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Things Falls Apart is considered the alpha of English African literature.

It is the book that brought

the story from the ‘Dark Continent’ through the voice of an educated African through which he
showed the conflict between African values and the advent of Christianity in Nigeria.

Things Falls Apart is considered the alpha of English African literature. It is the book that brought
the story from the ‘Dark Continent’ through the voice of an educated African through which he
showed the conflict between African values and the advent of Christianity in Nigeria.

Okonkwo is an ambitious man within the Umuofia clan of the Igbo tribe. Determined to be a lord,
he observes its rules, even the harshest of them, though that observance will eventually drive
away his own son.

Achebe guides us through the intricacies of Igbo culture, its profound sense of justice, its
sometimes murderous rules, and its noble and harmful machismo.

By the time the British colonial administrator arrives towards the end of the book to dismiss the
natives as savages, we know how profoundly mistaken that word is. Everything that Okonkwo
holds dear becomes threatened after an accidental shooting. Okonkwo must flee with his family
from his beloved village for seven years, losing the life that he worked so hard to gain.

He gets through his seven years of exile only to go back home and discover that everything has
changed. White missionaries have come to convert Africa to their ways.

It portrays the collision of African and European cultures in people’s lives. Okonkwo, a great man
in Igbo traditional society, cannot adapt to the profound changes brought about by British
colonial rule.

Yet, as in classic tragedy, Okonkwo’s downfall results from his own character as well as from
external forces.

Achebe’s is an essentially melancholic novel and an extended metaphor for African despoliation,
life and politics. Things Fall Apart is a sorrowful affair but not a despondent one.
The scenes from the life of Nigeria’s Igbo society are painted with an assured, uplifting clarity and
they resonate brightly - and long. Okonkwo is an excellent, wonderfully human, central character:
strong; headstrong; willful; proud.

A traditionalist, he is acutely aware of the pitfalls of forgetting the past but he is blind to the
absurdities, cruelties and sheer backwardness of certain of his tribe’s customs and of his own,
sometimes outrageous, actions.

Achebe shows how African cultures vary among themselves and how they change over time.

Things Fall Apart translated into 50 languages, taught in high schools all over the world, was the
first ‘African’ book that was written with the real voices of Africans, hence giving a correct
representation of the real Africa.

Achebe said of his first novel that Things Fall Apart was ‘an act of atonement with my past, the
ritual return and homage of a prodigal son.’

He wished to teach his (African) readers that ‘their past …with all its imperfections … was not one
long night of savagery from which the Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them’.
I discovered Achebe between the Rough Guides to Africa in a travel bookshop.
I was young, browsing, dreaming of a holiday, when I picked out a slim book
called Things Fall Apart. It was obviously misplaced; it wasn't fat enough to be
a guide book. The owner spotted me and, based on nothing but my perennial
browsing, prophesised: "You'll like that. It's a novel," he said. And that was all I
knew as I started into this stark and simple story of Okonkwo, one of the
greatest Igbo warriors in West Africa and hero of his village, at a time before
colonisation by the British.

At first, with these European eyes, it is a shock to be immersed into such a raw
and often brutal life, where death and tragedy are real and unremarkable, where
unfathomable sacrifice plays a large part in life. First published in 1958,
Achebe's wise and subtle story-telling cuts to the heart of these tribal people
with humanity, warmth and humour. You begin to understand their brutal
customs borne out of hardship, fear and the wrath of ancestral spirits. You
applaud Okonkwo's success, commend him for his obstinate sense of honour
and duty, his unerring principles, even as he drinks palm-wine out of a trophy
human head. Western perspective fades and you feel compassion when he
accidentally kills a tribesman and is exiled. You realise how difficult it is for us
to judge this wife-beating, child-murdering society, right before the Europeans
come in and do just that.

When Okonkwo returns from exile, he finds missionaries and colonial

governors have arrived in the village. They have imposed their law as well as
their religion. Humiliated by the white man's ethical code, this proud man is
suddenly powerless. His world falls apart. Achebe doesn't preach, never judges,
but with cool irony tells the story as it is. Right and wrong isn't always simple.
Achebe's story-telling empowers the reader with a greater understanding and
insight than his own characters. In true Hemingway style, he knows that to
appear to write without a message is a more powerful way of writing one.
Things Fall Apart is simple, honest, unbiased, and has the most powerful ending
of any book I've read. In today's world of clashing cultures, this is a historical
dilemma from which all could learn.
At the time, I thought I had discovered this obscure African story. Full of self-
importance, I proclaimed that this was a book that everyone should be required
to read. To my embarrassment, I soon discovered that nearly every English-
literature student the world over has read this celebrated book. Oddly, that
doesn't seem enough. Of everyone I've asked over the last couple of weeks,
many have heard of it but no one has actually read it.
THINGS FALL APART tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around
Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo's fall
from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical
beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and

The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic
plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo's world through the arrival of
aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. These twin dramas are perfectly harmonized, and
they are modulated by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history,
and the mysterious compulsions of the soul. THINGS FALL APART is the most illuminating and
permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within.

“The drums were still beating, persistent and unchanging. Their sound was no longer a
separate thing from the living village. It was like the pulsation of its heart. It throbbed
in the air, in the sunshine, and even in the trees, and filled the village with excitement.” -
Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

This is a book of many contrasts; colonialism and traditional culture, animism and Christianity, the
masculine and the feminine, and the ignorant and the aware (although who is who depends on who’s

Okonkwo is one of the most intriguing characters in African fiction. He epitomizes so much I dislike;
he’s abusive, misogynist, has very little patience or tolerance for the weak, and is perhaps he’s even
over-ambitious. Despite all his faults, it’s impossible not to pity him a little because, after all, the life
he knows, the life of his ancestors, is being taken from him quite cruelly by the British settlers.

This book really takes the reader into the Igbo culture. Achebe shows the traditional culture very well,
a culture which is rife with superstition but rich in context. I loved the inclusion of the African proverbs
and folk tales, and the details of the Igbo clan system. Achebe also shows how tightknit precolonial
African culture was and how, despite not having the so-called civilized institutions, things went pretty
smoothly because of the community spirit and also the societal rules. The importance of ancestors in
society is a part of this:

“The land of the living was not far removed from the domain of the ancestors. There was coming and
going between them.”

Achebe managed to inject some humour into such bleak subject matter, although I think this feat is
quite common among African writers:

”You grew your ears for decoration, not for hearing.”

What I found difficult to come to terms with, as an African Christian myself, is the horrific way
Christianity was introduced to the African continent. However, despite the lack of respect the
colonialists showed to the people, it’s hard to deny that there were some aspects of African tradition
that were outdated and people had the option of leaving such tradition behind, especially if it was
harmful. For example, in this book the outcasts and the parents of twin babies (who had to kill their
babies to prevent evil from entering the village) obviously found it easier to abandon tradition.

I think this book was the first one that made me realize the terrible impact of colonialism. I’ve always
been curious about how Chinese women with bound feet must have felt after that fashion was seen as
barbaric and unfashionable, and in the same vein I’ve also wondered about how those in African
cultures who had lots of power and were accorded lots of respect might have felt when new values
undermined everything they had worked towards.

This book reminds me a lot of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s “The River Between” which focuses on similar
subject matter, albeit on the other side of the continent (Kenya). I would highly recommend both of

Achebe’s protagonist isn’t a very nice man. In reality he is an asshole. I don’t like him. I don’t think
anyone really does. He is ruthless and unsympathetic to his fellow man. He grew up in a warrior’s
culture; the only way to be successful was to be completely uncompromising and remorseless. His
father was weak and worthless, according to him, so he approached life with an unshakable will to
conquer it with his overbearing masculinity.

”When Unoka died he had taken no title at all and he was heavy in debt. Any wonder then that his
son Okonkwo was ashamed of him? Fortunately, among these people a man as judged according to
his worth and not according to the worth of his farther.”

I love the sarcasm in this quote. Achebe is clearly suggesting that this is not true for the white man.
For all their supposed superiority, they cannot get this simple thing right. The African tribe here has a
better system of promotion based on merit. The warrior Okonkwo has a chance to prove himself
regardless of what occurs in the more “civilised” part of the world. And here is the crux of the novel.
Achebe gives the black man a voice; he gives him culture and civilisation. These men are not
represented in an unjust way. He is directly responding to the ignorant trend in Victorian literature
that represented the colonised as unintelligible and voiceless: they were shown to be savage. Achebe
gives us the reality.

This quote says it all:

“If you don't like my story, write your own”.

And that’s exactly what he did himself. He holds no judgement. His protagonist is completely flawed.
Okonkwo is without mercy; he has earnt his fame and respect, so when an untitled youngster speaks
out he is immediately roused to anger. This is his hamartia, his tragic flaw, he must overcome this and
treat his fellow tribesmen with a degree of dignity. But, he is a slow learner. And who can blame him?
For all his brutality and misogyny, this is till his culture. This is all he has ever known, whether it’s
right or wrong doesn’t matter. Granted, not all the men are as extreme as him. He uses his position to
extract violence more than most. His wives are often the focal point for his rage, much to their
misfortune. He sounds like a bad man; he’s certainly not a nice man, but that’s not the point. Achebe’s
meaning, and the power of this story is revealed at the end.

