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Things Fall Apart

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Things Fall Apart

First edition Author(s) Cover artist Country Language Genre(s) Publisher Chinua Achebe C. W. Barton United Kingdom English Novel William Heinemann Ltd. Print (Hardback & Paperback) 9780385474542 No Longer at Ease

Publication date 1958 Media type ISBN Followed by

Things Fall Apart is a 1958 English language novel by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. It is a staple book in schools throughout Africa and widely read and studied in English-speaking countries around the world. It is seen as the archetypal modern African novel in English, and one of the first African novels written in English to receive global critical acclaim. The title of the

novel comes from William Butler Yeats's poem "The Second Coming".[1] In 2009, Newsweek ranked Things Fall Apart #14 on its list of Top 100 Books: The Meta-List.[2] The novel depicts the life of Okonkwo, a leader and local wrestling champion in Umuofiaone of a fictional group of nine villages in Nigeria, inhabited by the Igbo ethnic group. In addition it focuses on his three wives, his children, and the influences of British colonialism and Christian missionaries on his traditional Igbo (archaically "Ibo") community during the late nineteenth century. Things Fall Apart was followed by a sequel, No Longer at Ease (1960), originally written as the second part of a larger work together with Things Fall Apart, and Arrow of God (1964), on a similar subject. Achebe states that his two later novels, A Man of the People (1966) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987), while not featuring Okonkwo's descendants and set in fictional African countries, are spiritual successors to the previous novels in chronicling African history.

Contents
[hide]

1 Plot summary 2 Culture 3 Characters 4 Themes and motifs 5 Literary significance and reception 6 Language 7 Aspects of gender 8 References to history 9 Political structures in the novel 10 Film, television, and theatrical adaptations 11 References in popular culture 12 See also 13 Footnotes 14 External links

[edit] Plot summary


Okonkwo is a leader and wrestling champion in his village. He is known to be hard working and shows no weakness emotional or otherwise to anyone. Although brusque with his family and neighbors, he is wealthy, courageous, and powerful among the people of his village. He is a leader of his village, and his place in that society is what he has striven for his entire life. Because of his great esteem in the village, Okonkwo is selected by the elders to be the guardian of Ikemefuna, a boy taken prisoner by the village as a peace settlement between two villages after his father killed an Umuofian woman. Ikemefuna is to stay with Okonkwo until the Oracle

instructs the elders on what to do with the boy. For three years the boy lives with Okonkwo's family and Okonkwo grows fond of him. The boy looks up to Okonkwo and considers him a second father. Then the elders decide that the boy must be killed. The oldest man in the village warns Okonkwo, telling him to have nothing to do with the murder because it would be like killing his own child. Rather than seem weak and feminine to the other men of the village, Okonkwo participates in the murder of the boy despite the warning from the old man. In fact, Okonkwo himself strikes the killing blow as Ikemefuna begs him for protection. Shortly after Ikemefuna's death, things begin to go wrong for Okonkwo. When he accidentally kills someone at a ritual funeral ceremony when his gun explodes, he and his family are sent into exile for seven years to appease the gods he has offended. While Okonkwo is away in exile, white men begin coming to Umuofia and they peacefully introduce their religion. As the number of converts increases, the foothold of the white people grows beyond their religion and a new government is introduced. Okonkwo returns to his village after his exile to find it a changed place because of the presence of the white man. He and other tribal leaders try to reclaim their hold on their native land by destroying a local Christian church. In return, the leader of the white government takes them prisoner and holds them for ransom for a short while, further humiliating and insulting the native leaders. As a result, the people of Umuofia finally gather for what could be a great uprising. Okonkwo, adamant over following Umuofian custom and tradition, despises any form of cowardice and advocates for war against the white men. When messengers of the white government try to stop the meeting, Okonkwo kills one of them. He realizes with despair that the people of Umuofia are not going to fight to protect themselves because they let the other messengers escape and so all is lost for the village. When the local leader of the white government comes to Okonkwo's house to take him to court, he finds that Okonkwo has hanged himself, ruining his great reputation as it is strictly against the custom of the Igbo to commit suicide.

[edit] Culture
Achebe depicts the Igbo as people with great social institutions in accordance with their particular society, ie, wrestling, human sacrifice and suicide. Their culture is heavy in traditions and laws that focus on justice and fairness. The people are ruled not by a king or chief but by a kind of democracy, where the males meet and make decisions by consensus and in accordance to an "Oracle" that should be written down. It is the Europeans, who often talk of bringing democratic institutions to the rest of the world, who upset this system. Achebe emphasizes that high rank is attainable for all freeborn Igbo men he attained his through fighting as opposed to reading or ploughing the land and growing herbal remedies, vegetation, rearing cattle, fowl etc. He also depicts the injustices of Ibo society. No more or less than Victorian England of the same era, the Ibo are a patriarchal society. They also fear twins, who are to be abandoned immediately after birth and left to die of exposure. The novel attempts to repair some of the damage done by earlier European depictions of Africans.

