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Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1959.

Personal notes by James T. Bretzke, S.J.


Frontpiece from Yeats The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
Use as a larger discussion question:
Who is the falconer and the falcon
Why do things fall apart
What is the center that cannot hold?
What does mere anarchy mean?
What is the result of this phenomenon in terms of the concepts of paradigm shift, acculturation,
and inculturation?
What is the significance of the kola nut and the ritual of breaking it?

Part One
Chapter One
Introduces the main character, Okonkwo, and is spoken of as a wrestler famed throughout the
nine villages. Okonkwo is now about 38 though.
Contrasted with his father, Unoka, who was lazy and improvident (p. 4), i.e., unsuccessful
But who is truly happy and why?
Unoka seems to live in harmony with the world around him while Okonkwo does not. What
does this signify?
Breaking of the kola nut ritual, p. 6
Chapter Two:
Sets up the critical event: call to the meeting
Okonkwo is described as a man of action, a man of war. p. 10.
[Issue of how this description is heard cross-culturally]
Call to a just war

Achebe: Things Fall Apart

Conflict and conflict resolution


How would we judge ethically what happened to the young girl, Ikefuma, and the others involved
in this conflict resolution?
What seems to be the predominant ethical model employed?
The role of the Oracledivine mandate?
Okwonko, ruled his household with a heavy hand, p. 13
Okwonko, dominated by fear: fear of failure and fear of weakness, p. 13
fear that he should resemble his father, and so he hated everything his father loved: being gentle
and being idle. P.13
Anxiety caused by his sonincipient laziness
Okwonko was prosperous and respected; And so Ikefuma came to his household.
Ch. 3
discussion of the oracle
Okwonko borrows yams, its very bad harvest year; many despaired, but he survivedsince he
survived that year he felt he could survive anything. P. 24a sort of benchmark experience.
He attributes his survival to his inflexible will.
Ch. 4
Okwonko violates some traditions, through violence, during the Week of Peace, p. 29.
Look at how the priest remonstrates with him, p.30violating the week of peace risks bringing
harm to the clan.
Could we speak of a tragic flaw in reference to Okwonko character?
What does it mean to say Okwonko was provoked to justifiable anger by his youngest wife, who
went to plait her hair at her friends house and did not return early enough to cook the afternoon
meal. (P. 29). What does this say about gender roles and a legitimate feminist critique?

Achebe: Things Fall Apart


Okwonko is punished not primarily for violating a societal rule, but for risking ruin of the whole
clan (cf. P. 30). What does this signify in terms of mores and morals?
Ch. 5
Rhythms of the tribe: Feast of the New Yam. How does Okwonko stand in relation to these
tribal rhythms?
Another anger management incident with Ekwefis taking some banana leaves. Speaks of
Okwonko anger being satisfied (cf. P. 38). What would this suggest about the ethical model
in place in the tribe? Is it might makes right or something more complex that makes up this
tribes moral universe?
2nd Wife Ekwefi, and her daughter Enzinma introduced.
Domestic tranquility

Ch. 6
The wrestling meet (a foil to Okwonko on rise to fame?]
Issue of Ezinmas poor health

Ch. 7
Picture of machismo African style (or at least Okwonko style), cf. P. 53
Ikemefuna has been in the house for 3 years; he has had a good effect on Nwoye (and Okwonko)
The locusts come; its a rare treat (eaten): what might this foreshadow?
Then the elder comes and tells Okwonko that the time has come for Ikemefuna to be killed.
Okwonko participates in the coup de grace: dazed with fear... He was afraid of being thought
weak. p. 61.
Effect of the killing on Nwoye: snapping of a tightened bow. p. 61.

Ch. 8
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Achebe: Things Fall Apart


Okwonko is initially depressed; drinks, etc.
Conversation with Obierika, who acts as a foil, pointing up a higher moral law, somewhat akin to
the notion of the Mandate of Heaven, cf. Pp. 66-67
Is Okwonko failure to raise up a son in his image his own failure, or the boys, or genetics, or ?
Bride-price negotiation, chapter ends with a bit of cross-cultural wonder and the first mention
of the white man. Confusion or conflation of customs (mores) with moral order. Ethnocentrism
among the various tribes.
Ch. 9.
Okwonko can finally sleep; seems the crisis has past....
Tribal cosmology to explain the death of children (theodicy)
Ezinmas health crisis; the theology of affliction
Okwonko care of hertouching.
Ch. 10
Cult of the village
Trial of the village; Okwonko is a judge (not yet known)
Spousal abuse, etc.
Notion of sacred authority
Ch. 11
p. 101 Okwonko comes close to committing the sin of hubrisdaring to contend with a spirit.
Trip to the Cave with Ezinma
? Pilgrimage, rite of passage? Testing?
Ch. 12
Fairly peaceful village life portrait
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Achebe: Things Fall Apart


