and Analysis

Tensions rise between the clan and the church. One day, some missionaries come into the village and declare that the Igbo gods are dead. These missionaries are beaten, which temporarily puts a hold on the conflict. The villagers begin to hear stories of the white men bringing a government, in addition to their religion, but once again the villagers pay these stories no heed. Then the osu, or outcasts, arrive, and there's dissension among the members of the church, who don't want the osu to join them. Mr. Kaiga, the leader of the church, decides to accept the osu, and, empowered, one of them kills Mbanta's sacred python.

There's some debate over what to do about the man who killed the python. No one saw it happen, and they can't be sure exactly who it was. In the end, the village decides to ostracize the members of the church and prevent them from going to the market or even just collecting water. When Mr. Kaiga asks them why, they say it's because an osu named Okoli killed the python. Soon after, the osu dies, and the villagers of Mbanta think it justice. They don't bother the Christians after that.


The Sacred Python. Unlike snakes in general, which are often seen as evil spirits, the sacred python is revered for its fearsome power, a symbol of the Igbo gods' connection with nature.


Acceptance. In contrast to the Igbo, who frequently exile people and turn them into outcasts, the Christians in this novel are accepting of everyone, even the osu, a class of people that is hated and shunned in Igbo culture. Though Christianity is, in practice, often unforgiving, and though believers can, in fact, be excommunicated from the church, that isn't depicted here, and Mr. Kaiga's determination to accept the osu despite protests from his congregation differentiates him from the village elders and their practice of exiling people.

Justice. When the man who kills the sacred python dies suddenly, the Igbo think this justice. This further differentiates them from the white men, who don't think of justice as a kind of divine retribution but rather as a system of laws and punishments that exist to maintain order (and, in the process, solidify the white man's power). The villagers' willingness to accept the culprit's death as justice will prove a mistake in the end, when their gods don't enact the justice they expect and prevent the white men from overrunning their country.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 19 Summary and Analysis

Okonkwo grows impatient in the last year of exile. He sends money ahead to Obierika so that he might rebuild part of Okonkwo's compound. Later, Okonkwo decides to throw a feast in order to thank his mother's family for taking him in these seven years. Three goats are slaughtered, a kola nut is given to Uchendu to break open, and palm-wine is passed around among Okonkwo's large umunna, or extended family. One of the oldest men in this umunna stands up and gives a speech about coming together and remembering who their family is when the white men threaten them. Thus ends Part II.


The villagers use a metaphor when they call a rainbow "the python of the sky." Given the already established symbolism of the python, this metaphor clearly confers upon the rainbow a powerful, sacred status in Igbo culture.


Family. For the Igbo, family and fellowship are linked, and close friends like Obierika can be like family in that they can be relied upon to support you in good times and bad. When the old man asks the youth of his clan to remember the importance of fellowship, he's really asking them to stand firm against the encroaching evils of colonization, which will destroy their traditional family ties and, thus, their entire way of life.

Things Fall Apart Part Three, Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis

Part III begins with Okonkwo's return to Umuofia. He has been planning his return since he was first exiled, but his plans are waylaid by Nwoye's conversion to Christianity. He'd been hoping to initiate his sons into the ozo, one of the ranks of titles in the clan, but because of Nwoye, he can't rely on this to make his return glorious. So he must turn to Ezinma, his daughter, who has, in the seven years of exile, grown into a great beauty. She's actually called the Crystal of Beauty. Many men in Mbanta want to marry her, but at Okonkwo's request she agrees not to accept any of their proposals but instead to wait until they returned to Umuofia.

Upon his return, Okonkwo finds that many otherwise respectable men have joined the Christians and that their colonial government has built a court nearby. Their court messengers, the kotma or, as the villagers like to call them, Ashy-Buttocks (after the color of their shorts), have imprisoned men of title and forced them into demeaning manual labor. Okonkwo shakes his head at this. He doesn't want his people to be like the foolish men in Abame; but it's too late, Obierika says. The white men have converted too many of the Igbo, who help to uphold the colonial government. It would be difficult to throw the white men out without incurring the wrath of their government.

