Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

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Teaching Approaches

Understanding Okonkwo and His World View: The narrative of Things Fall Apart follows the events of Okonkwo’s life. He rejects his father’s way of life, builds his own reputation, and supports his family. Okonkwo’s perspective is often conservative and uncompromising. He can also be seen as a noble, courageous, and passionate character who cares for his culture and village. However, his inability to adapt and understand others brings about his tragic downfall in the novel. Studying Okonkwo’s character will offer students an opportunity to discuss important themes surrounding tradition and transgression as well as fate versus free will.  

  • For discussion: How does Okonkwo’s character develop over the course of the novel? How do his attitudes toward himself, his family, and his community shift? What does he learn over the course of his life, if anything?
  • For discussion: What are Okonkwo’s beliefs? What are his primary motivations? What are his primary fears?
  • For discussion: In the eyes of his community, what mistakes does Okonkwo make? How does beating his wife during the week of peace, killing Ikemefuna, and the accidental killing at the village funeral affect Okonkwo’s life?
  • For discussion: In what ways is Okonkwo in control of his life? In what ways is he affected by forces outside of his control? Are his tragic experiences the result of fate or free will?

Comparing and Contrasting Igbo and English Cultures: Things Fall Apart provides a glimpse into Igbo culture before and after the arrival of Christian missionaries. The narrator offers a view into the daily life, familial relationships, superstitions, and ceremonial practices of both the Igbo and the English. In doing so, it allows students to appreciate the diversity of both cultures as well as the similarities that exist between the two, despite their insurmountable differences. Such an analysis also sheds light on the conflict that escalated between the two cultures as Britain’s imperial agenda subsumed Nigeria.

  • For discussion: How do individuals in Igbo and English cultures earn respect and develop a favorable reputation within their communities?
  • For discussion: Who are the first converts from Igbo society to Christianity? How do both the Igbo and the English ostracize and revere certain members of their respective societies?
  • For discussion: Describe the role of the egwugwu in Umuofia. How does the Mother of the Spirits respond when an egwugwu is unmasked? How does this event reflect the attitudes of the Umuofia clan?
  • For discussion: Compare and contrast the religious practices of the Igbo and the Christians. How do their conceptions of God—or the gods—compare? How does nature factor in to each of their beliefs?
  • For discussion: How do the church and colonial government change Umuofia and the clan’s behavior? How do the conversion tactics of the two different missionaries (Mr. Brown and, later, Mr. Smith) differ?
  • For discussion: How do the Igbo and English cultures assess crime and deal out punishments? To what extent are punishments in each culture justified?
  • For discussion: Does the arrival of the English missionaries have a positive or negative effect on Igbo culture? How and why?

Analyzing Parent-Child Relationships: Okonkwo’s disgust for his father is evident from the outset of the novel. Over the course of the novel, the narrator details Okonkwo’s shifting and judgmental attitudes toward Ikemefuna and his favored children, Nwoye and Ezinma. This motif is developed elsewhere in the novel as well through the death of Ekwefi’s previous children, the marital traditions of the village, and the Igbo’s superstitious view of twins. Analyzing these familial relationships will shed light on Okonkwo’s character as well as topics surroundings Igbo traditions and values.

  • For discussion: Describe the role of family in Igbo culture. What do Okonkwo, his wives, and his children do to take care of each other? What role does each family member play? 
  • For discussion: How do Ikemefuna’s...

(The entire section is 1,959 words.)