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Exam Prep Worksheet

English AI

Author: Chinua Achebe

Title: Things Fall Apart The setting of the work (Time and Place)
Main Character(s) name and one sentence and one sentence as to why it is important:
description: Things Fall Apart is set in Umuofia, a tribal
Okonkwo, Out of awe and respect, the Ibo village in the country of Nigeria, in Africa. It is the
tribe refers to Okonkwo as 'Roaring Flame.' Fiery late 1800s, when English bureaucrats and
of temper with a blazing appearance, Okonkwo missionaries are first arriving in the area.
strikes fear in the hearts of his clan members as Although there is a long history of conflict
well as his own family unit. between European colonists and the Africans,
While Okonkwo's appearance portrays a they try to convert and subjugate, by placing the
man people fear, it belies the terror Okonkwo novel at the beginning of this period Achebe can
hides within himself. For his entire life, Okonkwo accentuate the clash of cultures that are just
has had to deal with having a father who is coming into contact. It also sets up a greater
considered weak and lazy—'agabala' in the tribe's contrast between the time Okonkwo leaves the
terms. The tribe detests weak, effeminate men. tribe and the time he returns, when his village is
Okonkwo is terrified to think that the tribe will almost unrecognizable to him because of the
liken him to his father. He is even more afraid of changes brought by the English. In a broader
recognizing in himself some semblance of sense, Achebe sets this story about Okonkwo at
weakness that he sees in his father. Thus, he the end of the nineteenth century when
despises gentleness, idleness, and Europeans first began colonizing this region of
demonstrations of sensitivity. He will not allow Nigeria on a large scale. By so doing, Achebe
himself to show love, to enjoy the fruits of hard establishes a parallel between Okonkwo's
work, or to demonstrate concern for others, nor personal tragedy and colonialism's tragic
can he tolerate these in other men. He rules his destruction of native African cultures.
family unit with an iron fist and expects everyone
to act on his commands. In chronological order, list the five most
The tribe sees Okonkwo as powerful. They important events in the work:
respect him for his many achievements. Not only 1. Umuofian’s notice Okonkwo’s extraordinary
has he overcome his father's weaknesses, but talents and reward him by making him the
also he has accomplished more than the average guardian of Ikemefuna, a young boy awarded
tribesman. As a young man, he wrestles and to Umuofia as compensation for wrongs
beats one of the fiercest fighters in the land. committed by a neighboring village.
Next, Okonkwo goes on to amass three wives and 2. Okonkwo commits his worst crime, however,
two barns full of yams. Then, he acquires two when he participates in the sacrifice of
titles and is considered the greatest warrior alive. Ikemefuna.
3. Despite Okonkwo's numerous violations of
Two Important Minor Characters and their custom and violent behavior, he ultimately
relationship with the main character: loses his prestigious position in Umuofia not
Unoka is Okonkwo's father, the root of because of his misdeeds but because of an
Okonkwo's fear and problems. Unoka represents accident. During Ezeudu's funeral ceremony,
all that the Ibo abhor—gentleness, lack of his gun misfires and accidentally kills a boy.
ambition, and sensitivity to people and nature. He Therefore, he seeks refuge among his
is a gifted musician who loves fellowship, the mother's kinsmen in Mbanta.
change of the seasons, and children. Although 4. During this time, the British begin colonizing
Unoka is tall, his stooped posture bears the the surrounding areas, and this begins a
weight of the tribe's scorn. vicious cycle of mutual confrontation as the
Okonkwo's son, Nwoye, disappoints him. two cultures clash. Many tribesmen convert
Nwoye shows all the signs of his grandfather's including Okonkwo’s son.
sensitivity and laziness, and Okonkwo fears that 5. When a messenger from the government
Nwoye will shame the reputable name Okonkwo arrives to stop their meeting, Okonkwo kills
has worked so hard to achieve. Nwoye knows that the messenger, and the meeting ends in
he should enjoy the masculine rites of his fellow chaos. The next day the District
tribesmen, but he prefers his mother's company Commissioner himself comes to arrest
and the stories she tells. He questions and is Okonkwo, but Okonkwo has already
disturbed by many of the tribe's customs. committed suicide.
Okonkwo beats and nags Nwoye, making Nwoye
unhappy and further distancing him from the
ways of the clan.
What is the dominant symbol in the work Ironically, the District Commissioner thinks
and give one specific example of where it is that he has helped pacify the 'primitive' tribes of
used: the Lower Niger, but he is blind to his complicity
Yams, Yams are a crop grown exclusively in destroying these tribes and provoking the
by men. Growing yams is labor intensive, and the chain of events leading to Okonkwo's suicide. The
size of a man's fields and harvest say much about District Commissioner's thoughts are doubly
his work ethic. Yams are grown to gain wealth ironic because he claims to understand Africa
and to feed one's family. They are a symbol of enough to write a history of it, but he remains
masculinity and ability as a provider. thoroughly ignorant of the people he intends to
write about. Okonkwo's tragic demise, like the
Describe the narrative style in the book and tragic destruction of indigenous African people
briefly explain how it is used effectively: and their traditions, is a long and complex