[edit] Characters
Okonkwo: An influential clan leader in Umuofia. Since early childhood, Okonkwos embarrassment about his lazy, squandering, and effeminate father, Unoka, has driven him to succeed. Okonkwos hard work and prowess in war have earned him a position of high status in his clan, and he attains wealth sufficient to support three wives and their eight children. Okonkwos tragic flaw is that he is terrified of being weak or "womanly" like his father. As a result, he behaves rashly, bringing a great deal of trouble and sorrow upon himself and his family. He is a tragic character who not only brings suffering to himself but also to those around him. Towards the end of the novel one can view Okonkwo as a tragic hero because like other tragic heroes he has one major flaw. His main flaw stems from the fear of being like his father, who is a soft-spoken, cheerful layabout who plays his flute and does not repay his debts. Okonkwo represses his emotions because he doesn't want to seem weak or effeminate, and when he does show any emotion, it is an uncontrollable rage. As a result of his flaws he makes many terrible mistakes, which ultimately leads to his tragic death. Nwoye (later known as Isaac): Okonkwos oldest son, whom Okonkwo believes is weak, effeminate, and lazy, like his grandfather, Unoka. Okonkwo continually beats Nwoye, hoping to correct what he sees as flaws in his personality. When under the influence of Ikemefuna, Nwoye begins to exhibit more masculine behavior, which pleases Okonkwo. However, Nwoye harbours doubts about some of the laws and rules of his village and eventually converts to Christianity, an act that Okonkwo criticizes as effeminate, and punishes with beatings, after which the son leaves. Okonkwo believes that Nwoye is afflicted with the same weaknesses that his father, Unoka, possessed in abundance. Ezinma: The only child of Okonkwos second wife, Ekwefi. As the only one of Ekwefis ten children to survive past infancy, Ezinma is the center of her mothers world. Their relationship is atypicalEzinma calls Ekwefi by her name and is treated by her as an equal. Ezinma is also Okonkwos favorite child, for she understands him better than any of his other children. She reminds him of Ekwefi, who was the village beauty. Okonkwo rarely demonstrates his affection, however, because he fears that doing so would make him look weak. Furthermore, he wishes that Ezinma were a boy because she would have been the perfect son. Ikemefuna: A boy given to Okonkwo by a neighboring village. Ikemefuna lives in the hut of Okonkwos first wife and quickly becomes popular with Okonkwos children. He develops an especially close relationship with Nwoye, Okonkwos oldest son, who looks up to him. Okonkwo too becomes very fond of Ikemefuna, who calls him father and is a perfect clansman, but Okonkwo does not demonstrate his affection because he fears that doing so would make him look weak. Mr. Brown: The first white missionary to travel to Umuofia. Mr. Brown institutes a policy of compromise, understanding, and non-aggression between his flock and the clan. He even becomes friends with prominent clansmen and builds a school and a hospital in Umuofia. Unlike Reverend Smith, he attempts to appeal respectfully to the Igbo value system rather than harshly impose his religion on it.

Reverend James Smith: The missionary who replaces Mr. Brown. Unlike Mr. Brown, Reverend Smith is uncompromising and strict. He demands that his converts reject all of their indigenous beliefs, and he shows no respect for indigenous customs or culture. He is the stereotypical white colonialist, and his behavior epitomizes the problems of colonialism. He intentionally provokes his congregation, inciting it to anger and even indirectly, through Enoch, encouraging some fairly serious transgressions. Uchendu: The younger brother of Okonkwos mother. Uchendu receives Okonkwo and his family warmly when they travel to Mbanta, and he advises Okonkwo to be grateful for the comfort that his motherland offers him lest he anger the deadespecially his mother, who is buried there. Uchendu himself has sufferedall but one of his six wives are dead and he has buried twenty-two children. He is a peaceful, compromising man and functions as a foil (a character whose emotions or actions highlight, by means of contrast, the emotions or actions of another character) to Okonkwo, who acts impetuously and without thinking. The District Commissioner An authority figure in the white colonial government in Nigeria. The prototypical racist colonialist, the District Commissioner thinks that he understands everything about native African customs and cultures and he has no respect for them. He plans to work his experiences into an ethnographic study on local African tribes, the idea of which embodies his dehumanizing and reductive attitude toward race relations. Unoka: Okonkwos father, of whom Okonkwo has been ashamed since childhood. By the standards of the clan, Unoka was a coward and a spendthrift. He never took a title in his life, he borrowed money from his clansmen, and he rarely repaid his debts. He never became a warrior because he feared the sight of blood. Moreover, he died of an abominable illness. On the positive side, Unoka appears to have been a talented musician and gentle, if idle. He may well have been a dreamer, ill-suited to the entrenchant culture into which he was born. The novel opens ten years after his death. Obierika: Okonkwos close friend, whose daughters wedding provides cause for festivity early in the novel. Obierika looks out for his friend, selling Okonkwos yams to ensure that Okonkwo wont suffer financial ruin while in exile and comforting Okonkwo when he is depressed. Like Nwoye, Obierika questions some of the Igbo traditional structures. Ekwefi: Okonkwos second wife, once the village beauty. Ekwefi ran away from her first husband to live with Okonkwo. Ezinma is her only surviving child, her other nine having died in infancy, and Ekwefi constantly fears that she will lose Ezinma as well. Ekwefi is good friends with Chielo, the priestess of the goddess Agbala. Enoch: A fanatical convert to the Christian church in Umuofia. Enochs disrespectful act of ripping the mask off an egwugwu during an annual ceremony to honor the earth deity leads to the climactic clash between the indigenous and colonial justice systems. While Mr. Brown, early on, keeps Enoch in check in the interest of community harmony, Reverend Smith approves of his zealotry.

