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The novel is set during the late 1800s/early 1900s in a small village called Umuofia situated in the southeastern

part of Nigeria. The time period is important, as it was a period in colonial history when the British were
expanding their influence in Africa, economically, culturally, and politically. Umuofia is an Igbo village with very
well defined traditions. It is a village that is respected by those around it as being powerful and rich. Each
person has a hut or obi that is located in the center of a compound. Each of the wives has a separate obi with
a shed for goats and an attached chicken coop. The main occupation of the men is sowing and growing yams
since yams are considered the most important crop. The women grew less significant crops like coco-yams,
beans and cassava.

When Okonkwo is banished from his village, he takes his family to his mother’s native village called Mbanta,
where he is given two or three plots of land to farm, and a plot of ground on which to build his compound.
The next seven years of Okonkwo’s life are spent in the village of Mbanta. He then returns to Umuofia where
the rest of the novel takes place.
Okonkwo
The hardy and ambitious leader of the Igbo community. He is a farmer as well as a wrestler, who has earned
fame and brought honor to his village by overthrowing Amalinze in a wrestling contest. Still only in his
thirties, he has three wives and several children who all live in their own homes in his village compound.
Okonkwo has resolved to erase the stigma left on him by his father’s laziness and is very successful growing
yams. He has very strong economic and political ties to the village and is treated with admiration and
respect. Okonkwo is a man of action.

Obierika
Okonkwo’s close friend, he helps him with the crops during his period of exile, and keeps him informed of
the radical changes taking place in the village. He is a thoughtful man, who questions the traditions of
society. He is also Maduka and Ekuke’s father.

Ekwefi
Okonkwo’s second wife, she is the mother of Ezinma, her only living child, whom she will do anything for
even if that means defying tradition.

Ezinma
Ekwefi and Okonkwo’s daughter, she is born after many miscarriages and is loved and pampered by her
mother. She has a special relationship with Chielo, the woman who acts as the voice of Agbala, the Oracle.
Okonkwo is fond of her and often wishes that ‘she were a boy.’

Nwoye
Okonkwo’s son from his first wife. He is a sensitive young man who, much to his father’s dismay, joins the
Christian missionaries.

Ikemefuna
A boy who is bought as hostage from Mbaino, and who lives with Okonkwo for three years. He is a clever
and resourceful young man yet comes to an unfortunate end.

Chielo
The priestess of Agbala, the Oracle of the Hills and Caves, who carries Ezinma on her back to the caves,
saying that Agbala wants to see her.

Uchendu
Okonkwo’s maternal uncle with whom he spends seven years of his exile, along with his family.

Mr. Brown
The Christian missionary who first introduces the tenets of Christianity to the people to take them away from
their superstitious and age-old customs. He is a kind and understanding man who is accommodating
towards the Igbo.
Reverend James Smith
Mr Brown’s successor, he openly condemns Mr. Brown’s policy of compromise and accommodation and
attempts to efface all aspects of Igbo culture.

District Commissioner
The man behind the whole affair, who handcuffs the six leaders of the village and imprisons them. At the end
of the novel, he orders his men to take down the dead body of Okonkwo from the tree, and bury it.

Unoka
Okonkwo’s father who during his entire lifetime never lifted his hand to till the earth, and had passed his time
playing the flute. Okonkwo always remembers his father’s failure and strove to be as different from him as
possible.

Maduka
Obierika’s son who participates and wins the wrestling contest.

Ogbuefi Ezendu
The oldest man in Umuofia who forewarns Okonkwo not to get too close to Ikemefuna, since the Oracle had
pronounced his death already and then tells him not to participate in his death. He dies a venerated warrior
with three titles to his name.

Enoch
The overzealous Christian who tears off the mask of the egwugu, creating strife in the community.

Agbala
The Oracle of the Hills and the Caves, she dispenses advice and overlooks all aspects of life in the village of
Umumofia. No one has ever beheld Agbala, except his priestess.

Ojiubo
Okonkwo’s third wife and mother of several of his children.

The protagonist of the novel is Okonkwo. The novel describes Okonkwo’s rise and fall in a culture that is bound
by tradition and superstitious. Okonkwo also has his faults, and it is these faults that lead to his downfall. His
impatience and quick temper make him break the rules of the Week of Peace and eventually is ostracized from
his village for his rash behavior. His headstrong nature and impulsive attitude consequently bring about his
own death at the end of the novel.

Okonkwo is respected for having reached a position of wealth and status, without any support from family. In
fact, most of his ambition and desire stems from the rejection of his father’s lifestyle that is objectionable to
him. Okonkwo refuses to bow down to the tenets of the Christian missionaries, even when almost the entire
village has. His tenacity and tragic flaws that he cannot see make him a hero despite his unforgiving nature
and rigid adherence to tradition. Okonkwo thus instills a feeling of respect and admiration in the hearts of the
readers.