I found this very unusual, but it was also very effective. The point of this novel is to show how
uncompromising the white man is. That’s an obvious point, though what I mean to say is that its full
effect is revealed at the end. The Nigerian culture, the way of life for the tribe folk in this novel, is forced
to change because if it doesn’t it will be destroyed in its entirety. The protagonist represents this; he
has to deal with the crisis. He had a choice: he could either accept the white man’s way, and be changed
forever, or he could stick to his own customs and, ultimately, fall.

-Language is the key:

“Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with
which words are eaten.”
Africa does not possess a silent culture. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was wrong. African language is
formal, developed and intelligent. Here in Nigeria is the conduit for the Igbo culture. It is rich in oral
tradition. Achebe recognises that to accept a new language is to shun the original culture. Achebe
shows that Igbo tradition is dependent on storytelling and language, to accept English would destroy
the Igbo traditions. It would alienate the Africans form their culture; thus, resistance, however futile,
is the natural and just response. Okonkwo’s reactions are deeply symbolic of a culture that is about to

I think what Achebe is trying to portray here is the quietness of the African voice. It had no say. It
doesn’t matter if the colonisers were kind or brutal; it doesn’t matter what the Nigerian culture was
like in terms of ethics. What matters is that it was taken away or shaped into something else entirely.
This was not progress but assimilation. All culture has its flaws, that’s true for any society, but the
white one, for all its self-aggrandisement, was nothing but imposing. And for Achebe this is the
ruination of the voice he was trying to channel.

“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.”
The act of writing is strangely powerful, almost magical: to take ideas and put them into a lasting,
physical form that can persist outside of the mind. For a culture without a written tradition, a
libraries are not great structures of stone full of objects--instead, stories are curated within flesh,
locked up in a cage of bone. To know the story, you must go to the storyteller. In order for that story
to persist through time, it must be retold and rememorized by successive generations.

A book, scroll, or tablet, on the other hand, can be rediscovered thousands of years later, after all
those who were familiar with the story are long dead--and miraculously, the stories within it can be
delivered to modern man in the very same words the ancients used. If, in Qumran cave, we had
found the dry bones of the scribe who copied the dead sea scrolls instead of the scrolls themselves,
we would have no access to any of his knowledge.

Any library can be destroyed, whether the tales are stored in the mind of a bard or on the skins of
animals, but unwritten history is much more fragile--after all, speech is nothing more than wind,
which cannot be dug up from the earth a century later. All lands have their own histories, but sadly,
we only get to hear a scant few in their own words.

We know that Africa had empires as complex and powerful as those of Europe--beyond the well-
known examples of Egypt and Carthage, the Romans give us secondary evidence of the great Central
African empires from which they got their salt and gold, alongside many subsequent references--but
in the end, these amount to little more than myths and legends.

Carthage itself was so thoroughly destroyed that Rome basically erased their true history, replacing it
with Roman propaganda and rumor-mongering, until in The Aeneid, Carthage becomes nothing
more than Rome’s jealous, jilted lover--instead of what she truly was: the template of naval
dominance and mercantile power that Rome copied and built her empire upon.

The African continent is just as full of ruins and archaeological treasures as Europe or Asia, but due
to rampant social and economic instability caused by multinationals squabbling over resources and
profits in the power vacuum left in the wake of post-colonialism, it’s not currently safe or
supportable to research these sites and rediscover the cultures they represent. Hopefully someday,
we will be able to uncover this wealth of knowledge, but until then, we can only imagine all that we
have missed: the great loves and wars of Africa, the dark-skinned Caesars and Helens, the Subotais
and Musashis of the savanna.

But not all is lost to us. We still have pieces of the puzzle: the fact that fractal math, on which we base
our computer languages, comes from North African divination (which is why Fibonacci had to go
there to learn it), or the fact that most of the Greek and Roman texts upon which the Western literary
tradition is based were passed down to us not from Christian monks, but Islamic scholars (this is
why Averroes appears in Raphael's School of Athens , and why he and Avicenna appear alongside
Plato and Aristotle in the works of Dante). The glory of Benin City, the wealth of Mansa Musa--all
these await the student of African histories.

Plus, there are still storytellers in Africa--the lineages through which their histories have passed are
not all dead. Though the words were not written down, we can research them, all the same--looking
for lost ‘texts’, rare tales, and compiling them, collecting them, and finally giving voice to histories
that have been too-long obscured. Knowing all of this, I thirsted for depth and complexity from
Achebe--to get a view into one of the innumerable cultures of Africa.

The power of a story from a different culture is in defamiliarization. Though all cultures share certain
universal ideas: love, freedom, revenge, tyranny--the way they are expressed in each particular
culture can be eye opening. So, they are capable of showing us familiar things, but making them feel
new, making us look at them in a fresh way.

Yet, that's not what I got from this book--indeed, everything in it felt immediately recognizable and
familiar, not merely in the sense of 'universal human experience', but in almost every detail of
expression and structure. I have read modern stories by fellow American authors which were
stranger and produced more culture shock, more defamiliarization than this--but perhaps that was
Achebe's intention.

He expressed in interviews just how difficult it was for an African author to publish a novel at all--
that no one assumed an African would want to write their own story, and the manuscript was almost
lost because the typing agency just didn't take it seriously. Back then, the very notion that Africa
might have a history outside of Egypt was controversial--even though it seems simple and obvious to
us now that of course every people in every nation has their own history, and the desire for their
unique voices to be heard.

So, perhaps it would have been impossible to write a more complex book, that it just wouldn't have
been received--Achebe was among the first generation of his people to be college educated, in a
branch of a London University opened in Nigeria taught by White, English teachers. More than that,
he may have been trying to show that his own culture was just like the culture of his teachers--to
stress the similarities instead of the differences.

So then, it makes sense that Achebe is not writing a primer of his culture, but is rather reflecting
European culture back at itself, from the mouth of an Igbo man (a brave and revolutionary act!).
After all, he was the consummate Western man of letters, by his education, and everything about his
book's form reflects that. It is written, not oral, it is in English, it aligns neatly to the Greek tragic
structure and the form of the novel--and even the title is taken from one of the most famous
poems in the English language.
Achebe is hardly being coy with his inspirations here--he wants us to know that he is adopting
Western forms, he wants us to recognize them, to mark them. He is aware that this is a post-colonial
work, a work from a culture that has already been colonized, and is responding to that colonization.
This is not a voice from the past--the discovery of Gilgamesh buried in the sands--it is a modern
voice speaking from the center of the storm.

The central theme is the onset of colonization, the conflict between the tribe and the European forces
just beginning to encroach upon them. Like his most notable lecture, this book is a deliberate
response to writers like Conrad, Kipling, and Haggard.

I'm not trying to suggest that it's a problem that Achebe is writing in the Western style, or that he's
somehow 'too Western'--because it's any author's prerogative if they want to study and explore
Western themes. Indeed, as Said observed, it's vital that writers reach across these boundaries, that
we don't just force them into a niche where 'women writers write the female experience' and 'Asian
writers write the Asian experience'--because that's just racial determinism: due to the culture you're
born in, you can only every write one thing (unless you're a White man, and then you can write
whatever you like).

Indeed, one cannot confront colonialism without understanding it, adopting its forms, and turning
them against the power structure. Achebe himself recognized that an oppressed individual has to use
every tool to his advantage to fight back--even those tools brought in by the oppressors, such as the
English language, which Achebe realized would allow him to communicate with colonized peoples
from countries around the world. Authors from all sorts of national and cultural background have
taken on the Western style in this way, and proven that they can write just as ably as any Westerner.
Unfortunately, that's not the case with this book.

As a traditionally Western tale, there just isn't a lot to it. It is a tale of personal disintegration
representing the loss of culture, and of purpose. It is an existential mode seen in Arthur Miller,
Joseph Heller, and J.D. Salinger--but by trying to make the story more universal, Achebe has
watered it down too much, so that it lacks depth, sympathy, and possibility. His existentialism is
remarkable for its completeness. There is no character who is wholly sympathetic, nor wholly vile.
There is no culture or point of view which is either elevated or vilified.

Achebe is extremely fair, presenting the flaws of all men, and of the organizations under which they
live, be they Western or African in origin. Like Heller or Miller, his representation of mankind is
almost unfailingly negative. Small moments of beauty, joy, or innocence are always mitigated. They
exist only in the inflated egos of the characters, or the moralizing ideals of the culture.

Unlike Miller, he does not give us the chance to sympathize. There are not those quiet moments of
introspection that make Death of a Salesman so personally tragic. Unlike Heller, Achebe does not
contrast the overwhelming weight of loss with sardonic and wry humor. This is not the hyperbole of
Belinda's lock, nor the mad passion of Hamlet.

Achebe's characters are not able to find their own meaning in hopelessness--nor do they even
struggle to find it and fail, they cannot even laugh at themselves. They persist only through naivete
and escapism, and since the reader sees through them, we see that this world has only despondence
and delusion.

The constant reminder of this disappointment makes the book difficult to connect with. Since all the
hope we are given is almost immediately false, there is little dynamic possibility. Everything is
already lost, we only wait on the characters to realize it.

It is difficult to court the reader's sympathy when there is nothing left to be hopeful for. With no
counterpoint to despondence--not even a false one--it is hard to create narrative depth, to reveal, or
to surprise. Trying to write a climax through such a pervasive depression is like trying to raise a
mountain in a valley.

No matter how hard they try, there is no visible path to success. Nothing is certain, and the odds
against are often overwhelming. Achebe felt this doubly, as an author and a colonized citizen. He
succeeds in presenting hopelessness, sometimes reaching Sysiphean Absurdism, but with too few
grains to weigh in the scale against it, his tale presents only a part of the human experience.

