Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

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What Happens in Things Fall Apart?

Okonkwo has become a prominent leader in the Igbo village of Umuofia. Born the son of a lazy debtor, Okonkwo worked hard to make a name for himself. He has taken two of the four possible titles of his clan and is the patriarch of a large family.

  • One day, Okonkwo is appointed guardian of Ikemefuna, a boy from a rival village. When the Oracle demands that Ikemefuna be sacrificed, Okonkwo kills the boy himself so as not to appear weak.
  • Ogbuefi Ezeudo, the oldest man in the village, dies. At the funeral, Okonkwo's gun explodes, killing Ezeudu's sixteen-year-old son. To appease the earth goddess Ani, Okonkwo is exiled to his mother’s village of Mbanta for seven years.
  • Okonkwo returns to a village plagued by white missionaries and their provincial government. Okonkwo and other village leaders burn the new church down, but are jailed and humiliated for it.
  • Okonkwo kills a colonial messenger, but the divided village fails to rally behind him. Okonkwo hangs himself, an act that violates Igbo traditions and prevents him from receiving a proper burial.

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Part I

Part I introduces readers to the main character, the Igbo warrior Okonkwo, who lives in Nigeria in the 1890s. Okonkwo is the son of a lazy debtor, Unoka, who was irresponsible and seemed to never work. Embarrassed by his bad heritage, Okonkwo sets out to become a great man, winning early fame as a wrestler by throwing Amalinze the Cat. On the strength of this fame, he's able to borrow seeds from a man named Nwakibie in order to start a farm. After years of hardship, he's able to pay his debt and become a wealthy farmer with several barns full of yams (a sign of great social status). In the process, he also marries three wives, who bear him many children, including Nwoye, his eldest son, and Ezinma, his favorite, whom he often wishes were a boy.

In recognition of Okonkwo's great wealth and status, he's charged with the care of a prisoner of war, a young boy named Ikemefuna who was sacrificed by his home village of Mbaino so they might avoid war with Umuofia, Okonkwo's clan, after men from Mbaino slaughtered one of the daughters of Umuofia. Unsurprisingly, Ikemefuna is afraid of Okonkwo at first, because the man is curt and violent and often acts rashly, spurred on by his extraordinary arrogance; but with time the boy begins to think of Okonkwo as his father, and though Okonkwo won't show anyone, he feels great affection for his charge. More so than for his own son, whom he considers weak.

One day, Okonkwo's youngest wife goes to her friend's house to plait her hair and doesn't return in time to make the afternoon meal. Okonkwo beats her, but because it is the Week of Peace, he's punished for this, because his tribesmen fear that his actions will anger the earth goddess Ani and lead to trouble in Umuofia. He's required to repent by giving a tribute to the goddess. Soon after, during the Feast of the New Yam, Okonkwo is again driven to anger by his youngest wife when, after witnessing his poor shooting, she makes a snide remark about his pistol, of which he's very proud. He shoots at her, but misses. The Feast continues, and Okonkwo and his wives all enjoy watching the ceremonial wrestling matches.

Locusts appear in the village. They appear to be a good omen, at first. People roast the locusts to eat as a delicacy, but their arrival portends the death of Ikemefuna, which has been decreed by an Oracle. Okonkwo and several men from Umuofia agree to lead Ikemefuna away from the village on the pretense of taking him back to Mbaino. On the way, the men try to kill Ikemefuna. Scared, the boy turns to Okonkwo, calling him father, but Okonkwo strikes him down, afraid of seeming weak. He's understandably upset by this, and the elders question his actions. He's able to help his friend Obierika negotiate his daughter's bride price, but soon after, Ezinma grows gravely ill, and a medicine man must be called to heal her. This contributes to Okonkwo's downward spiral.


(The entire section is 1,814 words.)