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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe
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Last Updated on January 4, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 781

Topic #1

Discuss the significance of Things Fall Apart as a social document and a novel dramatizing traditional Igbo life and its first encounter with colonialism and Christianity at the turn of the twentieth century.


I. Thesis Statement: Things Fall Apart recreates the conflict between European and Igbo cultures at the turn of the twentieth century by focusing on the cataclysmic changes introduced by the forces of colonialism and Christianity.

II. Social and Economic Life of the Igbo
A. Social structure of the Igbo
B. Role of men and women
C. Role of marriage and the family
D. Significance of the yam

III. Traditional Politics
A. Umuofia and the political structure
B. Success and personal achievement
C. The title-taking system
D. The leadership role of elders
E. The judicial role of egwugwu

IV. Colonial Changes in Economic and Political Life
A. Significance of the palm-oil trade
B. The colonial administration
C. The District Commissioner
D. The native court
E. The role of court messengers

V. Traditional Igbo Religion
A. Chukwu, the Supreme Creator God
B. Ani, the Earth goddess
C. Agbala and the Oracles
D. Ritual sacrifices
E. The feminine and masculine principles
F. Ogbanje children
G. The abandonment of twins
H. The role of the ancestors
I. Titles and reincarnation
J. Children and reincarnation

VI. Christianity and Changes in Social and Religious Life
A. The missionary factor
B. The first Igbo Christians: osu, mothers of twins, unsuccessful men
C. Zealots
D. Conflicts with traditional beliefs
E. Breakup of the Igbo clan

VII. The Author’s Recreation of History through Literary Techniques (Optional)
A. Characterization of Okonkwo
B. Use of proverbs
C. Use of stories within the text
D. Significance of the title in relationship to “The Second Coming”

VIII. Conclusion
A. The use of literature to record history
B. The author’s purpose and point of view

Topic #2

Prove that Okonkwo, a talented Igbo man who strives to succeed in the traditional world, is a microcosm of Igbo society because he is destroyed by internal and external forces.


I. Thesis Statement: Like Igbo society at the turn of the century, Okonkwo is destroyed by internal and external forces. He is inflexible and unable to balance the masculine and feminine principles of traditional Igbo life, and he resists the external forces of European imperialism and Christianity.

II. Okonkwo
A. Desire to succeed
B. Fear of failure
C. Comparison with Unoka and Nwoye

III. Okonkwo’s Inability to Balance Feminine and Masculine Energies
A. Crimes against the Earth Goddess
1. Treatment of Ojiugo during the Week of Peace
2. Treatment of Ekwefi during the New Yam Festival
3. Participation in Ikemefuna’s ritual murder
4. Accidental killing of Ezeudu’s son
B. Exile
1. Superficial understanding of the concept “Mother is Supreme”
2. Determination to succeed through hard work
C. Alienation of Nwoye

IV. Conflict with European Imperialism and Christianity
A. Hatred of Christians
B. Conflict with Reverend Smith
C. Conflict with native court
D. Decapitation of court messenger

V. Tensions within Igbo Society
A. Title-taking system measuring success
B. Ritual sacrifice
C. Abandonment of twins
D. Treatment of osu
E. Banishment for involuntary manslaughter

VI. Impact of Christianity and European Imperialism
A. Marginalized Igbos become Christian
B. Native courts hold power

VII. Conclusion
A. Okonkwo is destroyed by self and external forces
B. Igbo society falls apart due to internal tensions and external forces
C. Okonkwo is a microcosm of Igbo society at the turn of the twentieth century

Topic #3

Prove that Okonkwo is a tragic hero. Explain how Okonkwo encompasses the pathos of a culture undergoing cataclysmic change. How does Okonkwo’s story evoke both pity and fear? Analyze Okonkwo’s tragic flaw and subsequent downfall.

I. Thesis Statement: Okonkwo achieves the stature of a tragic hero, evokes both pity and fear, and suffers a downfall because of his fear of failure, his inflexibility in living traditional Igbo life, and his inability to adapt to new ideas.

II. Heroic Stature
A. Physical strength and appearance
B. Personal achievements
C. Success: material wealth, titles, prestige
D. Leadership in the clan
E. Drive to achieve immortality and take the highest titles in the land

III. Pity
A. Mediocre chi
B. Fear of failure
C. Contrast with Unoka and Nwoye
D. Inability to express love
E. Inability to balance the masculine and feminine energies in Igbo life
F. Accidental killing of Ezeudu’s son
G. Exile in Mbanta

IV. Disapproval
A. Harsh treatment of wives and children
B. Ritual murder of Ikemefuna
C. Alienation of Nwoye
D. Anger against the Christians
E. Anger against the white men
F. Violent decapitation of court messenger

V. Tragic Flaw
A. Inability to balance feminine and masculine energies
B. Inflexibility in living traditional Igbo life
C. Inability to adapt to new ideas

VI. Downfall
A. Destabilization of Okonkwo and Igbo institutions by colonial powers
B. Inability to unite the Igbo people against the white man
C. Inability to save Igbo life and culture from falling apart
D. Suicide
E. Burial
F. Reduction to paragraph in commissioner’s book

VII. Conclusion
A. Comparison of Okonkwo to Unoka, sensitive musician
B. Comparison of Okonkwo to Ezeudu, the revered elder
C. Comparison of Okonkwo to Obierika, his balanced friend

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Critical Context