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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis

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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, one that 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 that 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.

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