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THINGS FALL APART : Chinua Achebe narrator The narrator is anonymous but shows sympathy for the various

s residents of Umuofia. point of view The narration is in the third person, by an omniscient figure who focuses on Okonkwo but switches from character to character to detail the thoughts and motives of various individuals. tone Ironic, tragic, satirical, fablelike tense Past setting (time) 1890s setting (place) Lower Nigerian villages, Iguedo and Mbanta in particular protagonist Okonkwo major conflict On one level, the conflict is between the traditional society of Umuofia and the new customs brought by the whites, which are in turn adopted by many of the villagers. Okonkwo also struggles to be as different from his deceased father as possible. He believes his father to have been weak, effeminate, lazy, ignominious, and poor. Consequently, Okonkwo strives to be strong, masculine, industrious, respected, and wealthy. rising action Enochs unmasking of an egwugwu, the egwugwus burning of the church, and the District Commissioners sneaky arrest of Umuofian leaders force the tension between Umuofia and the colonizers to a breaking point. climax Okonkwos murder, or uchu, of a court messenger falling action The villagers allow the white governments messengers to escape, and Okonkwo, realizing the weakness of his clan, commits suicide. themes The struggle between tradition and change; varying interpre-tations of masculinity; language as a sign of cultural difference motifs Chi, animal imagery symbols The novel is highly symbolic, and it asks to be read in symbolic terms. Two of the main symbols are the locusts and fire. The locusts symbolize the white colonists descending upon the Africans, seeming to augur good but actually portending troublesome encounters. Fire epitomizes Okonkwos naturehe is fierce and destructive. A third symbol, the drums, represents the physical connection of the community of clansmen in Umuofia, and acts as a metaphorical heartbeat that beats in unison, uniting all the village members. foreshadowing The authors initial description of Ikemefuna as an ill-fated boy, which presages his eventual murder by Okonkwo; the arrival of the locusts, which symbolizes the eventual arrival of the colonizers; Obierikas suggestion that Okonkwo kill himself, which foretells Okonkwos eventual suicide

Character List
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 children. Okonkwos tragic flaw is that he is terrified of looking weak like his father. As a result, he behaves rashly, bringing a great deal of trouble and sorrow upon himself and his family. Nwoye Okonkwos oldest son, whom Okonkwo believes is weak and lazy. Okonkwo continually beats Nwoye, hoping to correct the faults that he perceives in him. Influenced by Ikemefuna, Nwoye begins to exhibit more masculine behavior, which pleases Okonkwo. However, he maintains doubts about some of the laws and rules of his tribe and eventually converts to Christianity, an act that Okonkwo criticizes as effeminate. 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 and reminds him of Ekwefi when Ekwefi 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 tribes 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 chauvinistic 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 tribes traditional strictures.

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.

Analysis of Major Characters

Okonkwo Okonkwo, the son of the effeminate and lazy Unoka, strives to make his way in a world that seems to value manliness. In so doing, he rejects everything for which he believes his father stood. Unoka was idle, poor, profligate, cowardly, gentle, and interested in music and conversation. Okonkwo consciously adopts opposite ideals and becomes productive, wealthy, thrifty, brave, violent, and adamantly opposed to music and anything else that he perceives to be soft, such as conversation and emotion. He is stoic to a fault. Okonkwo achieves great social and financial success by embracing these ideals. He marries three women and fathers several children. Nevertheless, just as his father was at odds with the values of the community around him, so too does Okonkwo find himself unable to adapt to changing times as the white man comes to live among the Umuofians. As it becomes evident that compliance rather than violence constitutes the wisest principle for survival, Okonkwo realizes that he has become a relic, no longer able to function within his changing society. Okonkwo is a tragic hero in the classical sense: although he is a superior character, his tragic flawthe equation of manliness with rashness, anger, and violencebrings about his own destruction. Okonkwo is gruff, at times, and usually unable to express his feelings (the narrator frequently uses the word inwardly in reference to Okonkwos emotions). But his emotions are indeed quite complex, as his manly values conflict with his unmanly ones, such as fondness for Ikemefuna and Ezinma. The narrator privileges us with information that Okonkwos fellow clan members do not havethat Okonkwo surreptitiously follows Ekwefi into the forest in pursuit of Ezinma, for exampleand thus allows us to see the tender, worried father beneath the seemingly indifferent exterior. Nwoye Nwoye, Okonkwos oldest son, struggles in the shadow of his powerful, successful, and demanding father. His interests are different from Okonkwos and resemble more closely those of Unoka, his grandfather. He undergoes many beatings, at a loss for how to please his father, until the arrival of Ikemefuna, who becomes like an older brother and teaches him a gentler form of successful masculinity. As a result, Okonkwo backs off, and Nwoye even starts to win his grudging approval. Nwoye remains conflicted, however: though he makes a show of scorning feminine things in order to please his father, he misses his mothers stories. With the unconscionable murder of Ikemefuna, however, Nwoye retreats into himself and finds himself forever changed. His reluctance to accept Okonkwos masculine values turns into pure embitterment toward him and his ways. When missionaries come to Mbanta, Nwoyes hope and faith are reawakened, and he eventually joins forces with them. Although Okonkwo curses his lot for having borne so effeminate a son and disowns Nwoye, Nwoye appears to have found peace at last in leaving the oppressive atmosphere of his fathers tyranny.