Though we may know that others suffer, this is not the same as comprehending their suffering. The
mother who says 'eat your peas, kids are starving in Africa' succeeds more through misdirection than
by revealing the inequalities of politics and the human state.

Achebe presents suffering to us, but it is not sympathetic; we see it, but are not invited to feel it. His
world loses depth and dimension, becomes scattered, and while this does show us the way that
things may fall apart, particularly all things human, this work is more an exercise in nihilism than a
representation of the human experience.

So, it ends up being one of those books that it more notable for its place in the canon than its quality.
It was certainly a brave and revolutionary act for Achebe to write it, and to persist with it, but the
book itself is less impressive than the gesture that produced it. For me, it becomes prototypical of a
whole movement of books by people of non-Western descent who get praised and published
precisely because they parrot back Western values at us and avoid confronting us with actual cultural
differences, while at the same time using a thin patina of 'foreignness' to feel suitably exotic, so that
the average Western reader can feel more worldly for having read them.

It's flat works like The Kite Runner or House Made of Dawn which are just exotic enough to titillate
without actually requiring that the reader learn anything about the culture in order to appreciate it--
because of course every guilt-ridden Liberal Westerner wants to read about other cultures, but as
Stewart Lee put it: "... not like that, Stew, not where you have to know anything ..."

In the most extreme cases you get something like The Education of Little Tree , where a racist KKK
member pretends to be a Native American and writes a book so saccharine, so apologetic and
appeasing of White guilt that it can't help but become a best-seller--because it turns out that no one
is better at predicting what comforting things Middle America wants to hear about race than a
member of the KKK.

Of course, I'm not suggesting that Achebe is anywhere near that--just that it makes obvious the
problem with judging a book by its historical place rather than the actual words on the page. Indeed,
it's downright insulting to the author and the culture. It's the same response people would have to
hearing that a dog wrote a book: 'Wow! I've got to read that!"--which has nothing to do with the
quality of the book, and everything to do with the fact that we have very low expectations of dogs.

To treat a person the same way because they are from another culture is pure condescension. Just
because someone is born into a culture, that does not make them representative of that culture--
authenticity is not an in-born trait, which is the problem of the illusion of the 'pure voice', because
there is no pure cultural voice, and to imagine there is is to reduce that culture to a stereotype.

A woman can be a misogynist, an African American can hate his own people. To suggest that
somehow, a person's views and perspective are in-born and unchangeable is simply racism--and it
doesn't matter if the trait you are assigning to that race is positive or negative, it's still a limitation
you're putting on that person.

Non-Westerners are just as capable of creating great works of art as Westerners--but they are also
just as capable of writing cliche tripe. Like any other human being, they run the gamut from brilliant
to dull, from bigoted to open-minded, from staid to imaginative. As such, there's no reason to grade
non-Western authors on some kind of sliding scale, to expect less from them, or to be any less
disappointed when their works fall short. Of course, we shouldn't judge their work by Western
standards, either--to blame a Japanese fairytale for not being Hamlet--unless like Achebe they are
writing in a recognizable Western style and deliberately drawing that comparison.

While there's certainly something to be said for 'getting your foot in the door', that isn't a defense of
the book itself--of its plot, characters, or themes. It's also too much to place Africa on Achebe's
shoulders--to pretend as if there aren't thousands of unique cultures, histories, and traditions there--
and yet that is what we do. We make Achebe into a point of entry to a whole continent, which is a
massive burden to place on anyone. Much better to look at the book itself--its words and images--
than to try to make it into something that it is not.

A book that lasts can't just be its place and time, it needs to have a deeper vein that successive
generations can return to over and over, and I didn't find that here. Indeed, I find it ironic that
Achebe has so attacked Conrad, because like Achebe’s work, Heart of Darkness is remarkable
because it does take a stand against colonialism and racism. It is admittedly an early stand, and an
incomplete presentation, just like Achebe’s. It works only because it is situated in that certain way,
transgressive but not too transgressive to alienate its audience--not quite able to escape being a
product of its time, but still managing to point the way to the future.

But Conrad is not merely revolutionary by his stance, he has also written a fascinating and fraught
book, complex and many-layered, which succeeds despite its shortfalls. Things Fall Apart, in
contrast, is a book that only works because of its positioning, and has little further depth to
recommend it. I cannot say that the book was not effective, in its place and time--because it certainly
was--or that it hasn't been inspirational, but in the end, Achebe's revolutionary gesture far outshines
the meager story beneath it.
In this classic tale Okonkwo is a strong man in his village, and in his region of nine villages. At age 18
he beat the reigning wrestling champion and has been an industrious worker all his life, a reaction to
his lazy, drunkard father. He lives his life within the cultural confines of his limited world, following
the laws that govern his society, accepting the religious faith of his surroundings, acting on both,
even when those actions would seem, to us in the modern west, an abomination. While he may
succeed and fail within the confines of his society’s laws, what he cannot do is adapt himself to the
world when it goes through a dramatic transformation. In this case, his home town is revolutionized
when white missionaries set up a base and bring along with them the firepower of western weapons.
Unable to cope, unable to channel his justifiable rage into constructive actions, he is led inexorably to
his doom.

What is this book about? It is a simple tale. The details of Okonkwo’s experiences accumulate to give
us a picture of his times, his culture, so we have a sense of what is at stake when change arrives. Is
this a warning to us of our own inability to see beyond the confines of our culture? How will we cope
with change when it comes, in whatever form?

I found it difficult keeping track of the characters. This is a case in which a diagram of a family tree
would probably come in handy. Yet, ultimately, this is not so important. What matters is that we get
a sense of Okonkowo‘s world. And the impact of the West arriving in an African society. This book is
considered a classic,and for good reason.

1959. Love it or hate it, Achebe's tale of a flawed tribal patriarch is a powerful and important
contribution to twentieth century literature.

Think back to 1959. Liberation from colonial masters had not yet swept the African continent when
this book appeared, but the pressures were building. The US civil rights movement had not yet
erupted, but the forces were in motion. Communism and capitalism were fighting a pitched battle for
control of hearts and minds, for bodies and land, around the world. Africans would suffer under the
proxy wars waged there to keep the Cold War cold.

Achebe tells the tale of Okonkwo, a young man of some fame throughout the nine villages and
beyond, for his wrestling prowess. He is a product of his land, his culture, his religion, and his
people. He represents a way of life which admires and rewards strength, loyalty, hard work, a strong
hand, and strict adherence to a social code.

He builds his life, takes wives, works his land, produces boys and girls to honor and carry on his
legacy. When duty to the tribe makes demands, he must respond even if that response requires great
personal sacrifice.

You can't read this book through the prism of your own experience. Part of the mystery of fiction
from cultures far afield from your own is the chance it affords to consider how men and women of a
certain time and place grappled with the very human issue of living within an exotic social group.

Consider your own social group, and imagine how you would explain your daily and exceptional
actions to someone from another religion, from another country, from another language group, from
another generation, from another century. Where would you start? Perhaps by considering how you
spend a normal day, then how you arrived at the great choices that formed your life. That's a helluva
task to set yourself. In my humble opinion, that was the task Achebe set for himself in writing this

A real tour de force; but a plain tale simply told. Achebe illustrates and explains rather than judges
and provides a moving and very human story of change and disintegration. Set in Nigeria in the
nineteenth century it tells the story of Okonkwo and his family and community. He is a man tied to
his culture and tradition and fighting to be different to his father. He is strong and proud and unable
to show his feelings. His courage and rashness get him into trouble with his community and
traditions. The book also charts the coming of Christian missionaries to the area and the effects they
had; especially in attrating those who were outcast and of low status. Okonwko's fate is tragic and is
representative of the destruction of his culture.
I have been puzzled to read some of the negative reviews that just don't seem to get it; saying it is too
alien(??), too simple, badly written and so on. Part of Achebe's genius is that he tells the tale like all
good writers; he explains when he has too and creates nuanced characters. The white missionaries
are not unthinking or one-dimensional; just convinced they are right. Okonwko is also nuanced;
unable to show the feelings he clearly has (especially to his daughter) and so eager to be strong and
to lead that he is unable to be compassionate like his peers. Achebe does not judge; he charts the
decline of a culture. He is not saying one side is entirely good or bad and there are elements to shock
(the treatment of twins) and areas of great strength.
The brilliance is in the capturing of a period of change and cataclysm in the Ibo culture; but it is also
a simple father/son relationship story. Achebe powerfully shows that like many of the greatest
authors, he has the ability to put complex ideas across simply.

Maybe the best thing about Achebe's, Things Fall Apart, is that it give us a look at African culture
from the inside, from their perspective, how they viewed the world around them and their place in it.
Most of the African novels I've read give the outside view, the colonial or Christian view, which
unfairly judges a people and a culture they couldn't possibly understand.

The story is set in the Nigerian village of Umuofia in the late 1800's. Since their culture is based on
history and tradition, things were probably much the same as they had been for centuries. So when
the outsiders arrived, mostly white, mostly European, and in the beginning mostly Christian, the
shock was unimaginable and, in many ways, catastrophic.

The story revolves around the character Okonkwo, who dominates the narrative to the extent the
book could have been titled Okonkwo. Dominate is the right word because that's Okonkwo's way. In
village life, with his wives and children, he rules with an iron will. And when the "white man" shows
up in the village, you knew that Okonkwo would be the wall of resistance.