Obierika tells the story of Aneto, a man who killed another man in a land dispute and attempted to flee to Aninta to avoid the wrath of the earth goddess, much as Okonkwo had done. The white men heard of the murder and hunted down Aneto, taking him to Umuru to be hanged. Okonkwo says nothing, but the reader understands that the same thing could easily happen to Okonkwo.


Obierika's story about Aneto, the man who was hanged, foreshadows Okonkwo's own suicide by hanging at the end of the novel, which can in many ways be blamed on the white men, who have imposed a foreign law on the Igbo. For more on this, see Chapter 25, Themes: Suicide.


Disappointment. Okonkwo has been disappointed by many things in life: his father, his son, his exile, and what he sees as the weakness of men in his village. His disappointment stems from his nearly impossible standards, which no one, not even himself, can truly live up to. This disappointment leads him to feel frustrated and angry, and, as the reader knows, when Okonkwo feels frustrated, he becomes violent. It's easy to see how this could lead to disaster.

Justice. Chapter 10 afforded readers an (admittedly flawed) glimpse into the justice system the Igbo have developed. This makes it all the more difficult to stomach the imposition of the white colonizers' foreign government. Whereas in Igbo culture it's possible to pay for one's crime with cowries and nonviolent forms of punishment, like exile, the white men employ an "eye for an eye" sort of mentality, which dictates that one crime (such as murder) be punished in kind, using equal or, on occasion, greater force, such as when the entire Abame clan was destroyed for the murder of one white man. It should be noted that this isn't a fair justice system and that it's designed to wipe out African natives who would threaten white authority. It isn't justice. It's self-serving.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 21 Summary and Analysis

Not everyone in Umuofia feels the way Okonkwo feels. In addition to their foreign religion, the white men have brought a large market, and because of this the palm-oil market has boomed. If not for this, it seems, the missionaries wouldn't have done nearly so well amongst the villagers. When Mr. Brown, the leader of the Christian church, builds a school, he talks the villagers into attending, telling them that if they get an education they'll be able to speak to the white men (the oppressors) on their own terms. Many people join and go on to become missionaries.

Mr. Brown spends a lot of time debating the existence of God and gods with a man of title named Akunna, who argues that there is one great god, Chukwu, who created the lesser gods like Ani or Agbala to do his work, because he has too many duties for one god to handle. When these lesser gods fail, the Igbo turn to Chukwu, having exhausted all other options. They don't like to do this, because they fear Chukwu and don't want to worry him; but they honor him daily, and all of their praise for the lesser gods is indirect praise for Chukwu. It's the strength of this belief in Chukwu that leads Mr. Brown to establish the school. He realizes that a direct attack on the Igbo religion is impossible.

Five months after Okonkwo's return to Umuofia, Mr. Brown pays him a visit, thinking Okonkwo would greet him happily and take abut his son, Nwoye, who'd just been sent away to the training college for teachers; but the warrior drives him away. Okonkwo's return has been lackluster, and he's upset that nothing goes as planned. He mourns for himself and his clan.


Mr. Brown attempts to reduce the Igbo gods to metaphors when he says to Akunna, "You carve a piece of wood...and you call it a god." This metaphor seeks to strip the carvings of their symbolic import to the Igbo and in so doing undermine the Igbo religion.


Education. There's no formalized education system in Igbo culture. Elders are the primary teachers for the clan, and one's parents act as one's immediate teachers, teaching boys to prepare seed yams and teaching girls how to cook. With the white men comes an intricate education system involving a schoolhouse in Umuofia, a college in Umuru, and an administrative hierarchy that manages these institutes of learning. This is a Western form of education, of course, and the Igbo students at the schools won't learn practical skills to better life on the farm. They will instead learn to perpetuate the white man's government and aid the process of colonization.