Ogbuefi Ezeudu: The oldest man in the village and one of the most important clan elders and leaders. Ogbuefi Ezeudu was a great warrior in his youth and now delivers messages from the Oracle. Chielo: A priestess in Umuofia who is dedicated to the Oracle of the goddess Agbala. Chielo is a widow with two children. She is good friends with Ekwefi and is fond of Ezinma, whom she calls my daughter. At one point, she carries Ezinma on her back for miles in order to help purify her and appease the gods. Akunna: A clan leader of Umuofia. Akunna and Mr. Brown discuss their religious beliefs peacefully, and Akunnas influence on the missionary advances Mr. Browns strategy for converting the largest number of clansmen by working with, rather than against, their belief system. In so doing, however, Akunna formulates an articulate and rational defense of his religious system and draws some striking parallels between his style of worship and that of the Christian missionaries. Nwakibie: A wealthy clansmen who takes a chance on Okonkwo by lending him 800 seed yamstwice the number for which Okonkwo asks. Nwakibie thereby helps Okonkwo build up the beginnings of his personal wealth, status, and independence. Mr. Kiaga: The native-turned-Christian missionary who arrives in Mbanta and converts Nwoye and many others. Okagbue Uyanwa: A famous medicine man whom Okonkwo summons for help in dealing with Ezinmas health problems. Maduka: Obierikas son. Maduka wins a wrestling contest in his mid-teens. Okonkwo wishes he had promising, manly sons like Maduka. Obiageli: The daughter of Okonkwos first wife. Although Obiageli is close to Ezinma in age, Ezinma has a great deal of influence over her. Ojiugo: Okonkwos third and youngest wife, and the mother of Nkechi. Okonkwo beats Ojiugo during the week of peace after she is late bringing in his dinner, and is fined.

[edit] Themes and motifs


This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (January 2009) Themes throughout the novel include change, loneliness, abandonment, and fear: 1. Individuals derive strength from their society, and societies derive strength from the individuals who belong to them. In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo builds his fortune and

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

strength with the help of his society's customs. Likewise, Okonkwo's society benefits from his hard work and determination. In contacts between other cultures, beliefs about superiority or inferiority, due to limited and partial world view, are invariably wrong-headed and destructive . When new cultures and religions meet the original, there is likely to be a struggle for dominance. For example, the Christians and Okonkwo's people have a limited view of each other, and have a very difficult time understanding and accepting one another's customs and beliefs, which resulted in violence as with the destruction of a local church and Okonkwo's killing of the messenger. In spite of innumerable opportunities for understanding, people must strive to communicate. For example, Okonkwo and his son, Nwoye have a difficult time understanding one another because they hold different values. On the other hand, Okonkwo spends more time with Ikemefuna and develops a deeper relationship that seems to go beyond cultural restraints. A social valuesuch as individual ambitionwhich is constructive when balanced by other values, can become destructive when overemphasized at the expense of other values. For example, Okonkwo values tradition so highly that he cannot accept change. (It may be more accurate to say he values tradition because of the high cost he has paid to uphold it, i.e. killing Ikemefuna and moving to Mbanta). The Christian teachings render these large sacrifices on his part meaningless. The distress over the loss of tradition, whether driven by his love of the tradition or the meaning of his sacrifices to it, can be seen as the main reasons for his suicide. There is no such thing as a static culture; change is continual, and flexibility is necessary for successful adaptation. Because Okonkwo cannot accept the change the Christians bring, he cannot adapt.[3] The struggle between change and tradition is constant; however, this statement only appears to apply to Okonkwo. Change can very well be accepted, as evidenced by how the people of Umuofia refused to join Okonkwo as he struck down the white man at the end. Perhaps Okonkwo is not so much bothered by change, but the idea of losing everything he had built up - his fortune, fame, title, etc. that will be replaced by new customs. It is evidenced throughout the book that he cares for these things, especially his mentions of a lack of a "respectable" father figure from whom he could have inherited them from.[3] A second interpretation is apparent with Okonkwo's static behavior to cultural change. His suicide can be seen as a final attempt to show to the people of Umuofia the results of a clash between cultures and as a means for the Igbo culture to be upheld. In the same way that his father's failure motivated Okonkwo to reach a high standing within Igbo culture and society, Okonkwo's suicide leads Obierika and fellow Umuofia men to recognize the long held custom of not burying a man who commits suicide and perform the associated rituals with his death. This interpretation is further emphasized with Obierika's comment on Okonkwo as a great man driven to kill himself, likely as a result of the loss of tradition. His killing of the messenger and subsequent suicide continues the internal struggle between change and tradition. The role of culture in society. With the death of Ikemefuna, Okonkwo's expulsion due to causes beyond his control, and the journey of Ezinma with Chielo, Achebe questions, particularly through Obierika, whether adherence to culture is for the better of society, when it has caused many hardships and sacrifices on the part of Okonkwo and his family.