If you are interested in African culture, historical fiction, good writing, well here is your book. 4.5
I wondered for a while why this book felt more like a fieldwork than a guided mind tour, but the
answer is obvious. It lays in the fact that the novel has little of that character building I'm used from
reading mainly Western literature. The surroundings are not put in the background to serve only as a
reflection of one's thought process, but form an organism of its own. Here, in the middle of an
African village on the verge of white people's arrival, the rhythm of living is dictated by weather,
crops and all sacred nature's inventions. Inner life is as important as any of intangible magical forces
- not very much in comparison with the plenitude of all the other ephemeral things.

Everything that transcends an individual is a cause for commotion. Marriage means a colossal feast
and faraway death disturbs everyone's night rest. All the society's great events are accompanied by
divine beings. With such a vast entourage, many of this distant world's characteristic that we
condemn today (gender inequality, lack of education, ostracism...) feel at least as peaceful and joyous
as the ones we've gotten used to cherish. Even some aspects of their arbitrary laws and consequent
violence made me feel sorry for all that was lost in between.

Without written, defined constitution, justice is made by people's spontaneous and versatile
interpretations of it. Divine order (or nature as a whole) is an unfair judge; it speaks to everyone
differently and its language is too similar to all kinds of prejudices and accumulated experiences. But
it is also a very reassuring messenger. It makes everyone responsible only to itself, the whole.
Wrongdoings are therefore punished only for restoration of the divine order; they have no integral
fault or debt to society in themselves. Guilt is nonexistent and thinking about alternatives
diminished. Nowadays, there's only camping left for a little bit of nature's touch.

I found this a smooth, good read. Absorbing, well-paced, engrossing and not at all long--novella
length. Sad to say, I don't as a rule expect good reads in those books upheld as modern classics, but
this pulled me in. Someone who saw me reading it told me they found the style "Romper Room" and
some reviews seem to echo that. I didn't feel that way. I'd call the style "spare"--which befits a writer
who when asked which writers he admired and who influenced him named Hemingway along with
Conrad and Graham Greene. And I loved how Achebe wove in folk tales and sayings and Ibo customs
into the narrative. Things Fall Apart is considered a classic in African literature, and according to the
introduction, Achebe wrote it to rehabilitate and counter what he called "the tarnished image of
Africa," to give human dimension to the colonized.

The first part gives us a nuanced and detailed picture of life in a pre-colonial Ibo village during the
late Victorian era. To Achebe's credit, he doesn't present that life as idyllic and his central character,
Okonkwu, who embodies the tribal values, is deeply flawed. Okonkwu equates manliness with
violence, and has used violence on his own family. In an interview after the text, Achebe said his
"sympathies were not entirely with Okonkwu." Achebe presents the ills that the colonists brought to
the traditional village society--the division between families, the imposition of foreign rule, the
corruption and brutality endemic in the system which even destroys an entire village in reprisal for
the death of one white missionary.

But Achebe also depicts what attracted people to the Christian missionaries beyond the schools and
the hospitals, the trade. Among the first and most fervent converts are Oknokwu's own son Nwoye,
bitter that his father killed his childhood friend who had tried to flee his fate as a human sacrifice, a
pregnant woman who had lost several children because of the practice of twin infanticide, and two
people from a taboo caste who find their first respect and equal treatment among the Christians.
Frankly--and I know this is as un-PC as un-PC can be--but given Achebe's depiction of the brutal,
superstitious, misogynist tribal culture, I was finding it very hard to see its destruction as tragic.
Although, given all the different iterations I've seen and read of the "Dances With Wolves" motif, I
did appreciate Achebe's willingness to show the unattractive side of a traditional culture.

At the same time Oknokwu's friend Obierika says "the white man... has put a knife on the things that
held us together and we have fallen apart." And just as Oknokwu upheld that old center, when it falls
apart he does too. And whatever ambivalence I might have felt for his fate and the values he stood
for, few contemporary readers can read that last paragraph from the point of view of the white
colonizing District Commissioner without disquiet or miss Achebe's sharp and bitter irony

I had said earlier in one of my former reviews, about how if a certain character is not overwhelmed
by the plot-theme of a script and stands out on its own potency becoming more memorable than the
story itself, the book is worth applauding and so is the author for its creation. When one readsThings
Fall Apart, amongst its vast documentary of Igbo culture of the southeastern part of Nigeria; a man
named Okonkwo shines not for his tragic fate but for the man he turned out to be due to his
withering circumstances. He was conceited, stubborn, ill-tempered, and ruthless, yet he took pride in
the customary and social hierarchies of the powerful clan of Umuofia. He feared failure; a
psychological diffidence nurtured through his father’s shortcomings. Okonkwo strived with hardcore
determination to be the leader of the clan. He robustly stood tall like a tree , faced every crisis that
came his way with obstinate wit, but sadly overlooked his own limitations and never learned to bend
or turn like the grass to the changing winds and finally succumbed to the gust of harshness. My heart
goes out to men like Okonkwo, whose personality represents numerous other men from various
patriarchal societies; like my own for instance. Staunch patriarchs rarely accept changes for they
have been rooted in their ancestral cultural mores and dread its disintegration with time. Okonkwo’s
father died when he was young burdened with debt and mortification. Hence, he feared his own
collapse and saw accomplishment and power as a sign of acceptance and dignity amongst the
members of the clan. Okonkwo was the uncrowned prince of masculinity. As a patriarch he believed
the molding of a true man was carved through use of brutal force and authoritarian services. Any
vulnerability was a sign of effeminate demeanor and a shame to his manhood. It has always been a
classic case of "my way or the highway" when dealing with the head of a certain family structure. The
father or the grandfather whoever occupied the supreme position tends to be engulfed in his own
obsessive hubris failing to show necessary restraint; ripping away the family piece by piece. It was no
surprise when Okonkwo’s son Nwoye despised his father’s preaching and turned to Christianity for a
serene existence. I have no sympathies for Okonkwo’s tragic ending for I strongly felt he deserved
every bit of the death that came his way. I know I got a bit carried away with this character, but I saw
shades of his personality that hit closer to home. A man who cannot change with time is a friendless

When my anger receded, after a while, questions arise as to whether it is easy for a human being who
is deeply embedded in a certain way of life to accept drastic change at the risk of losing a critical part
of his existence- his cultural identification? When I compare myself with past generations I wonder if
my children will ever remember or follow the sediments of my ancestral culture that has barely found
a way in my lifestyle. Colonization brings westernization; the advent of the “white” man on exotic
foreign shores brings a modernists wave that practically wipes out the primary ethnicities of the land.
Democratic amendments bring liberation banishing orthodoxy and atrocious superstitions. It is a
definite wondrous prospect, I must say; nevertheless, it gradually washes away the crucial
hierarchical cultural institutions terming it as a blot of vernacularism. I embraced westernization as
a child through my schooling years, but my father still finds some of the libertine values humbug. It
is then, I reflect on Okonkwo and his failure to accept the presence of British missionaries in his
village and his belief in the calamitous penalties by the spread of Christianity.

Achebe brings a complex mix of digression and misfortune that revolves around one man, his fate
and the collapse within his tribal ethnicity. The anthropological image of the Igbo people and their
civilization in the late 19th century, exhibits a democratic opulence of the Igbo people ingrained in
tribal origins of African literature. Themes of religious convictions in the mysterious aura of the
village Oracle, the hypocrisy and miscarriage in the justice structure during colonization and the
commanding anxiety of free will are well meshed in depicting the Igbo world. Tribes and cultures
either disintegrating or amalgamating into Western civilization bring an end to a strong ethnic era
that once thrived and later waits patiently for its revival through generations. Languages and
customs disappear with colonization making the world a uniformed global dais with treasures of
ancient cultures hidden amongst its dark interiors. One man’s treasure is another man’s trash; tribal
practices although termed as an archaic form of savagery, were valued institutions of traditions and
justice to a few. Although, Chinua Achebe’s book tries to echo the related attitude, somehow it seems
depressing and vacant at the closing stages of the book.

Things Fall Apart is a novel written by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. Published in 1958, its story
chronicles the pre-colonial life in Nigeria and the arrival of the Europeans during the late nineteenth
century. It is seen as the archetypal modern African novel in English, one of the first to receive global
critical acclaim. It is a staple book in schools throughout Africa and is widely read and studied in
English-speaking countries around the world. It was first published by William Heinemann Ltd in
the UK; in 1962, it was also the first work published in Heinemann's African Writers Series.

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold” is from Yeats's poem "The Second Coming". Fifty years
after Chinua Achebe wrote this deceptively simple Nigerian tragedy, Things Fall Apart has never
been out of print. It's hailed as Africa's best known work of literature and I can easily see why.

At the heart of the story is a strong man, Okonkwo, with an overwhelming need to prove himself--to
himself and his tribe; he must overcome the bad reputation of his drunkard ne'er-do-well father.
Although Okonkwo can easily defeat enemies he can wrestle, chop or kill; his stubborn pride and
anger collide with and fail to overcome those aspects of life which he cannot so readily tackle:
providence, family and tribal laws.

