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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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Chapter 11 Summary and Analysis

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One night, Ekwefi tells a story about Tortoise, who is very cunning and, because of this, isn’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 is asked whom he made the feast for, he replies, “For all of you” and unwittingly gives 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 manages to insinuate himself among 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.”

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