Religion. Achebe has already established that religion is one of the most important themes in the novel. He has even hinted, through the themes of evil and justice, that the conflict between the Igbo and the Christians will become a deadly one, with at least one of these groups meeting a tragic end. From history books, the reader knows that Christianity overruns these native African religions and that it feels little to no remorse for doing so. In this chapter, it becomes clear that the missionaries are not merely attempting to spread their faith but that they're engaged in an insidious and systematic campaign to destroy other religions. Mr. Brown's contemplation of a "frontal attack" on the native African religions indicates that he isn't content to coexist with the Igbo. Like his fellow Christian missionaries around the globe, his attempt to "civilize" the Igbo is really an effort to destroy their culture.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 22 Summary and Analysis

When Mr. Brown leaves Umuofia because of his failing health, he's replaced by Reverend James Smith, a more aggressive, less tolerant man who encourages the zealots in the church to lash out, stirring up trouble in the village. One man, Enoch, unmasks an egwugwu during a ceremony (an act that the Igbo consider one of the highest sins a man can commit). In retribution, the men burn Enoch's compound to the ground, then they burn the church to the ground, pausing only to allow Reverend Smith to come out where it's safe.


Drums. There's a saying in Umuofia: "as a man dance[s] so the drums beat for him." This was the case in previous chapters, when Okonkwo wrestled or remembered wrestling with a fiery passion raging inside him. These drum beats are meant to quicken the heart, speed up the action, and drive men to violence. Reverend Smith's association with these drums emphasizes his aggressive religious zeal.

Fire. In Chapter 13, Achebe foreshadowed the destruction of Enoch's compound and the church when Obierika and the villagers burned down Okonkwo's compound. Now it's Okonkwo's turn to burn someone's house down. Though these events are necessitated by different crimes, and though the burning of the church was not specifically required to appease the gods, it must've felt like poetic justice for Okonkwo to turn the tables and do to another what had been done to him.


Colors. Traditionally (at least in Western cultures), the colors "black" and "white" have symbolized good and evil. That make Reverend Smith's "black and white" view of the world primarily a religious one, where "black" represents demons and the evils of men and "white" represents holiness and godliness. However, one can't overlook the obvious racial connotations of the works "black" and "white." In using them, Achebe implies that Reverend Smith's hatred of the native Igbo religion is racially motivated.


Race. When Achebe says that the Reverend Smith sees the world in "black and white," it's hard for the reader to ignore the obvious racial connotations. Smith, a white man, views all black Africans as heathens until they convert, and even then he doesn't think of them as worthwhile believers. (As Achebe notes, the Reverend is more interested in the quality of his flock than in the quantity, and this in itself proves that he does not think much of the Igbo people.) All the religious and cultural tensions in the novel stem in some way from racism and the belief that Africans were uncivilized before colonization. This empiricist belief helped the colonists justify their genocide of the Igbo.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 23 Summary and Analysis

In the wake of the attack on the church, the District Commissioner asks six of the leaders of the clan, including Okonkwo, to visit him at his headquarters. Upon arrival, they're arrested and told to pay a fine of two hundred cowries to ensure their release. In jail, the men aren't given any food or water, and they sit in shame for days until Okonkwo finally says that they should've killed the white man, too. One of the court messengers overhears this and beats the men. When the six men refuse to ask their clan to pay the fine, the court messengers go and demand it from the villagers, adding a surcharge of fifty cowries for their troubles. The fine is paid, and the men are released.


Corruption. With government comes corruption, and the white District Commissioner, unable to translate the words of his court messengers himself, is either unaware of their corrupt practices (taking money from the villagers) or looks the other way. It's easy to see how the court messengers, who've been given a modicum of power in the new government, would feel entitled to abuse that power and to take advantage of the less educated, less powerful villagers. In their arrogance, the reader can see a kind of disdain for their heritage. This disdain makes it easier for them to destroy their culture.

Justice. With corruption comes an inherently flawed justice system. There's no real logic behind the laws imposed by the colonial government, and the court messengers frequently take advantage of this for their own personal gain. In comparison to the Igbo justice system, its colonial counterpart is a vicious and unforgiving system that rules with an iron fist. Achebe points out the vast corruption in the colonial justice system to indicate to his readers that it isn't really justice at all and that the colonizers don't care about the people they oppress.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 24 Summary and Analysis

When the six men return to the village, they're met with a silent, worried crowd who follow them without asking what happened. Okonkwo has no appetite, but eats a little to appease Ezinma and his friends. Everyone can see the lashes on his back. He's upset by what happened, but pleased in some ways, because he thinks this might lead to war. He hears a crier striking a gong, but doesn't catch what the crier says. He falls asleep thinking of how much he hates the white men.

