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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis

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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 he 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.

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