Ezinma Ezinma, Okonkwos favorite daughter and the only child of Ekwefi, is bold in the way that she approachesand even sometimes contradictsher father. Okonkwo remarks to himself multiple times that he wishes she had been born a boy, since he considers her to have such a masculine spirit. Ezinma alone seems to win Okonkwos full attention, affection, and, ironically, respect. She and he are kindred spirits, which boosts her confidence and precociousness. She grows into a beautiful young woman who sensibly agrees to put off marriage until her family returns from exile so as to help her father leverage his sociopolitical power most effectively. In doing so, she shows an approach similar to that of Okonkwo: she puts strategy ahead of emotion. Mr. Brown Mr. Brown represents Achebes attempt to craft a well-rounded portrait of the colonial presence by tempering bad personalities with good ones. Mr. Browns successor, Reverend Smith, is zealous, vengeful, small-minded, and manipulative; he thus stands in contrast to Mr. Brown, who, on the other hand, is benevolent if not always beneficent. Mr. Brown succeeds in winning a large number of converts because he listens to the villagers stories, beliefs, and opinions. He also accepts the converts unconditionally. His conversation with Akunna represents this sympathetic stance. The derisive comments that Reverend Smith makes about Mr. Brown after the latters departure illustrate the colonial intolerance for any kind of sympathy for, and genuine interest in, the native culture. The surname Brown hints at his ability to navigate successfully the clear-cut racial division between the colonizers and the colonized.


Quote: He was a man of action, a man of war...On great occasions such as the funeral of a village celebrity he drank his palm-wine from his first human head (10). Analysis: Just in case the reader was not aware of the cultural gap between himself and the Ibo, he is introduced to Okonkwo's custom of drinking palm-wine out of a human skull. This short passage shows what Okonkwo values in a man. A man works hard, fights well, and honors the dead by drinking wine from a dead man's skull.

Quote: Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness (13). Analysis: Okonkwo fears turning out like his father, whom he thought effeminate and weak. Okonkwo's mistaken concept of masculinity leads him to commit foolish acts and ironically causes his oldest son to embody the characteristics Okonkwo despises.

Quote: An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb. Okonkwo remembered his own father (21). Analysis: One of many insightful Ibo proverbs shows the intensity with which Okonkwo despises his father.

Quote: Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten. Analysis: The importance of rhetoric among the Igbo is established early in the novel, a characteristic misunderstood by the colonialists who prefer directness.

Quote: He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger (209). Analysis: The District Commissioner shows his ignorance of the situation and his arrogant, racist attitude towards the indigenous tribes, mistakenly thinking he's bringing peace to the region.

Quote: The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart. Analysis: Obierika laments the arrival of the white man. He also recognizes his own people's falult for allowing it. Mr. Brown understands the need to act peaceably, as his religion teaches, in order to win converts. The Reverend Smith replaces him and oppresses the natives and polarizes the clan.