8. Definitions of masculinity vary throughout different societies. In this case, Okonkwo views aggression and action as masculinity. 9. Notion of success and failure. Okonkwo's personal ambition to avoid a life of complacency like his father, Unoka, leads to his high ranking and affluence in the community. He ardently tries to avoid failure. The notion of failure correlates with the idea of change in Umuofia and a shift in cultural values. Failure, for Okonkwo, is societal reform. Hence Okonkwo's drastic and at times erratic action against anything foreign or not masculine. 10. Through the Achebes use of language, he is successful in demonstrating (and attesting to) Africas rich and unique culture. By integrating traditional Igbo words (e.g. egwugwu, or the spirits of the ancestors of Nigerian tribes), folktales, and songs into English sentences, the author is successful in proving that African languages arent incomprehensible, although they are often too complex for direct translation into English. Additionally, the author is successful in verifying that each of the continents languages are unique, as Mr. Browns African translator is ridiculed after his misinterpretation of an Igbo word.

[edit] Literary significance and reception


Things Fall Apart is a milestone in African literature. It has achieved the status of the archetypal modern African novel in English,[4] and is read in Nigeria and throughout Africa. It is studied widely in Europe and North America, where it has spawned numerous secondary and tertiary analytical works. It has achieved similar status and repute in India and Australia.[4] Considered Achebe's magnum opus, it has sold more than 8 million copies worldwide.[5] Time Magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.[6] Achebes writing about African society, by telling from an African point of view the story of the colonization of the Igbo, tends to extinguish the misconception that African culture had been savage and primitive. In Things Fall Apart, western culture is portrayed as being arrogant and ethnocentric," insisting that the African culture needed a leader. As it had no kings or chiefs, Umofian culture was vulnerable to invasion by western civilization. It is felt that the repression of the Igbo language at the end of the novel contributes greatly to the destruction of the culture. Although Achebe favors the African culture of the pre-western society, the author attributes its destruction to the weaknesses within the native structure. Achebe portrays the culture as having a religion, a government, a system of money, and an artistic tradition, as well as a judicial system.[7] Achebe named Things Fall Apart from a line in William Butler Yeats's "The Second Coming," thus tying in the meaning of the poem itself. The missionaries' arrival begins the downfall of traditional Igbo society. This downfall destroys the Igbo way of life, leading to the death of Okonkwo, who was once a hero of the village. Things Fall Apart has been called a modern Greek tragedy. It has the same plot elements as a Greek tragedy, including the use of a tragic hero, the following of the string model, etc. Okonkwo is a classic tragic hero, even though the story is set in more modern times. He shows multiple hamartia, including hubris (pride) and ate (rashness), and these character traits do lead

to his peripeteia, or reversal of fortune, and his downfall at the end of the novel. He is distressed by social changes brought by white men, because he has worked so hard to move up in the traditional society. This position is at risk due to the arrival of a new values system. Those who commit suicide lose their place in the ancestor-worshipping traditional society, to the extent that they may not even be touched to give a proper burial. The irony is that Okonkwo completely loses his standing in both value systems. Okonkwo truly has good intentions, but his need to feel in control and his fear that other men will sense weakness in him drive him to make decisions, whether consciously or subconsciously, that he regrets as he progresses through his life.[8]

[edit] Language
Achebe writes his novels in English because written Standard Ibo was created by mixing the various languages, creating a stilted written form. In an interview for The Paris Review by James Brooks in 1994, Achebe says, "the novel form seems to go with the English language. There is a problem with the Igbo language. It suffers from a very serious inheritance, which it received at the beginning of this century from the Anglican mission. They sent out a missionary by the name of Dennis. Archdeacon Dennis. He was a scholar. He had this notion that the Igbo language which had very many different dialectsshould somehow manufacture a uniform dialect that would be used in writing to avoid all these different dialects. Because the missionaries were powerful, what they wanted to do they did. This became the law. But the standard version cannot sing. Theres nothing you can do with it to make it sing. Its heavy. Its wooden. It doesnt go anywhere."

[edit] Aspects of gender


Gender differentiation is seen in Igbo classification of crimes. The narrator of Things Fall Apart states that "The crime [of killing Ezeudu's son] was of two kinds, male and female. Okonkwo had committed the female because it was an accident. He would be allowed to return to the clan after seven years."[9] Okonkwo fled to the land of his mother, Mbanta, because a man finds refuge with his mother. Uchendu explains this to Okonkwo: "It is true that a child belongs to his father. But when the father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother's hut. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness, he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why we say that mother is supreme."[10] Women are understated throughout Things Fall Apart. A crucial element of the story is that the elements within represent the cultural aspects of the igbo society, its culture and traditions. As such, it can be argued that the infrequent mentions of wives in the story of Things Fall Apart, can be taken as a statement of the limited value of women The mentioning of wives purely as the bearers of children can then be taken as a statement that women are actually nothing more than tools of reproduction. The fact that the number of wives you have affects social status further depicts women as possessions of the men. The fact that the men are free to beat their wives also adds to this idea. Okonkwo wishing that his favorite child, Enzima, was a boy further reveals in the inequality between the genders in Nigeria at the time.