Achebe develops Things Fall Apart through history, but the District Commissioner only sees it
a third-person narrative—using “he” and “she” as a mere paragraph. For far too long, Europeans
for exposition—rather than having the characters like the District Commissioner have ignored and
tell it themselves. Often speaking in the past misrepresented the history of Africa, but
tense, he also narrates the story with little use of Achebe's Things Fall Apart begins to correct the
character dialogue. The resulting story reads like historical record by retelling the conquest of
an oral tale that has been passed down through Africa from Okonkwo's African perspective rather
generations of storytellers. than the District Commissioner's European one.
In addition, the book is divided into three
parts; Things Fall Apart comprises many Briefly describe the major theme of the
substories. Yet Achebe holds the various stories work:
together through his use of proverbs, the Custom and Tradition, Okonkwo's struggle
traditional oral tale, and leitmotif, or recurring to live up to what he perceives as “traditional”
images or phrases. Ibo proverbs occur throughout standards of masculinity, and his failure to adapt
the book providing a unity to the surface to a changing world, help point out the
progression of the story. For example, 'when a importance of custom and tradition in the novel.
man says yes, his chi says yes' is the proverb the The Ibo tribe defines itself through the age-old
tribe applies to Okonkwo's success, on the one traditions it practices in Things Fall Apart. While
hand, but is also the proverb Okonkwo, himself, some habits mold tribe members' daily lives,
applies to his failure. Traditional oral tales always other customs are reserved for special
contain a tale within the tale. Nwoye's mother is ceremonies. For example, the head of a
an expert at telling these tales—morals household honors any male guest by praying over
embedded in stories. The stories Achebe tells and sharing a kola nut with him, offering the
throughout Things Fall Apart are themselves tales guest the privilege of breaking the nut. They
within the tale. Leitmotif is the association of a drink palm-wine together, with the oldest person
repeated theme with a particular idea. Achebe taking the first drink after the provider has tasted
connects masculinity with land, yams, titles, and it.
wives. He repeatedly associates this view of Ceremonial customs are more elaborate.
masculinity with a certain stagnancy in Umuofia. The Feast of the New Yam provides an
While a traditional Western plot may not be illustration. This Feast gives the tribe an
evident in Things Fall Apart, a definite structure opportunity to thank Ani, the earth goddess and
with an African flavor lends itself to the overall source of all fertility.
unity of the story. Tribal custom dictates every aspect of
members' lives. The tribe determines a man's
How does the ending resolve the issues worth by the number of titles he holds, the
presented in the work: number of wives he acquires, and the number of
The book ends with Okonkwo’s suicide and yams he grows. The tribe acknowledges a man's
his burial. The people of Umuofia ask the very being by the gods' approval of him. Without
commissioner to bury Okonkwo because it is custom and tradition, the tribe does not exist.
against their custom to bury a man who has
committed suicide. The commissioner orders his Why is this work important to read?:
men to take down Okonkwo's body because he Critics appreciate Achebe's development
has an interest in African customs, but he refuses of the conflict that arises when tradition clashes
to help personally because he fears that cutting with change. He uses his characters and their
down a dead body might give the natives a poor unique language to portray the double tragedies
opinion of him. Achebe's bitterly ironic conclusion that occur in the story. Readers identify not only
to the novel describes the District with Okonkwo and his personal hardships but also
Commissioner's callous response to Okonkwo's with the Ibo culture and its disintegration. Chinua
tragedy. Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart not for his fellow
Nigerians, but for people beyond his native speak our tongue? But he says that our customs
country. He wanted to explain the truth about the are bad; and our own brothers who have taken up
effects of losing one's culture. Published in 1958, his religion also say that our customs are bad.
the book was not widely read by Nigerians or by How do you think we can fight when our own
Africans in general. When Nigeria became brothers have turned against us? The white man
independent in 1960, however, Africans is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably
appreciated the novel for its important with his religion. We were amused at his
contribution to Nigerian history. foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has
won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act
Find 3 quotations from the work that speak like one. He has put a knife on the things that
to you about one of the following: theme, held us together and we have fallen apart.”
characterization, symbol/metaphor,
narrative styles, etc: “And at last the locusts did descend. They settled
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre, The on every tree and on every blade of grass; they
falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; settled on the roofs and covered the bare ground.
the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed Mighty tree branches broke away under them,
upon the world.” and the whole country became the brown-earth
color of the vast, hungry swarm.”
“Does the white man understand our custom
about land?” “How can he when he does not even