So much of the appeal of Things -- for me at least -- is watching Okonkwo encounter a traditional
village. I was fascinated (and repulsed) by its customs, mores, and overall precarious harmony. The
appropriateness of the title is in the extreme delicacy of that tribal balance which is rocked to the
core by the arrival of the English missionaries. All that was as Okonkwo understood the world to be,
changes with the introduction of Christianity and Western civilization. It is both a clash of one
individual against his own society and a foreign power, as well as the collision of two diametrically
opposed cultures. You don't often find so much carefully-contained conflict in a book of this size.
Truly incredible!

Chinua Achebe wrote this masterpiece before most of the African nations had declared their
independence. Since that time, the Dark Continent has been washed in rivers of blood. One wonders
when, and prays for an end to, all the suffering. Such a sacred place and beautiful people; in many
ways so like the Garden of Eden. Long live Africa!

Thanks to Ginnie for this link from The Economist about A Golden Jubilee ofThings Fall Apart.


23 November 2008: I'm almost finished and I so want to start writing my review on this incredible
book but at the same time I know I need to let it 'gel'. I want to write about Things Fall
Apart because it awakens and stirs up so many thoughts and feelings inside; it reminds me of every
other book I've ever read about Africa and yet it is like none of them.

This is my new favorite book because within five minutes, a person's reaction will tell me how
defensive they are about being considered racist, whether or not they've been accused that minute.
This is an excellent way to identify racists, for fun and profit.

Seriously, covering it in class has been like, "Fielding Racists 101" and "How to Sound Over-
Defensive When Talking About How African People Are Actually More Violent, No Totally" class.

One guy actually said there was literally no parallel or point of reference for Okonkwe's behavior in
America and that it was literally impossible to understand how he could be so brutal.

Which is funny, just really hilarious. Since he basically claimed that America does not have:

1.) Domestic Abuse

2.) Farms

This is wonderful news. I will inform all farmers and domestic abuse victims forthwith; their troubles
are over.

Which is interesting, because the story being set in Africa IMMEDIATELY DIVORCED a person from
understanding ANYTHING THAT HAPPENED AT ALL, despite the similarities to what we may
experience in America. Hm.

Anycase, this book made me think and gave me a much needed different camera angle on literature
(especially the Colonially linked kind) and that's all I really asked of it. I guess you could consider me
a happy customer, in that respect.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and
parenting magazine.

Okonkwo is a brave Nigerian warrior and a leader in the village of Umuofia. Disgusted by his lazy,
unsuccessful father, Okonkwo strives from a young age to be the antithesis of the man. He wins a wrestling
contest at age 18 and goes on to become a shrewd, successful farmer.
Because of his high rank in the village, he’s given the responsibility of caring for a young boy the Umuofia
have received from another tribe as a peace offering. The boy, Ikemefuna, lives with Okonkwo, his wives and
children for three years. Okonkwo secretly becomes fond of the boy, and Ikemefuna calls him father.
When the tribe decides to kill the boy, they try to spare Okonkwo from having to participate. The boy runs to
him, and Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna with his machete so he will appear unshakable.
Okonkwo’s fear of looking weak causes many problems for him. As he secretly battles his own grief over
Ikemefuna’s death, he beats his son, Nwoye, for mourning the loss. During the tribe’s Week of Peace,
Okonkwo gets angry at one of his wives for not preparing his meal on time. He beats her harshly.
The tribe believes he has committed a great transgression against the gods by defiling the sacred observance,
and he receives a heavy fine. At a funeral, Okonkwo accidentally kills a relative of the deceased. He is
banished from his tribe for seven years and takes his family to Mbanta, the land of his mother. His uncle,
Uchendu, helps him get settled. Okonkwo’s friend from Umuofia, Obierika, visits him a few times.
White missionaries begin evangelizing in the area. The tribes aren’t too concerned at first, believing the
missionaries won’t stay long. Okonkwo and other tribesmen mock the missionary who speaks to them of his
Nwoye feels he’s found the truth he’s been seeking all his life and becomes a convert. Okonkwo wonders
how his son could have become so “degenerate and effeminate.” He calls him a great abomination and says
he no longer has a son. When the missionaries ask for land on which to build their church, the leaders of
Mbanta debate. They think they’re being clever and give the missionaries their evil forest, a dumping ground
for the dead and a haven for sinister forces. When the church survives even on this unsacred land, more
tribesmen become converts.
Seven years pass, and Okonkwo and his family return to Umuofia. The village has changed, largely because of
the influence of the church and a white government. Okonkwo has lost the position he once held.
Prisons now hold tribesmen who have rebelled against the white man’s law. Okonkwo and Obierika lament
the foolishness of the tribes for failing to drive out the white men when they first arrived.
When a zealous Christian convert is accused of killing a sacred snake, tribesmen dressed as ancestral spirits
burn down the church building. The white men’s district commissioner calls in men from the Umuofia tribe,
including Okonkwo, under the guise of hearing their grievances. He ends up imprisoning them and essentially
holding them for ransom.
Shortly after Okonkwo and the others are released, village men meet to discuss the problem. Okonkwo wants
a war. A messenger arrives with an order from the white men to end this meeting. Okonkwo draws his
machete and beheads the messenger. Okonkwo knows that Umuofia will not go to war, so he hangs himself.

Christian missionaries begin to evangelize in the tribal lands. The early church leaders, Mr. Kiaga and Mr.
Brown, share Scripture and try to live peaceably with the tribesmen. They cause a stir by rescuing twins left
to die and allowing village outcasts into their congregation.
Tribesmen don’t appreciate being told their gods are impotent and that there is only one true God. They
debate Mr. Brown extensively on that issue and topics like man’s ability to know the will of God (or gods). Mr.
Brown’s replacement, Mr. Smith, is much less willing to compromise with the natives and speaks about the
world being a battlefield.
A zealous Christian, the son of a snake priest, is accused of having killed and eaten a sacred python. Upon
hearing this, angry tribesmen burn down the church building.


The Umuofia and other tribes pray to their ancestors. They believe in spirits and omens and perform many
rituals. Surrounding tribes fear the Umuofia because of their powerful medicine men and priests, as the tribe
has demonstrated success in war and magic.
Okonkwo has a shrine where he keeps symbols of his personal god (or chi) and ancestral spirits. He offers
sacrifices on behalf of himself and his family. Okonkwo’s chi and his personal drive for success are credited
with making him a mighty wrestler and leader.
The tribesmen consult the spirits of their departed fathers through an oracle called Agbala. No one has seen
Agbala but his priestess, who is full of the power of her god and deeply feared. Twin babies are considered
evil and left in the woods to die.
When women miscarry, their future children are sometimes considered ogbanje. This means they’re wicked
children who, after dying, re-enter their mother’s wombs to be born again. Since Okonkwo’s wife, Ekwefi, has
lost many babies, her daughter, Ezinma, receives this label. A medicine man tries to give Okonkwo advice
about ways to break the cycle of Ekwefi’s miscarriages. The medicine man mutilates one of Ekwefi’s dead
babies to make it think twice before coming back to haunt the family.

Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, was a lazy, unsuccessful man who owed many people money. Okonkwo detests his
father and wants to be completely opposite. Driven by his deep fears of failure and weakness, he works hard
to become a successful farmer and leader. He is often harsh with his family members to appear strong. White
men enter the land to evangelize. They eventually take the power from the tribal leadership.

Okonkwo beats his wives and children, even for minor offenses. He cuts Ikemefuna and the white man’s
messenger down with his machete. He has collected several human heads as trophies for his prowess in
battle. A medicine man mutilates a dead baby to make it think twice before coming back to haunt the family.

A young man is given the dregs of wine at a gathering. The tribesmen believe the dregs of palm-wine are
good for men who are “going in to” their wives. The tribesmen’s visceral excitement about the wrestling
tournament is likened to their desire for women.
A leader tells Okonkwo he shouldn’t have beat his wife during the Week of Peace even if he had come home
and found her lover on top of her. Okonkwo is worried that his son, who is old enough to impregnate a
woman, is not strong and industrious enough to be a warrior like him.
During a ceremony for a betrothed couple, relatives study the bride-to-be to ensure she is ripe. Her full,
succulent breasts are mentioned. In a dispute between two tribesmen, a man is accused of beating his wife
until she miscarries. He replies that she miscarried after she had slept with her lover. The husband eventually
pays restitution and is told that his genitals will be cut off if he ever beats his wife again.

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at

Suicide: A man hangs himself because of his failed crop. Okonkwo hangs himself.
Gender roles: In this culture, women are treated as property and fill servant roles. Okonkwo often grumbles
that his tribesmen are acting like women or being effeminate when he thinks they’re demonstrating
weakness. He always regrets that his wise daughter, Ezinma, was not a boy. Men in Okonkwo’s tribe are
disturbed to hear about a tribe where women have more control. They liken this to a woman lying on top of a
man when they are making children.

Note from Kirkus' Vintage Review Editor:

Many school districts assign their high school students to read recently deceased Chinua
Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, a fine but tragic novel about the dissolution of an African tribe. Adults,
seeing kids reading it, may assume it’s not mature enough for them. Nothing could be more
misleading. This is a profound story that can be read today with your children or your reading group.
Kirkus awarded it a star at its publication in 1958 and anticipated its enduring message: “This book
sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.” Things Fall
Apart is a true classic for all ages, worth reading more than once. — May 13, 2013

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution
of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar
"Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a
brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises
his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into
the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that
resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the
talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his
guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in
despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life
force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary
who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his
work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.
This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

A chebe’s account of life in pre-colonial Nigeria, first published

in 1958, is also something I’d long been meaning to read. For

reasons I forget, I spent hardly any time with “post-colonial”
writing whilst studying English. It is therefore a genre (if genre is
the right term) that I’m shamefully unfamiliar with. I did however
know something of Things Fall Apart in advance. It is never absent
from lists of the “Greatest Novels of All Time” (or similar) and is
heralded by many as the archetypal, perhaps prototypical, novel in
English about the African experience of colonial rule.