[edit] References to history


The events of the novel unfold around the 1890s.[4] The majority of the story takes place in the village of Umuofia, located west of the actual Onitsha, on the east bank of the Niger River in Nigeria.[4] The culture depicted is similar to that of Achebe's birthplace of Ogidi, where Igbospeaking people lived together in groups of independent villages ruled by titled elders. The customs described in the novel mirror those of the actual Onitsha people, who lived near Ogidi, and with whom Achebe was familiar. Within forty years of the British arrival, by the time Achebe was born in 1930, the missionaries were well-established. Achebe's father was among the first to be converted in Ogidi, around the turn of the century. Achebe himself was an orphan, so it can safely be said the character of Nwoye, who joins the church because of a conflict with his father, is not meant to represent the author.[4] Achebe was raised by his grandfather. His grandfather, far from opposing Achebe's conversion to Christianity, allowed Achebe's Christian marriage to be celebrated in his compound.[4]

[edit] Political structures in the novel


Prior to British colonization, the Igbo people as featured in Things Fall Apart, lived in a patriarchal collective political system. Decisions were not made by a chief or by any individual but were rather decided by a council of male elders. Religious leaders were also called upon to settle debates reflecting the cultural focus of the Igbo people. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to explore Nigeria. Though the Portuguese are not mentioned by Achebe, the remaining influence of the Portuguese can be seen in many Nigerian surnames. The British entered Nigeria first through trade and then established The Royal Niger Colony in 1886. The success of the colony led to Nigeria becoming a British protectorate in 1901. The arrival of the British slowly began to deteriorate the traditional society. The British government would intervene in tribal disputes rather than allowing the Igbo to settle issues in a traditional manner. The frustration caused by these shifts in power is illustrated by the struggle of the protagonist Okonkwo in the second half of the novel.

[edit] Film, television, and theatrical adaptations


A dramatic radio program called Okonkwo was made of the novel in April 1961 by the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. It featured Wole Soyinka in a supporting role.[11] In 1987, the book was made into a very successful mini series directed by David Orere and broadcast on Nigerian television by the NTA (Nigerian Television Authority). It starred movie veterans like Pete Edochie, Nkem Owoh and Sam Loco.

[edit] References in popular culture

The Philadelphia Hip Hop group the Roots named their fourth album Things Fall Apart.

Vast Aire of Hip Hop group, Cannibal Ox, makes a reference to the book's title in the song, "The F-Word". Rapper Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) makes a reference to the book's title in the song, "Not Going Back" from the "Freaks and Geeks EP".

Recently, the author turned down $1 million from rapper 50 cent who sought permission to use the name of the book as the title of the upcoming movie that he is producing.

[edit] See also


Novels portal

No Longer at Ease Arrow of God Heart of Darkness Weep Not, Child Death and the King's Horseman

[edit] Footnotes
1. ^ Washington State University study guide 2. ^ Newsweek's Top 100 Books: The Meta-List, LibraryThing 3. ^ a b "Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe: Introduction." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 152. Gale Cengage, 2002. eNotes.com. 2006. 12 Jan, 2009 <[1]> 4. ^ a b c d e f Kwame Anthony Appiah (1992), "Introduction" to the Everyman's Library edition. 5. ^ Random House Teacher's Guide 6. ^ ALL TIME 100 Novels, Time magazine 7. ^ www.cliffnotes.com. Set in 1880s, in the Nigerian village of Umuofia, before missionaries and other outsiders had arrived, Things Fall Apart tells the story of the struggles, trials, and the eventual destruction of its main character, Okonkwo. His rise to prominence and his eventual fall acts as a metaphor reflecting the plight of the Umuofia native people. Play the story forward until the mid 1950s, when it was written, and expand it to represent an African culture entirely subordinate to Western influence, and the scope and reach of the book is revealed. 8. ^ Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. EMC Corporation. 2004. Noodle 9. ^ Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: First Anchor Books, 1994. 10. ^ Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. EMC Corporation. 2003. 11. ^ Ezenwa-Ohaeto (1997). Chinua Achebe: A Biography Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-33342-3. P. 81.

[edit] External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Chinua Achebe


Chinua Achebe discusses Things Fall Apart on the BBC World Book Club Teacher's Guide at Random House Study Resource for writing about Things Fall Apart Study guide Resource connecting the novel to historical evidence. From MSN Encarta[dead link] Words present in the novel used in past SATs Includes definitions, words in order from the book, and three different tests. Things Fall Apart Reviews Things Fall Apart on Wiki Summaries Things Fall Apart study guide, themes, analysis, teacher resources [hide]v d eWorks by Chinua Achebe

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Things Fall Apart (1958) No Longer at Ease (1960) Arrow of God (1964) A Man of the People (1966) Anthills of the Savannah (1987) "Civil Peace" (1971) "Vengeful Creditor" (1972)

Short The Sacrificial Egg and Other Stories (1962) Girls at War and Other Stories (1973) story African Short Stories (1985) Heinemann Book of Contemporary African Short collections Stories (1992) Children's Chike and the River (1966) How the Leopard Got His Claws (1972) The Flute stories (1975) The Drum (1978) NonHopes and Impediments: Selected Essays (1988) The Trouble with Nigeria (1983) fiction Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Things_Fall_Apart&oldid=454780636" View page ratings Rate this page What's this? Trustworthy Objective Complete Well-written I am highly knowledgeable about this topic (optional) I have a relevant college/university degree

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Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart Study Guide

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Read the following poem, which is the source of the title of Achebe's novel: William Butler Yeats: "The Second Coming" (1921) Yeats was attracted to the spiritual and occult world and fashioned for himself an elaborate mythology to explain human experience. "The Second Coming," written after the catastrophe of World War I and with communism and fascism rising, is a compelling glimpse of an inhuman world about to be born. Yeats believed that history in part moved in two thousand-year cycles. The Christian era, which followed that of the ancient world, was about to give way to an ominous period represented by the rough, pitiless beast in the poem. Turning and turning in the widening gyre (1) The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming (2) is at hand; The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi (3) Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again; but now I know That twenty centuries (4) of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? Notes: (1) Spiral, making the figure of a cone. (2) Second Coming refers to the promised return of Christ on Doomsday, the end of the world; but in Revelation 13 Doomsday is also marked by the appearance of a monstrous beast. (3) Spirit of the World.

