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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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What does the quote "I pray she stays" from Things Fall Apart reveal about the Igbo people?

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The quote, “I pray she stays” is said by Ekwefi, Okonkwo’s wife, about her daughter Enzima. The quote comes from the conversation that Ekwefi has with Chielo the priestess of Agbala, and the implication is that Ekwefi desires her daughter to live. Ekwefi struggles to have children, something she blames on Okonkwo’s impotence earlier in chapter five.

When Okonkwo declares that he will go hunting, after having just beaten Ekwefi, she says, “something about guns that never shot” under her breath. She means that Okonkowo is impotent, and is blaming the poor health of her children on him.

In the conversation, Ekwefi says that her daughter is ten now and that she is well. That leads her to be hopeful that she will continue to live and reach adulthood. It reveals a few things about the Igbo people. The first is that despite the harsh conditions they live in, they value life—especially the life of the children they bring forth. Ekwefi doesn’t have a son, which would be considered better in their culture, but she loves her daughter immensely.

Another thing it teaches us about the culture is that the Igbo have a complex system of beliefs. They don’t have any scientific understanding of things like infertility or the causes of death, but they do still think about what might cause someone to die, and when someone might be healthy enough to live.

The middle chapters are used by Achebe to show us that Igbo culture wasn’t the superstitious savage culture that the Europeans made it out to be during colonization. It is rich and complex, with different stories and belief systems that are varied by tribe and location. The hopes and beliefs of Ekwefi are endearing because even in a super-patriarchal order she loves her daughter dearly and worries about her life.

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This quote comes in Chapter Six, and is uttered by Ekwefi, the wife of Okonkwo, concerning her daughter, Ezinma, to Chielo. This is later explored in Chapter Nine, which narrates the trouble Ekwefi has had in bearing children that survive. A medicine man tells her that she bears ogbanje children, who are wicked children that die and enter their mother's womb again. The medicine man mutilates the body of her next child that dies, with the express purpose that this evil spirit will not return again:

Then he took it away to bury in the Evil Forest, holding it by the ankle and dragging it on the ground behind him. After such a treatment it would think twice before coming again, unless it was one of the stubborn ones who returned...

Thus the quote you refer to is talking about the spirit of Ezinma and whether she will live or not. It thus shows how superstitious and driven by witchcraft the lives of the Igbo people are, and what power such spirits have in their thinking.

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In Things Fall Apart, what does the quote "I pray she stays" mean?

The quote highlighted in this question occurs in Chapter Six and is part of a conversation that Ekwefi has with Chielo, who is also the priestess of Agbala, the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves. They are talking about Ezinma, and in particular note the following exchange that they have about Ekwefi's daughter:

"She hs been very well for some time now. Perhaps she has come to stay."

"I think she has. How old is she now?"

"She is about ten years old."

"I think she will stay. They usually stay if they do not die before the age of six."

Ekwefi was considered to have born a spirit child in the form of Ezinma. This is shown in the number of children she had born before who died in their infancy. Ibo culture believed that such spirit children were born in the form of humans but so desired to return to their original state that they would die quickly afterwards. This conversation, and Ekwefi's statement of hope that is quoted in the question, indicates the way that the Ibo believed life was a matter of fate and the result of supernatural influence rather than of free will. Ekwefi is only able to "pray" for her daughter's safety and long life, and thus it is revealed that the Ibo have a radical belief in supernatural forces that they believed controlled their lives.

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