For those not familiar, the novel it centres on the life of Okonkwo,
an Igbo man of the Umuofia tribe. It is told in three chronological
phases, through which Achebe slowly expands from a tight focus
on Okonkwo’s daily travails to a broader societal lens. The first
part has a timeless, almost mythic, quality that gives little or no
hint as to when or where events are taking place. It is in fact a
stretch to say events, beyond the agrarian cycle of planting and
harvest, are really taking place at all. Achebe is far more interested
in evoking a culture, and crafting nuanced portrait of his flawed
protagonist, than in plotting. This balances tilts dramatically at the
end of the first act, presenting the chance for the Achebe to begin
to slowly, delicately, layer on the broader his social and historical
context through parts two and three. First Okonkwo leaves his
village and then, on his return, finds that in many ways his village
has left him.
Achebe’s writing style would be reason enough to read this novel.
He is simultaneously lyrically and spare. There isn’t a single
extraneous word and yet it is not remotely spartan. It is instead a
forceful description of a superstitious, oftentimes opaque, world.
Although written in English it is shot through with the idiomatic,
proverbial structures of the Igbo dialect that Achebe references at
the outset. Through Okonkwo and those he engages we are able to
access the richness of Igbo culture and understand his worldview.
We are however also quickly able to see what he can’t, or often
won’t, see. This blindness, wilful or otherwise, increasingly
hampers Okonkwo’s ability to adapt to a world that changes
around him.

The storied past Achebe displays is not romanticised, glamorised

or sanctified. It is shockingly brutal, casually cruel, and riven with
injustices large and small. But is all the more accessible as a result.
The veracity allows all readers feel something of what it must be
like for your thousand-year-old culture and customs to come
under sustained, oftentimes pernicious, assault, in the name of

I feel Achebe’s novel is rightly celebrated as a landmark piece of

20th Century literature. In the very last paragraph the reader

hears, for the only time, directly from The White Man. The faceless
“Commissioner” ponders that:
One could almost write a whole chapter on him [Okonkwo].
Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any
rate. There was so much else to include, and one must be firm in
cutting out details. He had already chosen the title of the book,
after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of
the Lower Niger.”

It is an extraordinarily caustic piece of satire on which to end. The

supposedly sophisticated, and historically pre-eminent, view of
“civilising” power shown up in its all-consuming ignorance. There
is nothing pacifying the repression of a nation, just as there clearly
was nothing inherently primitive in the society of the Lower Niger.
The reader is left in no doubt that one must never be firm in
cutting out details for it is in the details that a true sense of an
individual’s, a tribe’s, a country’s experience lies. Achebe’s delivers
these details with stunningly memorable force.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a constant on the must-read book lists. Things Fall
Apart is a seminal piece of work, and has had staying power because it’s the first time that any
author demonstrated how European colonization impacted the natives, and it is written by
someone from the country that was colonized. Other authors wrote about this topic, but they
came at it from a different perspective. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (Review) – which I
found offensive because of the way he depicted black people – was one of those books.

What is Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe About?

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a story about the clashing of cultures – the Ibo society of
Umuofia, a group of nine villages in Nigeria, and European colonization and Christianity – and
the falling from grace of both an individual and a society, and the reason for both. Although it
was first published in 1958, the story covers the end of the 19th century, and is through the eyes
of the warrior, Okonkwo, from the village Iguedo.

While growing up in the village of Iguedo, Okonkwo was very ashamed of his father, Unoka,
who he considered to be very lazy, and vowed that he would lead a very different life, one where
he would provide for his family. Many boys had a better start than Okonkwo because their
fathers would have given them lands, but despite this, Okonkwo was able to rise and become
known and respected. He was a man of action and a man of war.

The story depicts the ways of the Iguedo people who believed in gods and were very fearful of
the wrath of these same gods. It was also a very patriarchal society where men ruled the
household and women did their bidding. Although Okonkwo was very brave, I didn’t like his
character as a person because he was quick to anger and abused his family whenever they slipped
up, and he knew exactly how to kill a man’s spirit. He ruled his household with a heavy hand, so
they were perpetually fearful of him. I loved the spirit of his second wife Ekwefi, who had a
mind of her own, although she would suffer for it.

To understand and appreciate Things Fall Apart , we cannot look at it with today’s lens because
a lot of the things that the villagers did would be considered illegal today, and they were a highly
superstitious people who offered sacrifices to gods. When a woman had twins the newborns were
thrown into the Evil Forest, and it was generally accepted that men could beat their wives and

Each year, they celebrate the Week of Peace in Umuofia, and one year, Ekwefi went away to get
her hair done, when she should have been preparing Okonkwo’s meal. His first wife tries to
cover for her, but Okonkwo is not fooled. When she returns home he beats her mercilessly and
that is a no-no during the Week of Peace because it’s a time when they live peacefully with
everyone, to honour the gods. As punishment for his deeds, Okonkwo has to “bring to the shrine
of Ani one she-goat, one hen, a length of cloth, and a hundred cowries.”

A man from another village kills the wife of Udo from Umuofia. “…Okonkwo had been chosen
by the nine villages to carry a message of war to their enemies unless they agreed to give up a
young man and a virgin to atone for the murder of Udo’s wife. And such was the deep fear that
their enemies had for Umuofia that they treated Okonkwo like a king and brought him a virgin
who was given to Udo as a wife, and the lad Ikemefuna.” It was the intent of the leaders in
Umuofia to kill Ikemefuna.

Ikemefuna is placed in Okonkwo’s care and for three years the lad is treated like one of his
children. At the end of the three years, the leaders decide it is the right time to kill the boy. One
of the elders, Ogbuefi Ezeudu, visits Okonkwo and warns him not to participate in killing
Ikemefuna. The warrior doesn’t heed the wise man’s warning and is actively imvolved. Shortly
after, Ogbuefi Ezeudu dies and at his funeral, during a gun salute, Okonkwo accidentally shoots
and kills the deceased man’s 16 year old son.

Since the shooting is accidental, Okonkwo is exiled from Umuofia for seven years. He takes his
family and his prized possessions to the village of Mbanta where his mother was from. And he
prospers there and waits to return to his community.
English: Chinua Achebe speaking at Asbury Hall,
Buffalo, as part of the “Babel: Season 2” series by Just Buffalo Literary Center, Hallwalls, & the
International Institute. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is divided into three parts, and in the first two sections,
the novel depicts the life of the Ibo people at the end of the 1800s, before colonization and the
invasion of missionaries. Missionaries from the West and colonial administrator arrive and
disrupt the ways, beliefs and life of the villagers, who do not know how to adapt to change. The
villagers are viewed as primitive, yet as the story unfolds, Achebe skillfully demonstrates the
weaknesses in both systems, that of the villages and those of the new arrivals There is no true
dialogue between both parties.

After the exile, Okwonko and his family return to Umuofia and find a very changed place. He
has also lost his standing in society and is very determined to reclaim it. There is a clash between
the villagers and the Christian missionaries and colonizers. Okwonko also doesn’t know how to
adapt to change or even want to.

“He [Okwonko] sprang to his feet as soon as he saw who it was. He confronted the head
messenger, trembling with hate, unable to utter a word. The man was fearless and stood his
ground, his four men lined up behind him. In that brief moment the world seemed to stand still,
waiting. There was utter silence….The spell was broken by the head messenger. ‘Let me pass!’
he ordered. ‘What do you want here?’ ‘The white man whose power you know too well has
ordered this meeting to stop.’ In a flash Okonkwo drew his machete. The messenger crouched to
avoid the blow. It was useless. Okonkwo’s machete descended twice and the man’s head lay
beside his uniformed body…. Okonkwo stood looking at the dead man. He knew Umuofia would
not go to war….He heard voices asking: ‘Why did he do it’…”

Final Thoughts: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Before there is any repercussion for his actions, Okonkwo commits suicide. Societies
disintegrate, and people disintegrate when people do not communicate and compromise with
each other. I recommend Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe because it gives us insights into
how a society is impacted by colonization from their point of view and also demonstrates the
importance of open dialogue with people who are perceived to be different from us. Please let
me know your thoughts in the comments section below. If you enjoyed this post, please share it.

hings Fall Apart is about the tragic fall of the protagonist, Okonkwo, and the Igbo
culture. Okonkwo is a respected and influential leader within the Igbo community of
Umuofia in eastern Nigeria. He first earns personal fame and distinction, and brings
honor to his village, when he defeats Amalinze the Cat in a wrestling contest. Okonkwo
determines to gain titles for himself and become a powerful and wealthy man in spite of
his father's weaknesses.

Okonkwo's father, Unoka, was a lazy and wasteful man. He often borrowed money and
then squandered it on palm-wine and merrymaking with friends. Consequently, his wife
and children often went hungry. Within the community, Unoka was considered a failure
and a laughingstock. He was referred to as agbala, one who resembles the weakness
of a woman and has no property. Unoka died a shameful death and left numerous

Okonkwo despises and resents his father's gentle and idle ways. He resolves to
overcome the shame that he feels as a result of his father's weaknesses by being what
he considers to be "manly"; therefore, he dominates his wives and children by being
insensitive and controlling.