(4) 2,000 years; the creature has been held back since the birth of Christ. Yeats imagines that the great heritage of Western European civilization is collapsing, and that the world will be swept by a tide of savagery from the "uncivilized" portions of the globe. As you read this novel, try to understand how Achebe's work is in part an answer to this poem. General introduction to the novel: Things Fall Apart, published in 1958, is the seminal African novel in English. Although there were earlier examples, notably by Achebe's fellow Nigerian, Amos Tutuola, none has been so influential, not only on African literature, but on literature around the world. Its most striking feature is to create a complex and sympathetic portrait of a traditional village culture in Africa. Achebe is trying not only to inform the outside world about Ibo cultural traditions, but to remind his own people of their past and to assert that it had contained much of value. All too many Africans in his time were ready to accept the European judgment that Africa had no history or culture worth considering. He also fiercely resents the stereotype of Africa as an undifferentiated "primitive" land, the "heart of darkness," as Conrad calls it. Throughout the novel he shows how African cultures vary among themselves and how they change over time. Look for instances of these variations as you read. As a young boy the "African literature" he was taught consisted entirely of works by Europeans about Africa, such as Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson, which portrays a comic African who slavishly adores his white colonist boss, to the point of gladly being shot to death by him. Achebe has said that it was his indignation at this latter novel that inspired the writing of Things Fall Apart. Try to see in what ways his novel answers Cary's. He also wrote a famous attack on the racism of Heart of Darkness which continues to be the subject of heated debate. The language of the novel is simple but dignified. When the characters speak, they use an elevated diction which is meant to convey the sense of Ibo speech. This choice of language was a brilliant and innovative stroke, given that most earlier writers had relegated African characters to pidgin or inarticulate gibberish. One has the sense of listening to another tongue, one with a rich and valuable tradition. In this edition, a glossary of Ibo words and phrases is printed at the end of the book. Be sure to consult it whenever you encounter a new Ibo word or phrase. Chapter One: Note how Achebe immediately establishes his perspective from inside Umuofia (which is Ibo for "people of the forest") in the first sentence. The wider world consists of the group of nine related villages which comprise Umuofia and certain other villages like Mbaino. What are Okonkwo's main characteristics as he is depicted in the first few chapters? List as many as you can, being as specific as possible. What were the characteristics of his father which affect him so powerfully?

Kola is a stimulant, comparable to very strong tea or coffee, which is served on most social occasions in this culture. It is also one ingredient after which Coca Cola is named. Note how the ritual for sharing kola is described without being explained. Why do you think Achebe does this? He will continue to introduce Ibo customs in this fashion throughout the novel. One becomes influential in this culture by earning titles. As with the Potlatch Indians of the American Northwest and many other peoples, this is an expensive proposition which involves the dispersing most of one's painfully accumulated wealth. What do you think are the social functions of such a system? One of the most famous lines in the novel is "proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten." What does this mean? Palm oil is a rich yellow oil pressed from the fruit of certain palm trees and used both for fuel and cooking. Look for other proverbs as you read. Cowry shells threaded on strings were traditionally used as a means of exchange by many African cultures. The villages' distance from the sea makes them sufficiently rare to serve as money. Cowries from as far away as Southeast Asia have been found in sub-Saharan Africa. Chapter Two What effect does night have on the people? What do they fear? How do they deal with their fear of snakes at night? Palm-wine is a naturally fermented product of the palm-wine tree, a sort of natural beer. What is the cause and nature of the conflict with Mbaino? Beginning with this chapter, trace how women are related to the religious beliefs of the people. What is the purpose of the taking of Ikemefuna? Note how Achebe foreshadows the boy's doom even as he introduces him. In what ways does Okonkwo overcompensate for his father's weaknesses? In what ways is he presented as unusual for his culture? What is his attitude toward women? Why does he dislike his son Nwoye so much? In this polygamous culture each household is enclosed in a compound. Each wife lives in a hut with her children, and the husband visits each wife in turn, though he has his own hut as well. Children are often cared for more or less communally. What do you think the advantages and disadvantages of this form of social structure are? What seems to be Achebe's attitude toward this culture so far? Is his depicting it as an ideal one? Can you cite any passages which imply a critical attitude? Chapter Three The priestess of Agbala is introduced at the beginning of this chapter. She is a very significant figure in this book. What effect does her status have on your judgment of the roles played by women in the culture? The chi or personal spirit (rather like the daemon of Socrates) is a recurring theme in the book. The term "second burial" is a delayed funeral ceremony given after the family has had time to prepare.

