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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis

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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 she persevered, and now. Ekwefi believes that she will stay (meaning that her spirit won’t leave her body, 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 that 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 that 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.”

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Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis


Chapter 10 Summary and Analysis