Because Okonkwo is a leader of his community, he is asked to care for a young boy
named Ikemefuna, who is given to the village as a peace offering by neighboring
Mbaino to avoid war with Umuofia. Ikemefuna befriends Okonkwo's son, Nwoye, and
Okonkwo becomes inwardly fond of the boy.

Over the years, Okonkwo becomes an extremely volatile man; he is apt to explode at
the slightest provocation. He violates the Week of Peace when he beats his youngest
wife, Ojiugo, because she went to braid her hair at a friend's house and forgot to
prepare the afternoon meal and feed her children. Later, he severely beats and shoots a
gun at his second wife, Ekwefi, because she took leaves from his banana plant to wrap
food for the Feast of the New Yam.

After the coming of the locusts, Ogbuefi Ezeuder, the oldest man in the village, relays to
Okonkwo a message from the Oracle. The Oracle says that Ikemefuna must be killed as
part of the retribution for the Umuofian woman killed three years earlier in Mbaino. He
tells Okonkwo not to partake in the murder, but Okonkwo doesn't listen. He feels that
not participating would be a sign of weakness. Consequently, Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna
with his machete. Nwoye realizes that his father has murdered Ikemefuna and begins to
distance himself from his father and the clansmen.

Okonkwo becomes depressed after killing Ikemefuna, so he visits his best friend,
Obierika, who disapproves of his role in Ikemefuna's killing. Obierika says that
Okonkwo's act will upset the Earth and the earth goddess will seek revenge. After
discussing Ikemefuna's death with Obierika, Okonkwo is finally able to sleep restfully,
but he is awakened by his wife Ekwefi. Their daughter Ezinma, whom Okonkwo is fond
of, is dying. Okonkwo gathers grasses, barks, and leaves to prepare medicine for

A public trial is held on the village commons. Nine clan leaders, including Okonkwo,
represent the spirits of their ancestors. The nine clan leaders, or egwugwu, also
represent the nine villages of Umuofia. Okonkwo does not sit among the other eight
leaders, or elders, while they listen to a dispute between an estranged husband and
wife. The wife, Mgbafo, had been severely beaten by her husband. Her brother took her
back to their family's village, but her husband wanted her back home. The egwugwu tell
the husband to take wine to his in-laws and beg his wife to come home. One elder
wonders why such a trivial dispute would come before the egwugwu.

In her role as priestess, Chielo tells Ekwefi (Okonkwo's second wife) that Agbala (the
Oracle of the Hills and Caves) needs to see Ezinma. Although Okonkwo and Ekwefi
protest, Chielo takes a terrified Ezinma on her back and forbids anyone to follow. Chielo
carries Ezinma to all nine villages and then enters the Oracle's cave. Ekwefi follows
secretly, in spite of Chielo's admonitions, and waits at the entrance of the Oracle.
Okonkwo surprises Ekwefi by arriving at the cave, and he also waits with her. The next
morning, Chielo takes Ezinma to Ekwefi's hut and puts her to bed.

When Ogbuefi Ezeudu dies, Okonkwo worries because the last time that Ezeudu visited
him was when he warned Okonkwo against participating in the killing of Ikemefuna.
Ezeudu was an important leader in the village and achieved three titles of the clan's
four, a rare accomplishment. During the large funeral, Okonkwo's gun goes off, and
Ezeudu's sixteen-year-old son is killed accidentally.

Because the accidental killing of a clansman is a crime against the earth goddess,
Okonkwo and his family must be exiled from Umuofia for seven years. The family
moves to Okonkwo's mother's native village, Mbanta. After they depart Umuofia, a
group of village men destroy Okonkwo's compound and kill his animals to cleanse the
village of Okonkwo's sin. Obierika stores Okonkwo's yams in his barn and wonders
about the old traditions of the Igbo culture.

Okonkwo is welcomed to Mbanta by his maternal uncle, Uchendu, a village elder. He

gives Okonkwo a plot of land on which to farm and build a compound for his family. But
Okonkwo is depressed, and he blames his chi (or personal spirit) for his failure to
achieve lasting greatness.

During Okonkwo's second year in exile, he receives a visit from his best friend,
Obierika, who recounts sad news about the village of Abame: After a white man rode
into the village on a bicycle, the elders of Abame consulted their Oracle, which told them
that the white man would destroy their clan and other clans. Consequently, the villagers
killed the white man. But weeks later, a large group of men slaughtered the villagers in
retribution. The village of Abame is now deserted.
Okonkwo and Uchendu agree that the villagers were foolish to kill a man whom they
knew nothing about. Later, Obierika gives Okonkwo money that he received from selling
Okonkwo's yams and seed-yams, and he promises to do so until Okonkwo returns to

Six missionaries, including one white man, arrive in Mbanta. The white man speaks to
the people about Christianity. Okonkwo believes that the man speaks nonsense, but his
son, Nwoye, is captivated and becomes a convert of Christianity.

The Christian missionaries build a church on land given to them by the village leaders.
However, the land is a part of the Evil Forest, and according to tradition, the villagers
believe that the missionaries will die because they built their church on cursed land. But
when nothing happens to the missionaries, the people of Mbanta conclude that the
missionaries possess extraordinary power and magic. The first recruits of the
missionaries are efulefu, the weak and worthless men of the village. Other villagers,
including a woman, soon convert to Christianity. The missionaries then go to Umuofia
and start a school. Nwoye leaves his father's hut and moves to Umuofia so he can
attend the school.

Okonkwo's exile is over, so his family arranges to return to Umuofia. Before leaving
Mbanta, they prepare a huge feast for Okonkwo's mother's kinsmen in appreciation of
their gratitude during Okonkwo's seven years of exile.

When Okonkwo returns to Umuofia, he discovers that the village has changed during
his absence. Many men have renounced their titles and have converted to Christianity.
The white men have built a prison; they have established a government court of law,
where people are tried for breaking the white man's laws; and they also employ natives
of Umuofia. Okonkwo wonders why the Umuofians have not incited violence to rid the
village of the white man's church and oppressive government.

Some members of the Igbo clan like the changes in Umuofia. Mr. Brown, the white
missionary, respects the Igbo traditions. He makes an effort to learn about the Igbo
culture and becomes friendly with some of the clan leaders. He also encourages Igbo
people of all ages to get an education. Mr. Brown tells Okonkwo that Nwoye, who has
taken the name Isaac, is attending a teaching college. Nevertheless, Okonkwo is
unhappy about the changes in Umuofia.

After Mr. Brown becomes ill and is forced to return to his homeland, Reverend James
Smith becomes the new head of the Christian church. But Reverend Smith is nothing
like Mr. Brown; he is intolerant of clan customs and is very strict.

Violence arises after Enoch, an overzealous convert to Christianity, unmasks an

egwugwu. In retaliation, the egwugwu burn Enoch's compound and then destroy the
Christian church because the missionaries have caused the Igbo people many
When the District Commissioner returns to Umuofia, he learns about the destruction of
the church and asks six leaders of the village, including Okonkwo, to meet with him. The
men are jailed until they pay a fine of two hundred and fifty bags of cowries. The people
of Umuofia collect the money and pay the fine, and the men are set free.

The next day at a meeting for clansmen, five court messengers who intend to stop the
gathering approach the group. Suddenly, Okonkwo jumps forward and beheads the
man in charge of the messengers with his machete. When none of the other clansmen
attempt to stop the messengers who escape, Okonkwo realizes that they will never go
to war and that Umuofia will surrender. Everything has fallen apart for Okonkwo; he
commits suicide by hanging himself.


Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart is probably the most authentic narrative ever written
about life in Nigeria at the turn of the twentieth century. Although the novel was first
published in 1958 — two years before Nigeria achieved its independence — thousands
of copies are still sold every year in the United States alone. Millions of copies have
been sold around the world in its many translations. The novel has been adapted for
productions on the stage, on the radio, and on television. Teachers in high schools,
colleges, and graduate schools use the novel as a textbook in many types of classes —
from history and social studies to comparative literature and anthropology.

The novel takes its title from a verse in the poem "The Second Coming" by W. B. Yeats,
an Irish poet, essayist, and dramatist:

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.

In this poem — ironically, a product of European thought — Yeats describes an

apocalyptic vision in which the world collapses into anarchy because of an internal flaw
in humanity. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe illustrates this vision by showing us what
happened in the Igbo society of Nigeria at the time of its colonization by the British.
Because of internal weaknesses within the native structure and the divided nature of
Igbo society, the community of Umuofia in this novel is unable to withstand the tidal
wave of foreign religion, commerce, technology, and government. In "The Second
Coming," Yeats evokes the anti-Christ leading an anarchic world to destruction. This
ominous tone gradually emerges in Things Fall Apart as an intrusive religious presence
and an insensitive government together cause the traditional Umuofian world to fall

Literary Purpose
When Things Fall Apart was first published, Achebe announced that one of his
purposes was to present a complex, dynamic society to a Western audience who
perceived African society as primitive, simple, and backward. Unless Africans could tell
their side of their story, Achebe believed that the African experience would forever be
"mistold," even by such well-meaning authors as Joyce Cary in Mister Johnson. Cary
worked in Nigeria as a colonial administrator and was sympathetic to the Nigerian
people. Yet Achebe feels that Cary, along with other Western writers such as Joseph
Conrad, misunderstood Africa. Many European writers have presented the continent as
a dark place inhabited by people with impenetrable, primitive minds; Achebe considers
this reductionist portrayal of Africa racist. He points to Conrad, who wrote against
imperialism but reduced Africans to mysterious, animalistic, and exotic "others." In an
interview published in 1994, Achebe explains that his anger about the inaccurate
portrayal of African culture by white colonial writers does not imply that students should
not read works by Conrad or Cary. On the contrary, Achebe urges students to read
such works in order to better understand the racism of the colonial era.