How is awareness of rank observed in the drinking of the palm wine? Note that this chapter contains another proverb about proverbs. How does share-cropping work? What is the relationship of women to agriculture? Note that a customary way of committing suicide in this culture is hanging. How does Okonkwo react to "the worst year in living memory?" Chapter Four What are Okonkwo's virtues? What are his faults? What does this proverb mean, "When a man says yes his chi says yes also"? What is Okonkwo's relationship with Ikemefuna like? What is the crime that causes Okonkwo's to be reprimanded? What does it tell you about the values of the culture? Achebe portrays this aspect of traditional Nigerian life in a very different fashion from Buchi Emecheta, who we will read later. What evidence is there in this chapter that customs have changed over time? That customs differ among contemporary cultures? What are the limits of the power of the village rain-maker? Note Nwoye's affection for Ikemefuna. It will be significant later. Chapter Five What is Okonkwo's attitude toward feasts? Note that it is women who are chiefly responsible for decorating the houses. In many African cultures they are also the chief domestic architects, and the mud walls are shaped by them into pleasing patterns. Guns were brought into Sub-Saharan Africa early on by Muslim merchants, but would have been fairly unusual. Briefly summarize the story of Ikwefi. What kind of a woman is she? What do you think is the significance of women having to sit with their legs together? Chapter Six This chapter introduces a much-discussed aspect of Ibo belief. As in most pre-modern cultures, the majority of children died in early childhood. If a series of such deaths took place in a family it was believed that the same wicked spirit was being born and dying over and over again, spitefully grieving its parents. They tended to be apprehensive about new children until they seemed to be likely to survive, thus proving themselves not to be feared ogbanje. What roles does Chielo play in the village? Chapter Seven How has Nwoye begun to "act like a man"? What values does Okonkwo associate with manliness? How does Nwoye relate to these values? "Foo-foo" is pounded yam, the traditional staple of the Ibo diet. How does the village react to the coming of the locusts? Achebe is doubtless stressing the contrast with other cultures here, familiar to African readers from the Bible, in which locusts are invariably a terrible plague. Why is Okonkwo asked not to take part in the killing of Ikemefuna? Why do you suppose they have decided to kill the boy? Why do you think Achebe does not translate the song that Ikemefuna remembers as he walks along? A matchet is a large knife (Spanish machete). Why does Okonkwo act as he does?

Most traditional cultures have considered twins magical or cursed. Twins are in fact unusually common among the Ibo, and some subgroups value them highly. However, the people of Umuofia do not. Note how the introduction of this bit of knowledge is introduced on the heels of Ikemefuna's death. Nwoye serves as a point of view character to criticize some of the more negative aspects of Umuofia culture. This incident will have a powerful influence on his reaction to changes in the culture later. Chapter Eight What is Okonkwo's attitude toward his daughter Ezinma?" Bride-price is the converse of dowry. Common in many African cultures, it involves the bridegroom's family paying substantial wealth in cash or goods for the privilege of marrying a young woman. Do you think such a custom would tend to make women more valuable than a dowry system where the woman's family must offer the gifts to the bridegroom's family? How do you think such a system would affect the women themselves? Note again the emphasis on differing customs, this time as it applies to palm-wine tapping. Young women were considered marriageable in their mid-teens. Why do you think this attitude arose? It is worth noting that European women commonly married between 15 and 18 in earlier times. There is nothing uniquely African about these attitudes. Note the continued treatment of the theme of the variability of values. How is the notion of white men first introduced into the story? Why might Africans suppose that they have no toes? What sorts of attitudes are associated with white men in this passage? Chapter Nine The story of the mosquito is one of several West African tales which explain why these insects buzz irritatingly in people's ears. Why does Ekwefi prize her daughter Ezinma so highly? In this chapter the notion of the ogbanje is treated at length. What attitudes toward children does it reflect? Note how it balances against the "throwing away" of twins. Does Achebe seem to validate the belief in ogbanje? Chapter Ten The egwugwu ceremony of the Ibo has been much studied. The women clearly know on some level that these mysterious beings are their men folk in disguise, yet they are terrified of them. What do you think their attitude toward the egwugwu is? What seem to be the main functions of the ceremony? How does Evil Forest refute the argument of Uzowulu that he beat his wife because she was unfaithful to him? How are problems like this affected by the fact that whole families are involved in marriage, unlike in American culture where a man and woman may wed quite independently of their families and even against their families' wishes? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each system? Chapter Eleven

What is the moral of the fable of the tortoise? What values does it reflect? What does the incident involving the priestess of Agbala reflect about the values of the culture? Chapter Twelve Notice the traditional attitudes of all small villagers toward large marketplaces like Umuike. How is the importance of family emphasized in the uri ceremony? Notice that the song sung at the end of the chapter is a new one. Achebe often reminds us that this is not a frozen, timeless culture, but a constantly changing one. Chapter Thirteen Having shown us an engagement ceremony, Achebe now depicts a funeral. We are being systematically introduced to the major rituals of Ibo life. How does the one-handed egwugwu praise the dead man? Okonkwo has killed people before this. What makes this incident so serious, though it would be treated as a mere accident under our law? Chapter Fourteen In Part One we were introduced to an intact and functioning culture. It may have had its faults, and it accommodated deviants like Okonkwo with some difficulty, but it still worked as an organic whole. It is in Part Two that things begin to fall apart. Okonkwo's exile in Mbanta is not only a personal disaster, but it removes him from his home village at a crucial time so that he returns to a changed world which can no longer adapt to him. What is the significance of comparing Okonkwo to a fish out of water? Note the value placed on premarital chastity in the engagement ceremony. In many African cultures virginity is not an absolute requirement for marriage but it is highly desirable and normally greatly enhances the value of the bride-price that may be paid. Thus families are prone to assert a good deal of authority over their unmarried daughters to prevent early love affairs. How does Okonkwo's lack of understanding of the importance of women reflect on him? Chapter Fifteen How does the story of the destruction of Abame summarize the experience of colonization? Movie Indians call a train engine an "iron horse," but the term here refers to a bicycle. Note that although the people of Abame acted rashly, they had a good deal of insight into the significance of the arrival of the whites. Note how the Africans treat the white man's language as mere noise; a mirror of how white colonizers treated African languages. What sorts of stories had Okonkwo heard about white men before? In the final exchange with Okonkwo Obierika is good-naturedly refusing to accept Okonkwo's thanks by joking with him. Chapter Sixteen The British followed a policy in their colonizing efforts of designating local "leaders" to administer the lower levels of their empire. In Africa these were known as "warrant chiefs." But

