Illustration of a person holding their head next to a noose and a detached head

Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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Key Plot Points

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Okonkwo Earns His Reputation (Chapter 1): At eighteen, Okonkwo wins a legendary wrestling match against an opponent known as “the Cat.” Okonkwo goes on to earn many titles in his village of Umuofia and supports a large family. Okonkwo has been inspired to work hard out of disgust for his father, a man who had many debts and enjoyed music and palm wine. Okonkwo views his father as effeminate and works to fulfill his own ideals of masculinity, which oppose his father’s behaviors. Okonkwo is tasked with caring for the “ill-fated” boy Ikemefuna. 

Okonkwo Kills Ikemefuna (Chapter 7): Ikemefuna is held in Okonkwo’s home for three years. Ikemefuna becomes a part of Okonkwo’s family. Ikemefuna sees Okonkwo as a father figure and becomes a mentor and a brother to Okonkwo’s oldest son, Nwoye. The village is hit with a swarm of locusts. After the swarm, Okonkwo learns that the village elders and the Oracle have decided that Ikemefuna is to be sacrificed. One elder, Ezeudu, warns Okonkwo not to kill Ikemefuna himself, given that Ikemefuna thinks of Okonkwo as a father. Despite this warning, Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna himself to avoid appearing weak. 

Okonkwo is Exiled from Umuofia (Chapter 13): Ezeudu dies, and the village convenes for his funeral. When Okonkwo and the other men are shooting salutes during the ceremony, Okonkwo’s gun accidentally explodes, killing one of Ezeudu’s sons. As is the custom after an inadvertent killing, Okonkwo, his three wives, and children are exiled from the village for seven years. After Okonkwo and his family flee to Okonkwo’s mother’s village of Mbanta, the men in Umuofia burn Okonkwo’s home to the ground in order to cleanse the land of Okonkwo’s crime.

Obierika Describes Missionaries in Umuofia (Chapter 16): Obierika, one of Okonkwo’s best friends from Umuofia, visits Okonkwo in Mbanta. Obierika describes the arrival of Christian missionaries in Umuofia. He says that he saw Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son, serving as one of the missionaries. Previously, missionaries arrived in Mbanta, and a crowd gathered to listen to them and their Christian theology. Most of the villagers, including Okonkwo, derided the description of God and the Holy Trinity. Nwoye, however, was captivated by the Christian religion—not its logic, but its poetry.

Okonkwo is Imprisoned by the Europeans (Chapters 22–23): Okonkwo, now returned to Umuofia, takes part in an Igbo ceremony in which he and the other village men adorn masks and embody gods called egwugwu. Enoch, a Christian convert and zealot, unmasks one of the egwugwu, a great crime in Igbo culture. In response, Okonkwo and the other village men burn the Christian church to the ground. After the burning of the church, Okonkwo and the other elders are invited to meet with the District Commissioner—a British official—to discuss the conflict. Once there, the men are ambushed, imprisoned, and held for ransom. 

Okonkwo Kills a European Messenger (Chapters 24–25): Once released, Okonkwo holds a meeting in Umuofia to discuss how the village can unite in war against the Europeans. The meeting is interrupted by messengers from the District Commissioner, and Okonkwo beheads one of the messengers. Okonkwo is disappointed when none of his fellow villagers support him. Instead, they disperse, and the remaining messengers flee. Realizing that he will be tried for murder, Okonkwo hangs himself. Okonkwo’s suicide is considered an “abomination” to the clan, who refuse to touch Okonkwo’s body. The District Commissioner thinks of the book he is planning to write, and decides that he will include a paragraph on Okonkwo’s suicide. He plans to call his book The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

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