Achebe also kept in mind his own Nigerian people as an audience. In 1964, he stated
his goal:

to help my society regain belief in itself and put away the complexes of the years of
denigration and self-abasement. . . . I would be quite satisfied if my novels . . . did no
more than teach my [African] readers that their past — with all its imperfections — was
not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God's behalf
delivered them.

In Things Fall Apart, the Europeans' understanding of Africa is particularly exemplified in

two characters: the Reverend James Smith and the unnamed District Commissioner.
Mr. Smith sees no need to compromise on unquestionable religious doctrine or
practices, even during their introduction to a society very different from his own. He
simply does not recognize any benefit for allowing the Nigerians to retain elements of
their heritage. The District Commissioner, on the other hand, prides himself on being a
student of primitive customs and sees himself as a benevolent leader who has only the
best intentions for pacifying the primitive tribes and bringing them into the modern era.
Both men would express surprise if anyone suggested to them that their European
values may not be entirely appropriate for these societies. The Commissioner's plan for
briefly treating the story of Okonkwo illustrates the inclination toward Western
simplification and essentialization of African culture.

To counter this inclination, Achebe brings to life an African culture with a religion, a
government, a system of money, and an artistic tradition, as well as a judicial system.
While technologically unsophisticated, the Igbo culture is revealed to the reader as
remarkably complex. Furthermore, Things Fall Apart ironically reverses the style of
novels by such writers as Conrad and Cary, who created flat and stereotypical African
characters. Instead, Achebe stereotypes the white colonialists as rigid, most with
imperialistic intentions, whereas the Igbos are highly individual, many of them open to
new ideas.
But readers should note that Achebe is not presenting Igbo culture as faultless and
idyllic. Indeed, Achebe would contest such a romantic portrayal of his native people. In
fact, many Western writers who wrote about colonialism (including Joseph Conrad,
George Orwell, Herman Melville, and Graham Greene) were opposed to imperialism but
were romantic in their portrayal of noble savages — primitive and animalistic, yet
uncorrupted and innocent. The opposition to imperialism that such authors voiced often
rested on the notion that an advanced Western society corrupts and destroys the non-
Western world. Achebe regards this notion as an unacceptable argument as well as a
myth. The Igbos were not noble savages, and although the Igbo world was eventually
destroyed, the indigenous culture was never an idyllic haven, even before the arrival of
the white colonialists. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe depicts negative as well as positive
elements of Igbo culture, and he is sometimes as critical of his own people as he is of
the colonizers.

Achebe has been a major force in the worldwide literary movement to define and
describe this African experience. Other postcolonial writers in this movement include
Leopold Senghor, Wole Soyinka, Aime Cesaire, Derek Walcott, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, and
Birago Diop. These writers not only confront a multiethnic perspective of history and
truth, but they also challenge readers to reexamine themselves in this complex and
evolving world.

As an African novel written in English and departing significantly from more familiar
colonial writing, Things Fall Apart was a ground breaking work. Achebe's role in making
modern African literature a part of world literature cannot be understated.

Note: Throughout this novel, Achebe uses the spelling Ibo, the old spelling of the
Umuofian community. Throughout the CliffsNotes, as well as on the map, the
contemporary spelling Igbo is used.

A Brief History of Nigeria

The history of Nigeria is bound up with its geography. About one-third larger than the
state of Texas, Nigeria is located above the inner curve of the elbow on the west coast
of Africa, just north of the equator and south of the Sahara Desert. More than two
hundred ethnic groups — each with its own language, beliefs, and culture — live in
present-day Nigeria. The largest ethnic groups are the mostly Protestant Yoruba in the
west, the Catholic Igbo in the east, and the predominantly Muslim Hausa-Fulani in the
north. This diversity of peoples is the result of thousands of years of history; as traders,
nomads, and refugees from invaders and climatic changes came to settle with the
indigenous population, and as foreign nations became aware of the area's resources.

The events in Things Fall Apart take place at the end of the nineteenth century and in
the early part of the twentieth century. Although the British did not occupy most of
Nigeria until 1904, they had a strong presence in West Africa since the early nineteenth
century. The British were a major buyer of African slaves in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries.
In 1807, however, the British outlawed slave trade within their empire. At the time, they
did not yet control Nigeria, and internal wars continually increased the available supply
of captured slaves. In 1861, frustrated with the expanding slave trade, the British
decided to occupy Lagos, a major slave-trading post and the capital of present-day
Nigeria. Slowly and hesitantly, the British occupied the rest of Nigeria.

Ultimately, the British were prompted to occupy Nigeria for more than the slave trade.
The British were in competition with other Europeans for control of the natural wealth of
West Africa. At the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 — a meeting arranged to settle
rivalries among European powers — the British proclaimed Nigeria to be their territory.
They bought palm oil, peanuts, rubber, cotton, and other agricultural products from the
Nigerians. Indeed, trade in these products made some Nigerian traders very wealthy. In
the early twentieth century, the British defined the collection of diverse ethnic groups as
one country, Nigeria, and declared it a colony of the British Empire.

The British moved into Nigeria with a combination of government control, religious
mission, and economic incentive. In the north, the British ruled indirectly, with the
support of the local Muslim leaders, who collected taxes and administered a
government on behalf of the British. In the south, however, where communities (such as
Umuofia in Things Fall Apart) were often not under one central authority, the British had
to intervene directly and forcefully to control the local population.

For example, a real-life tragedy at the community of Ahiara serves as the historical
model for the massacre of the village of Abame in Chapter 15 of Things Fall Apart. On
November 16, 1905, a white man rode his bicycle into Ahiara and was killed by the
natives. A month later, an expedition of British forces searched the villages in the area
and killed many natives in reprisal.

The Ahiara incident led to the Bende-Onitsha Hinterland Expedition, a force created to
eliminate Igbo opposition. The British destroyed the powerful Awka Oracle and killed all
opposing Igbo groups. In 1912, the British instituted the Collective Punishment
Ordinance, which stipulated punishment against an entire village or community for
crimes committed by one or more persons against the white colonialists.

The British operated an efficient administrative system and introduced a form of British
culture to Nigeria. They also sent many capable young Nigerians to England for
education. The experience of Nigerians who lived overseas in the years preceding,
during, and after World War II gave rise to a class of young, educated nationalists who
agitated for independence from Great Britain. The British agreed to the Nigerians'
demands and, in 1947, instituted a ten-year economic plan toward independence.
Nigeria became an independent country on October 1, 1960, and became a republic in

With the British long gone from Nigeria, corruption and a lack of leadership continued to
hamper Nigeria's quest for true democracy. A series of military coups and dictatorships
in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s replaced the fragile democracy that Nigeria
enjoyed in the early 1960s. In 1993, Nigeria held a democratic presidential election,
which was followed by yet another bloodless coup. And so continues the political
pattern for the troubled, violent, most populous country in Africa.

Okonkwo (Oh-kawn-kwoh) The central character of Things Fall Apart.A young leader of
the African Igbo community of Umuofia (Oo-moo-oh-fee-ah), he is known as a fierce
warrior as well as a successful farmer. He is determined to overcome the stigma left by
his father's laziness and wastefulness.

Unoka (Ooh-no-kah) Okonkwo's father, known for his weakness and lack of

Nwoye (Nuh-woh-yeh) Okonkwo's oldest son, age twelve at the book's beginning. He is
innately a sensitive young man.

Ikemefuna (Ee-keh-meh-foo-nah) A boy of fourteen who is given to Umuofia by a

neighboring village to avoid war. He is a clever, resourceful young man.

Ekwefi (Eh-kweh-fee) Okonkwo's second wife; the mother of Ezinma, her only living

Ezinma (Eh-zeen-mah) Daughter of Ekwefi and Okonkwo; Ekwefi's only surviving child.

Ojiubo (Oh-jee-ooh-boh) Okonkwo's third wife; the mother of several of Okonkwo's


Obierika (Oh-bee-air-ee-kah) Okonkwo's best friend, who often represents the voice of
reason. He is the father of Maduka (son) and Ekueke (daughter).

Chielo (Chee-eh-loh) A village widow who is also the priestess of Agbala.

Agbala (Ahg-bah-lah) The Oracle of the Hills and the Caves, who influences all aspects
of Umuofian life. She is based on the real Oracle at Awka, who controlled Igbo life for

Mr. Brown The first white Christian missionary in Umuofia and Mbanta. An
understanding and accommodating man, he is inclined to listen to the Igbos.

Mr. Kiaga (Kee-ah-gah) The native interpreter for the missionaries. He is a teacher and
a leader of the new church in Mbanta.

The Reverend James Smith A strict, stereotypical white Christian missionary, he takes
over the church after Mr. Brown's departure.
The District Commissioner A stern, stereotypical white colonial administrator of
Umuofia. He follows regulations to the letter and possesses little knowledge or
understanding of the people for whom he tries to administer a new government