the men they chose were often not the real leaders, and the British often assumed the existence of an centralized chieftainship where none existed. Thus the new power structures meshed badly with the old. Similarly the missionaries have designated as their contact man an individual who lacks the status to make him respected by his people. Why do you think Nwoye has become a Christian? Note how Achebe inverts the traditional dialect humor of Europeans which satirizes the inability of natives to speak proper English by having the missionary mangle Ibo. What is the first act of the missionaries which evokes a positive response in some of the Ibo? Achebe focuses on the doctrine of the Trinity, the notoriously least logical and most paradoxical basic belief in Christianity. How does this belief undermine the missionaries' attempts to discredit the traditional religion? Why does the new religion appeal to Nwoye? Chapter Seventeen What mutual misunderstandings are evident in this chapter between the missionaries and the people of the village? How does the granting to the missionaries of a plot in the Evil Forest backfire? What does the metaphor in the next to the last sentence of the chapter mean? Chapter Eighteen The outcaste osu are introduced in this chapter. Why do you suppose Achebe has not mentioned them earlier? Their plight was indeed a difficult one, and is treated by Achebe elsewhere. In India the lowest castes were among the first to convert to faiths which challenged traditional Hinduism; and something similar seems to happen here. Chapter Nineteen Note how traditional Umuofian custom can welcome back an erring member once he has paid for his crime. In many cultures Okonkwo would be treated as a pariah, but this culture has ways of accommodating such a person without destroying him, and in fact encouraging him to give of his best. What does the final speaker say is the main threat posed by Christianity? Chapter Twenty Okonkwo's relationship to the newcomers is exacerbated by the fact that he has a very great deal at stake in maintaining the old ways. All his hopes and dreams are rooted in the continuance of the traditional culture. The fact that he has not been able gradually to accustom himself to the new ways helps to explain his extreme reaction. The missionaries have brought British colonial government with them. Missionaries were often viewed as agents of imperialism. There is a saying common to Native Americans and Africans alike which goes like this: "Before the white man came, we had the land and they had the Bible. Now we have the Bible and they have the land." What clashes in values are created by the functioning of the British courts? Note the final phrase of Obierika's last speech, alluding to the title of the novel.

Chapter Twenty-One Why do some of the villagers--even those who are not converts to Christianity--welcome the British? The missionaries try to refute what they consider idolatry with the simplistic argument that the animist gods are only wooden idols; however the villagers are perfectly aware that the idol is not the god in a literal sense, any more than the sculpture of Christ on the cross in a Christian church is God. This sort of oversimplification was a constant theme of Christian arguments against traditional faiths throughout the world as the British assumed that the natives were fools pursuing childish beliefs who needed only a little enlightenment to be converted. Mr. Brown here learns better. It is worth noting that Achebe, like his fellow Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka, was raised a Christian; but both rejected the faith and have preferred to affirm certain aspects of traditional beliefs in their own lives. Note how Akunna shrewdly senses that the head of the Church is in England rather than in heaven. Note the recurrence of the phrase "falling apart" in the last sentence of the chapter." Chapter Twenty-Two How is Rev. Smith different from Brown? What is the result of his black and white thinking? Chapter Twenty-Three What does the District Commissioner say is the motive of the British in colonizing the Africans? Chapter Twenty-Four Once again Okonkwo uses his matchet rashly, bringing disaster on his head. But he could be viewed as a defiant hero defending his people's way of life. What do you think of his act? Chapter Twenty-Five Why do you think Okonkwo kills himself? What is your reaction to the final paragraph of the book? Analyze it. Achebe went on to write two sequels to Things Fall Apart featuring descendants of Okonkwo. In The Arrow of God (1964) he further explores the failure of the British to understand traditional beliefs and values, and in No Longer at Ease (1967) he shows how postcolonial Nigeria became corrupted by a government which was not the organic creation of its people, but an alien structure imposed upon them. He has also published several other novels, a volume of short stories, and many poems and essays, and currently teaches at Bard College in New York. Like many Nigerian authors, he was an exile from his homeland where a military dictatorship was in power until he was able to return for a brief visit in 1998.

Visit a MOO based on the novel at "Village of Umuofia." Back to other notes

Notes by Paul Brians, Department of English, Washington State University, Pullman 991645020. First mounted 1994. Revised April 14, 2011 This page has been accessed times since June 6, 1997.

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