The antagonists are the Christian missionaries who wish to invade the content villages of Africa with their
Western concepts and way of thinking and convert the people into Christianity. The customs of African culture
are scorned and degraded. Gradually, many people are persuaded into converting themselves into Christianity,
with a few exceptions, including Okonkwo. It is the missionaries who are the final cause of the death of
Okonkwo. Their behavior toward the leader of the village is disrespectful and it is understandable that Okonkwo
had to retaliate in the only form he knows, by resistance to Christianity and loyalty to his culture’s traditions.
The reader sees the heartlessness of the district commissioner who is only concerned about the material he
has accumulated for the book he wishes to publish.

The major theme of the novel is that British colonization and the conversion to Christianity of tribal peoples
has destroyed an intricate and traditional age-old way of life in Africa. The administrative apparatus that the
British imposed on the cultures of Africa were thought to be just as well as civilizing although in reality they
had the opposite effect of being cruel and inhumane practices that subjugated large native populations to the
British. In conjunction with the colonizing practices, Western missionaries endeavored to move native peoples
away from the superstitious practices that they perceived as primitive and inhumane and convert them to
Christianity. Another important theme that is explored in this book is the fallibility of a man like Okonkwo, who
is ambitious and hardworking who believes strongly in his traditions. He wishes to achieve the highest title in
his village but ultimately his rash and impetuous behavior leads to his fall. The reader also sees how Okonkwo
refuses to break away from his traditional and religious values, which results in his own death. He refuses to
conform to the forces of domination and therefore, one feels respect and admiration for such a strong
individual.

The title of the book as well as the epigram sets the tone of the novel quite accurately. It comes from a W.B.
Yeat’s poem called “The Second Coming.” Yeats was a late 19th century Irish poet, essayist, and dramatist. The
actual verse that Achebe uses as his epigram is:

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.

Chaos and disruption pervade good portions of the novel as well as a sense of life being diminished and
changing in ways that cannot be controlled. Throughout the novel, the mood is usually somber and tragic
although there are moments of great celebration and joy during village ceremonies such as weddings and the
Week of Peace. The villagers have strong faith and deep beliefs and do not allow any kind of laxness with their
customs. Yet during the festival seasons or during the wrestling contests, the people lose some of their
inhibitions and enjoy themselves.
The novel focuses on the downfall of Okonkwo and often conveys a sense of loss and tragedy. When the
reader reads about the egwugwu, the marked representatives of the ancestral spirits, the mood conveyed is
extremely dramatic and even frightening.

Though most of the novel is focused on Okonkwo, the narrator generally provides insight into the thoughts
of most characters. There are times when the narration is focused around different characters – namely
Ikemefuna, Nwoye, Obierika, and Ekwefi. The multiplicity of voices allows the reader to see different
characters through a variety of lenses. Access to the internal thoughts of a variety of characters also gives
dimensionality to the Igbo people as a whole – Achebe never lets the reader assume that the Igbo people
are homogenous and could be summed up in one single character.

The novel deals with the rise and fall of Okonkwo , a man from
the village of Unuofia. Okonkwo was not born a great man,
but he achieved success by his hard work. His father was a
lazy man who preferred playing the flute to tending the soil.
Okonkwo was opposed to his father’s way of life, and always
feared failure. In order to prove his ability, he had overthrown
the greatest wrestler in nine villages, set himself up with three
wives, two barns filled with yams and a reputation for being a
hard worker. The reader learns that he was also one of
the egwugwu--the masked spirits of the ancestors. His
importance is proved when he is sent as an emissary to
Mbaino in order to negotiate for hostages, and he returns
successfully with a boy, Ikemefuna and a virgin.

Okonkwo has his faults, one of them being his impatience of


less successful men and secondly his pride over his own
status. His stern exterior conceals a love for Ikemefuna, who
lives with him; an anxiety over his son Nwoye, who seems to
take after his father; and an adoration for his daughter
Ezinma. His fiery temperament leads to beating his second
wife during the Week of Peace. He even shoots at her with his
gun, but luckily he misses. This shows his short temper and a
tendency to act on impulse, a tendency that backfires on him
later on in the novel. The boy, Ikemefuna, is ordered to death
by the Oracle of the Hills and Caves. Though Okonkwo is upset, he shows his fearlessness and impartiality by
slaying the boy himself. His final fault against his tribe is when he unintentionally shoots a boy and kills him;
for this he is banished from the village for seven years and has to live in his mother’s village of Mbanta. This is
a great disappointment for him although he is consoled and encouraged by his uncle, Uchendu.
The reader now hears of the arrival of the Christian missionaries, who take over the village of Mbanta, as well
as Umuofia, set up a church and proceed to convert the tribesmen to Christianity. At first, they face much
resistence, but gradually many of the tribesmen including Okonkwo’s own son, Nwoye, are converted and
follow the path of Christ. After his period of exile, Okonkwo returns to Umuofia with his family and finds it
totally changed. The missionaries have done a lot for the village. Umuofia is prospering economically, but
Okonkwo is firm in his refusal to charge his religion.