Themes of Masculinity Being a real man is an important theme throughout the book. Quote: Yam, the king of crops was a man's crop. Analysis: In Things Fall Apart masculinity rested on one's ability to support a family. Okonkwo, who considers himself the ultimate man of the tribe, naturally prospers as a Yam farmer. Okonkwo is motivated by fear of others thinking he is like his effeminate father. Okonkwo reminds me of my 4' 10" neighbor, in denial of his shortness, who drives a giant red truck, owns two pitbulls, wears a Superman shirt, and lifts weights 4 hours a day.

Quote: Okonkwo never showed any emotion openly, unless it be the emotion of anger. To show affection was a sign of weakness; the only thing worth demonstrating was strength. Analysis: Okonkwo, like many modern day troglodytish men, mistakes bravado for bravery, machismo for manliness, and anger for leadership. These mistaken concepts allow him to succeed for a season; when times change, however, he is unable to adapt.

Quote: No matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and his children (and especially his women) he was not really a man... Nwoye knew that it was right to be masculine and to be violent, but somehow he still preferred the stories that his mother used to tell, and which she no doubt still told to her younger children. Analysis: Things Fall Apart masculinity is based on more than prosperity. A man must control his family. Okonkwo rules his family with force, but he cannot control them. Nwoye rebels. It's the modern day equivalent of a football player's son becoming a figure skater, ballet dancer, or soccer player.

Quote: He drank palm-wine from morning till night, and his eyes were red and fierce like the eyes of a rat when it was caught by the tail and dashed against the floor (63). Analysis: Okonkwo turns to alcohol while mourning the death of Ikemefuna, who Okonkwo killed. Okonkwo shows his inability to deal with tragedy, much like the modern day ruffian who hides his insecurities and deficiencies by imbibing large amounts of alcohol. The imagery of a rat caught by the tail and dashed against the floor highlight Okonkwo's inability to escape tribal customs, customs he must uphold to validate his status as a man.

Quote: Obierika was a man who thought about things. When the will of the goddess had been done, he sat down in his obi and mourned his friend's calamity. Why should man suffer so grievously for an offense he had committed inadvertently? He remembered his wife's twin children, whom he had thrown away. What crime had they committed? (125). Analysis: Obierika questions the customs of his clan, something he had done previously after Ikemefuna was killed. If a great man such as Obierika questions tribal traditions then there are probably others. It is these others who eventually accept the new religion of the white man.

MAJOR THEMES (WWW.GRADESAVER.COM) Memory/Documentary Digression is one of Achebe's main tools. The novel is the story of Okonkwo's tragedy, but it is also a record of Igbo life before the coming of the white man. The novel documents what the white man destroyed. The reader learns much about Igbo customs and traditions; depicting this world is a central part of the novel. Social disintegration Towards the end of the novel, we witness the events by which Igbo society begins to fall apart. Religion is threatened, Umuofia loses its self-determination, and the very centers of tribal life are threatened. These events are all the more painful for the reader because so much time has been spent in sympathetic description of Igbo life; the reader realizes that he has been learning about a way of life that no longer exists. Greatness and ambition Okonkwo is determined to be a lord of his clan. He rises from humble beginnings to a position of leadership, and he is a wealthy man. He is driven and determined, but his greatness comes from the same traits that are the source of his weaknesses. He is often too harsh with his family, and he is haunted by a fear of failure. Fate and free will There is an Igbo saying that when a man says yes, his chi, or spirit, says yes also. The belief that he controls his own destiny is of central importance to Okonkwo. Later, several events occur to undermine this belief, and Okonkwo is embittered by the experience. As often happens with tragedy, the catastrophe comes through a complex mix of external forces and the character's choices. Masculinity Masculinity is one of Okonkwo's obsessions, and he defines masculinity quite narrowly. For him, any kind of tenderness is a sign of weakness and effeminacy. Male power lies in authority and brute force. But throughout the novel, we are shown men with more sophisticated understanding of masculinity. Okonkwo's harshness drives Nwoye away from the family and into the arms of the new religion. Fear For all of his desire to be strong, Okonkwo is haunted by fear. He is profoundly afraid of failure, and he is afraid of being considered weak. This fear drives him to rashness, and in the end contributes to his death.

