Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Table of Contents
1. Things Fall Apart: Introduction
2. Things Fall Apart: Overview
3. Things Fall Apart: Chinua Achebe Biography
4. Things Fall Apart: Summary

Things Fall Apart: Summary and Analysis
¨ Part One, Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 7 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 10 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 11 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 12 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 13 Summary and Analysis
¨ Part Two, Chapter 14 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 15 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 16 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 17 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 18 Summary and Analysis
Things Fall Apart 1
¨ Chapter 19 Summary and Analysis
¨ Part Three, Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 21 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 22 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 23 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 24 Summary and Analysis
¨ Chapter 25 Summary and Analysis
Things Fall Apart: Quizzes
¨ Part One, Chapter 1 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 2 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 3 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 4 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 5 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 6 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 7 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 8 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 9 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 10 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 11 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 12 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 13 Questions and Answers
¨ Part Two, Chapter 14 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 15 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 16 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 17 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 18 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 19 Questions and Answers
¨ Part Three, Chapter 20 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 21 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 22 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 23 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 24 Questions and Answers
¨ Chapter 25 Questions and Answers
Things Fall Apart: Essential Passages
¨ Essential Passages by Character: Okonkwo
¨ Essential Passages by Theme: Pride
8. Things Fall Apart: Themes
9. Things Fall Apart: Style
10. Things Fall Apart: Historical Context
11. Things Fall Apart: Critical Overview
Things Fall Apart: Character Analysis
¨ Ikemefuna
¨ Nwoye
¨ Okonkwo
¨ Other Characters
Things Fall Apart: Essays and Criticism
¨ Things Fall Apart: A Valuable Source of African Literature
¨ Culture in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart
¨ The Center Holds - The Resilience of Ibo Culture in Things Fall Apart
14. Things Fall Apart: Suggested Essay Topics
15. Things Fall Apart: Sample Essay Outlines
eNotes: Table of Contents 2
16. Things Fall Apart: Compare and Contrast
17. Things Fall Apart: Topics for Further Study
18. Things Fall Apart: What Do I Read Next?
19. Things Fall Apart: Bibliography and Further Reading
20. Things Fall Apart: Pictures
21. Copyright
Things Fall Apart: Introduction
The story of Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart takes place in the Nigerian village of Umuofia in the
late 1880s, before missionaries and other outsiders have arrived. The Ibo clan practices common tribal
traditions—worship of gods, sacrifice, communal living, war, and magic. Leadership is based on a man's
personal worth and his contribution to the good of the tribe. Okonkwo stands out as a great leader of the Ibo
tribe. Tribesmen respect Okonkwo for his many achievements.
Even though the tribe reveres Okonkwo, he must be punished for his accidental shooting of a young
tribesman. The Ibo ban Okonkwo from the clan for seven years. Upon his return to the village, Okonkwo
finds a tribe divided by the influence of missionaries and English bureaucrats who have interrupted the routine
of tradition. Only when Okonkwo commits the ultimate sin against the tribe does the tribe come back together
to honor custom.
Critics appreciate Achebe's development of the conflict that arises when tradition clashes with change. He
uses his characters and their unique language to portray the double tragedies that occur in the story. Readers
identify not only with Okonkwo and his personal hardships but also with the Ibo culture and its disintegration.
Chinua Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart not for his fellow Nigerians, but for people beyond his native
country. He wanted to explain the truth about the effects of losing one's culture. Published in 1958, the book
was not widely read by Nigerians or by Africans in general. When Nigeria became independent in 1960,
however, Africans appreciated the novel for its important contribution to Nigerian history.
Things Fall Apart: Overview
The Life and Work of Chinua Achebe
Chinua Achebe is one of Africa’s most influential writers. Things Fall Apart, Achebe’s first novel, was
published in 1958, just before Nigeria gained independence. The title of the novel echoes W. B. Yeats’s
poem “The Second Coming,” which describes history as a succession of gyres, or spirals. Achebe applies the
image to Africa as the nineteenth century traditional world of the Igbo people gives way to the colonial forces
of the twentieth century.
Things Fall Apart is based upon Achebe’s life experience. Born in 1930, Chinua Achebe spent his early
childhood in Ogidi, Nigeria, a large village near the famous marketplace of Onitsha. Achebe was a child of
both the traditional Igbo world and the colonial Christian world, because his father, Isaiah Achebe, worked as
a catechist for the Church Missionary Society. Although Achebe spoke Igbo at home, he studied English in
school. At the age of 14, he advanced to the prestigious Government College in Umuahia.
In 1948, Achebe was awarded a scholarship to study medicine at the University College in Ibadan. However,
he soon refocused his program on literature, religion, and history. Achebe was repelled by the fundamental
racism of colonial classics such as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Joyce Cary’s Mister Johnson.
These novels depicted a savage Africa that was humanized only through European colonialism. In reaction,
Achebe expanded his own understanding of the Igbo world with a study of oral accounts and written colonial
records; he also published his first essays, editorials, and short stories as the student editor of the University
Things Fall Apart: Introduction 3
After graduation, Achebe taught for a brief period. In 1954, he took a position with the Nigerian Broadcasting
Corporation, and from 1961–1966, he served as the director of external broadcasting. As Nigeria moved
toward independence, Achebe’s radio programs helped shape a national identity. During this time, Achebe
also wrote his first four novels and became the founding editor of Heinemann Publisher’s “African Writers
Series.” Things Fall Apart was followed by No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), and A Man of
the People (1966).