The missionary Mr. Brown is overzealous in his methods. A Christian named Enoch enters a meeting of the
tribe in which the egwugwu is present, and he unmasks one of them. This causes great anger, and the villagers
make a decision to destroy the church, which they eventually do. This action incites the wrath of the District
Commissioner, who invites Okonkwo along with five other men and overpowers and imprisons them. These
elders are humiliated in the prison. On their return, another meeting is held. The commissioner sends some
men to stop the proceedings, and Okonkwo, in a fit of fury, beheads one of them. The tribe is disturbed and
they let the other men escape. Finding no more support from his tribesmen, Okonkwo hangs himself. His world
has fallen apart.

His tribesmen even refuse to cut him down and bury him since taking one’s own life is a violation of the earth
goddess, and his men would not bury such a man. His friend Obierika’s words describe the tragedy most
powerfully “That man was one of the greatest men in Umuofia. You drove him to kill himself; and now he will
be buried like a dog.”

Okonkwo’s suicide is symbolic of the self-destruction of the tribe, for he was a symbol of the power and pride
that the tribe had and with its demise, the tribe’s moral center and structure gave way to a more dominant
one. With his death, the old way of life is gone forever.

The importance of this text can be seen in its worldwide distribution as an authentic narrative about the
horrors of the colonialist experience from the eyes of the colonized. This daring perspective brought to the
world the figure of Okonkwo, a powerful and respected village elder who cannot single-handedly repel the
invasion of foreign culture into his village. The book has been taught in a variety of contexts from cultural
history to anthropology to literature and world history classes. Its application to such a number of fields
reveals its historical importance in the world.

Things Fall Apart is a tragic and moving story of Okonkwo and the destruction of the village of Umuofia by
the colonialist enterprise. This novel reveals colonialism as a traumatic experience common to all former
colonial territories. The administration that was implemented endeavored to shift the people away from the
superstitious and what they saw as primitive practices of their culture to the supposedly more “civilized”
precepts of Christianity. Achebe does not gloss over the cruelty and superstition that prevailed in Igbo
culture; in fact, he even shows that it was partly many of the elders’ rigid adherence to traditions that seemed
inhuman and outdated that paved the way for the disintegration of the tribe and their ultimate fall.

In Things Fall Apart, Achebe carefully makes the readers aware that the traditional Igbo culture that Okonkwo
claims to represent varied from clan to clan and was very dynamic. Okonkwo’s flaw is his rigidity. Achebe is
critical of any culture that is stagnant. Where preservation of the clan or group is the first priority, obsession
with cultural traditions can be dangerous.
In truth, Things Fall Apart, was not only educating his African readers but Western readers as well. Achebe’s
achievements in fact was that he communicated meaningfully both with his Western readers, who were for
the most part ignorant of the material he was handling, and with those who knew it very intimately. He is
perhaps the only African writer to have bridged this gap with complete success as well as delicacy and tact.

An interesting trend of literature that has emerged in the past thirty years is post colonialism. It is not just a
trend but can also be considered a literary style. This kind of writing emerged after the de-colonization of
various African, Asian and South American nations by erstwhile European colonial powers Portugal, Spain,
France, Germany and Britain and hails from those nations that were colonized. The colonizing experience
that the colonized (i.e. the natives) and the colonizers undergo is narrated in such texts. The colonized mainly
speak of the trauma, humiliation and slave mentality induced in their psyche. The colonizers write of their
own experience which, according to them, is no less traumatizing. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe writes of the
actual moment of colonization with the arrival of missionaries and the administrative apparatus of Britain at
the turn of the century. In No Longer at Ease, the legacy of colonization is brought out. His other works
describe issues connected with colonization. His peculiarity is that he works in the genre of the English novel
although his concerns are mainly African. Another celebrated Nigerian writer is Wole Soyinka, who uses
theater as a more traditional form to vent his views on the same issues.

Africa has been seen by the Western world as a ‘dark’ continent and very little was known about its land or
people. Geological explorations showed that the Sahara desert was initially a fertile area, overflowing in lush
vegetation, animal and men. Climatic changes were responsible for the formation of the desert. Africa,
therefore, came to be known as an inhospitable place, in spite of areas of with great rivers, thick forests and
vast green-lands. This was mainly because the greater part of the continent was separated from
Mediterranean civilization and was not open to outside influences.

The people in Africa learned to live in harmony with Nature’s changes. They developed a culture based on
religion and nature. They worshipped many different gods and goddesses who represented elements of the
natural world. They had priests who were capable of physical and psychic healing, oracles who could foretell
the future, and spirits of ancestors who controlled traditions, gave orders and guided the tribe at time of
crises. This system of control worked very well for centuries.

But changes occurred with the exploration and eventual economic and social exploitation of Africans by the
Western colonizing mission. First came the slave trade where Africans were picked up from the West Coast of
Africa and shipped off to distant places where they were sold off as slaves. This disrupted tribal life and also
impoverished the land, for now there were no able-bodied men to carry on the hard work of crop-raising.

Then came the expansion policies of many countries, like Portugal, Holland, Germany and Britain who all
began to carve out areas of Africa in order to build colonies for themselves. This was a major factor in
destroying what was left of African civilization. Finally came the activities of Christian missionaries, who did
not care to understand the religion of the people of Africa, whom they considered uncivilized and savage,
and proceeded to convert them to Christianity.