Tribal belief Particularly since one of the threats to Igbo life is the coming of the new religion, tribal belief is a theme of some importance. Igbo religious beliefs explain and provide meaning to the world; the religion is also inextricable from social and political institutions. Achebe also shows that Igbo religious authorities, such as the Oracle, seem to possess uncanny insights. He approaches the matter of Igbo religion with a sense of wonder. Justice Justice is another powerful preoccupation of the novel. For the Igbo, justice and fairness are matters of great importance. They have complex social institutions that administer justice in fair and rational ways. But the coming of the British upsets that balance. Although the British claim that local laws are barbaric, and use this claim as an excuse to impose their own laws, we soon see that British law is hypocritical and inhumane. The final events leading up to Okonkwo's death concern the miscarriage of Justice under the British District Commissioner.
............................................................................................................................................................... THEMES

Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart revolves around Okonkwo's external conflicts with his society, his family, the new arrivals, with his past, and with himself. Learn about the main themes in this brief summary and analysis.

Following are interpretations of manhood in Things Fall Apart. Interpretation #1 - Okonkwo is a breath of fresh air. Tired of the pansy youth of his tribe who don't understand the manliness of things, such as drinking wine from a skull, providing for one's family, letting everyone know who's boss, killing your adopted son -- Okonkwo does what any man with dignity would do -- resort to violence. Interpretation #2 - Okonkwo is the embodiment of evil. He opresses women and children and doesn't appreciate the finer things in life; good stories, an occasional rest, and walks on the beach. Interpretation #3 - Manhood in Things Fall Apart motivates Okonkwo's actions. Okonkwo lives in fear of being thought weak and effeminate. His concept of manhood doesn't change, even when his society does. His inability to change destroys him.

Change vs. Tradition

Important themes in Things Fall Apart include the struggle between change and tradition:

Interpretation #1: The following is a hypothetical conversation between Nwoye and a tribal elder: Nwoye: I don't agree with some of these traditions. Tribal Elder: My dad killed twins, drank palm wine, talked to egwuwu, opressed women, and prayed to Agbala. His dad killed twins, drank palm wine, talked to egwuwu, opressed women, and prayed to Agbala. I kill twins, drink palm wine, talk to egwuwu, opress women, and pray to Agbala. Now get out before I beat you. Interpretation #2: The Ibo need to scrap their traditions, implement national health care, start a dialogue with enemy spirits who terrorize them, rewrite their laws, and collect all their yams and divide them equally at the end of the harvest so everybody will be equal. Interpretation #3: Confronted with change, individual members of Ibo society react differently. Those who stand to gain from change--the outcasts, titleless, and oppressed--welcome it. Those who have risen to positions of authority by following the old way--Okonkwo, for example--resist change. The battle between the old and the new is highlighted by the arrival of Christian missionaries and colonial authority. Okonkwo and Obierika recognize that many of their clansmen adopt the new ways. Obierika realizes resistance is futile. Okonkwo chops the head off a colonial messenger, something the old tribe would have found heroic, but something the new tribe does not endorse.

Fate vs. Free Will

Another theme that is explored is the concept of free will versus fate. Interpretation #1 - Whatever the gods dictate happens. When the Earth goddess plans a drought, the crops are destroyed. When the Earth goddess calls for rain, there is a great harvest. When Agbala wants to talk, you talk or are struck down. Whatever you do, don't have twins. The gods hate twins. Interpretation #2 - Free will is valued in Igbo society. Okonkwo becomes wealthy from his hard work. His father achieves nothing on account of his laziness. Bad things happen to Okonkwo when he acts irrationally. Good things happen when the Umuofians make decisions that will gain them favor in the eyes of the colonialists. Interpretation #3 - Both free will and fate play a role in the life of Okonkwo. He becomes wealthy because he works hard. While others curse their fate during the worst harvest ever, Okonkwo's first, Okonkwo perseveres and becomes successful. Okonkwo, however, is unable to change and control his temper. His poor choices doom him. On the other hand, fate intervened to destroy him. His gun explodes and kills a fellow villager, to no fault of his own, and tradition forces him into exile for seven years. It is during these seven years that Okinkwo loses his opportunity to gain stature in the eyes of the villagers. By the time he returns, Umuofia has changed too much for Okonkwo to matter.