Ch. 13
Depiction of death and funeral rituals in the village
A mans life from birth to death was a series of transition rites which brought him nearer and
nearer to his ancestors. p. 122
Notion of objective moral order and moral responsibility in the accidental death; fate? karma?s
Death of Ezeudu, who had warned Okwonko not to take part in the death of Ikefuma; Okwonko
gun misfires and kills the dead mans son. Okwonko has to flee; Obierika (foil figure) thought
about things and reflects on what has happened and the necessity of the banishment. Cf. P. 125s
PART TWO
Ch. 14
Okwonkos great ambition to be a lord of his clan is dashed.
Issue of fate (chi) and despair. P. 131s
His uncle remonstrates with him and tells him not to despair, cf. P. 134.
Ch. 15.
Visit of Obierika; news of the white man; destruction of the village of Abame (who had killed
the white man). Difficulty in correctly classifying the white man: not an albino, riding a iron
horse, etc. the old paradigm no longer suffices (p. 138)
There is no story that is not true said Uchendu. (p. 141). What is the meaning of this
assertion?
Meaning of the puzzling exchange at the end of p. 142 about killing sons to express thanks?
Ch. 16
Another visit by Obierika, two years later; the missionaries have come in the meantime. Initial
convents were not considered men worthy of respect in the community. Okwonko son, Nwoye,
has joined the missionaries.
Denigration of the African folk religion by the missionaries. But their teaching about twins and
the fate of Ikefuma somehow captivated Nwoye. Cf. P. 147.
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Achebe: Things Fall Apart


Ch. 17
The missionaries conquer the Evil Forest. [More paradigm shift evidence; clash of
cosmologies]
Confrontation between Okwonko and his son.
Final lines of this chapter: how Okwonko makes sense out of the mystery of having a son like
Nwoye: Living fire begets cold, impotent ash. p. 153
Ch. 18
Live and let-live attitude (at least in the Evil Forest): Surely the earth goddess would not visit
the sins of the missionaries on the innocent villagers? p. 154
White missionaries power increases: a government is established
Crisis in the church: osu (outcasts) are admitted. Violation of another taboo.
One of the osu outcast converts kills the sacred python, p. 157.
Christians are ostracized. The man, Okoli, who had reportedly killed the sacred python (though
he had denied it) dies of natural causes. The villagers presume the gods are fighting for
themselves and leave the Christians alone.
Ch. 19
Harmony with the seasons in terms of work, etc.
Okwonko never did things by halves. p. 165
Okwonko throws a big farewell feast in his uncles village, before he returns home after his
seven year exile.
Emphasis on the importance of kinsmen
Final speech foreshadows the influence of Christianity, which is described as an abominable
religion for what it can do to destroy the bonds of kinship, p. 167.
PART Three
Ch. 20
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Achebe: Things Fall Apart


Okwonkos big plans; denial of his first son.
Missionaries gain power in Okwonkos own village; he returns home. You cant go home
again
Things fall apart line reprised on p. 176. (cause is the white man who gained entrance through the
seemingly harmless and ridiculous religion of Christianity)
Ch. 21
Softening of attitudes in the village toward the new faith. Recognition of some positive aspects
of the coming of the white mane.g., establishment of a trading store that improved the economic
conditions of the village.
Some inter-religious dialogue: Mr. Brown and Akuna;
Establishment of schools
Okwonko son re-named Isaac (significance?)
Mr. Brown has to return to England
Okwonko mourns that his return was not a big splash and that his village has changed; become
weak: soft like women. p. 183.
Ch. 22
Mr. Browns successor arrives, Mr. Smith; hes into more direct condemnation; reverses the
policy of compromise. Saw things in black and white, and black was evil. p. 184
Discuss the possible symbolism of the two names Brown and Smith and their respective
approaches to evangelization and openness to the culture of the African tribe.
A zealous convert, Enoch, unmasks one of the ancestral spirits, which is akin to killing it, and
risking the soul of the tribe (cf. P. 187)
The elders destroy the church.
Ch. 23
Okwonko seems satisfied with the burning of the church, and people listening to him again.
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Achebe: Things Fall Apart


The elders must meet the District Commissioner. The delegation (including Okwonko) is
arrested and imprisoned. They are fined 250 bags of cowries, or they would be hanged.
Ch. 24.
Fine is paid and prisoners set free.
War council is held; messengers of the govt. arrive; Okwonko kills the lead messenger. He
realizes the village will not elect to go to war.
Ch. 25.
Okwonko commits suicidethe ultimate abomination. Cf. P. 207 Though we can also see him as
an exemplar of self-sacrifice to save his people, and in this sense akin to a Christ figure and an
exemplar of baptism by blood.
District Commissioner as cultural observer.
Concluding words: anthropological view of the Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of Lower
Niger.