The next morning, the members of the clan gather in the marketplace to discuss everything that's happened. One of the six former prisoners, Okika, speaks, asking if everyone from their clan is in attendance. He tells them no, they aren't, because the white men have broken their clan up, taking members away and manipulating them into turning against their own people. Okika calls for war, demanding that the clan "root out this evil" enemy, the white man.

Then five court messengers arrive, relaying the white man's orders that the meeting stop. Without even a moment's hesitation, Okonkwo draws his machete and beheads the head messenger. When the other four messengers escape, Okonkwo realizes that Umuofia will not go to war.


Achebe uses alliteration and repetition in the line: "This is a great gathering. No clan can boast of greater numbers or greater valor."


Machete. Okonkwo's machete is a symbol of his violent nature, his prowess as a warrior, and death. When he kills the court messenger, he knows that the white men will exact their revenge. His machete, his favorite weapon, thus becomes a symbol of his downfall.

Human Heads. In Chapter 2, Okonkwo was described as drinking out of a human skull, which he brought home as a trophy after winning a battle. Here, the severed head, instead of being a symbol of his power and success, becomes a symbol of his failure. Okonkwo will never win a war again.


Violence. Achebe has building up to Okonkwo's confrontation with the head messenger for the last several chapters (and, indeed, from the very beginning of this novel). The reader has always known that the culture clash between the white men and the Igbo would result in bloodshed, but still held out hope that Okonkwo would fare well in it. When the clan doesn't immediately rally behind him, it becomes clear to Okonkwo that there's no hope of beating the white men. They lost even before the war even properly began.

War. This novel opened with what Achebe called a "just" war. Men from Mbaino killed a daughter of Umuofia, and in response Umuofia sent Okonkwo to deliver an ultimatum to them, assuming he wouldn't be harmed along the way. This formal process of threatening and deciding to go to war isn't observed by the white men, who don't have any qualms about destroying Igbo culture. War in this context is both physical and ideological, but the Igbo didn't realize it until it was too late. The colonists, of course, were well aware of what they were doing.

Things Fall Apart Chapter 25 Summary and Analysis

When the District Commissioner arrives at Okonkwo's compound, he sees a group of Okonkwo's friends sitting in his obi, or his hut. They tell the District Commissioner that Okonkwo has hung himself from a tree behind his compound. They can't cut his body down because it's forbidden to touch a man who has committed suicide. Obierika blames the white men for Okonkwo's suicide. "You drove him to kill himself," Obierika says, "and now he will be buried like a dog." Suicide is considered an abomination in Igbo culture, and because of this Okonkwo won't get the funeral he deserves. After the court messengers cut the body down, the District Commissioner walks away, thinking what a great anecdote this will be in the book he's writing about Nigeria. The working title is The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.


Funerals. This is the third death we've directly witnessed in the novel. Achebe has mentioned many others, and these have all resulted in honorable funerals commensurate with the deceased's social status. Okonkwo, who would've received a funeral like Ogbuefi Ezeudu's, won't be buried by his family. Strangers will have to do it for him, and no one will celebrate his life.


Guns. Like Okonkwo's pistol, the guns the court messengers carry symbolize death and destruction. In spite of the fact that these guns aren't fired in this chapter, they represent the vast, oppressive new power structure that the colonists have imposed on the Igbo.


Evil. Thanks to the suicide, Okonkwo's body is considered "evil," and his clansmen can't touch it—not even to bury him. Though he was a great warrior in his life and took many titles, that's all erased, and none of the good he did in his life will be taken into consideration. He'll be buried like a dog. This indicates that there are no shades of gray in Igbo culture. There's only "evil" and "not evil," and a man will be judged more by how he dies than how he lives.

Suicide. Suicide is an abomination in Igbo culture. Okonkwo's suicide makes his body "evil," much in the same way that suicide is considered a "sin" by Christians. Like disease, suicide strips a person of the right to a proper burial. Though Okonkwo won't be thrown into the Evil Forest, like someone who has died of smallpox, he won't be afforded the funeral he deserves, and his family won't get to mourn him properly. His greatness has effectively been erased, and he will be remembered as a mere paragraph in the District Commissioner's racist, colonialist, narcissistic little book about the "pacification" (read: destruction) of the native people of Nigeria.