In 1967, Achebe supported Biafra’s secession from Nigeria and left broadcasting to pursue research at the
University of Nigeria. His reflections about the civil war were published as Beware Soul Brother and Other
Poems (1971) and Girls at War and Other Stories (1972). His essays were published as Morning Yet on
Creation Day (1975); The Trouble with Nigeria (1983); and Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays,
1965–87 (1988). His essays have had a great influence on contemporary thought about Africa and African
literature. For example, “The Novelist as Teacher” explains the role of the writer in Africa, and “The African
Writer and the English Language” explains Achebe’s use of language. These essays are among his most
often quoted essays, and they are included in Morning Yet on Creation Day. Achebe also coedited Don’t Let
Him Die: An Anthology of Memorial Poems for Christopher Okigbo (1978), and founded Okike: An African
Journal of New Writing.
Achebe has also written several children’s books, including Chike and the River (1966), The Drum (1977),
and The Flute (1977). He has also edited African Short Stories (1982) and The Heinemann Book of
Contemporary African Stories (1992). Finally, Achebe published his fifth novel, Anthills of the Savannah, in
In addition to his research and writing, over the past 20 years Chinua Achebe has worked as a professor of
literature, the director of African Studies, and a pro vice chancellor at the University of Nigeria. He has also
served as a distinguished visiting professor of literature at the University of Massachusetts, the University of
Connecticut, City College of New York, and Bard College. Achebe has lectured extensively throughout
Africa and the United States, and he has received numerous awards, including the Nigerian National Merit
Award. Chinua Achebe has influenced many African writers through his writing and his work as the
chairperson of the Society of Nigerian Authors.
Historical Background
A distinctive culture known as Igbo (or Ibo) evolved in West Africa about 5,000 years ago. In the traditional
worldview, the Creator God Chukwu was a remote masculine force who taught the people to survive through
the cultivation of yams. The yam stood as an indicator of wealth and a type of currency. The masculine
Chukwu was balanced by the Earth goddess Ani, or Mother Nature. The feminine Ani was closer to
humankind than Chukwu, for she functioned as the goddess of fertility and the judge of morality.
These great masculine and feminine creative forces were augmented by localized deities, spirits, and oracles
that were institutionalized by various Igbo communities. Each oracle spoke through a priest or priestess and
served as a medium through which the divine was understood. The Igbo further personified the power of God
in the concept of the chi. The chi was the personalized god force or invisible power of fate that guided each
individual through life. It was the finely tuned chi that simultaneously controlled a person’s fortunes yet
allowed the individual freedom to work creatively toward success or failure.
Political organizations and beliefs differed among the various groups of Igbo people. Historically, many Igbo
villages were representative democracies bound to a group of villages by the decisions of a general assembly.
The local life of each village was shaped by age grade associations, title making societies, work associations,
religious fraternities, and secret societies. Men and women attempted to achieve prestige and status by
Things Fall Apart: Overview 4
accumulating wealth, which was used to purchase titles. Title holding leaders influenced the village assembly,
came to decisions through consensus, made new laws, and administered justice.
Early on, the Igbo people developed relationships with European traders and missionaries. In 1472, the
Portuguese arrived in Igboland in an attempt to discover a sea route to India; in 1508, the Portuguese
transported the first West African slaves to the West Indies. The slave trade flourished for three centuries;
however, the Igbo also traded copper rods, iron bars, and cowrie shells with the Portuguese and the Dutch
over the next two centuries. The slave trade was abolished in 1807, and the Igbo began to trade palm oil with
the British. The Anglican Church Missionary Society established a mission in Onitsha in 1857; later the
Roman Catholic Holy Ghost Fathers and Society of African Missions set up stations east and west of the
Niger River.
Friendly relations with Britain crumbled after 1875. Although Igboland had functioned as a British trade
colony for decades, it was not formally declared a British Protectorate until 1900. In order to “pacify”
Eastern Nigeria, the British destroyed much of Igboland and launched extensive military expeditions in 1914.
Despite resistance, by 1928 Igbo men were forced to pay taxes, and British colonialism took hold.
During the colonial era, British officials sought to govern hundreds of decentralized Igbo villages clustered in
various political constructs through a system of indirect rule. Igbo institutions were replaced with a native
court system that was administered by appointed warrant chiefs, district officers, court clerks, and messengers
who held no traditional status in the village. The Igbo resisted the corruption of the native court system, the
destruction of indigenous political life, and increased taxation. The resistance culminated in the Women’s
War of 1929–1930. Women throughout Nigeria demanded social reforms, respect for Igbo customs, and
women’s rights. In the final analysis, their action forced the British to restructure Eastern Nigeria to comply
more closely with traditional village organization.
In 1952, a regional government was set up which paved the way for independence. After decades of
resistance, Nigeria finally gained independence from Britain in 1960. However, the new nation contained
many ethnic groups, including the Hausa and the Yoruba people. The eastern region of Nigeria was inhabited
by the Igbo. This area, which was later known as Biafra, unsuccessfully sought independence from Nigeria
during the devastating civil war of 1966–1969.
Things Fall Apart depicts the tensions within traditional Igbo society at the end of the nineteenth century and
the cataclysmic changes introduced by colonialism and Christianity in the twentieth century. Chinua Achebe
writes in English; however, in order to recreate the cultural milieu of the Igbo people, he “Africanizes” the
language of the novel. Specific Igbo words and complicated names are used freely. Profound philosophical
concepts such as chi and ogbanje are explained in the text or glossary and are fundamental to the story. The
use of idioms and proverbs also clarifies the conflict, expresses different points of view, and instructs the
characters as well as the reader. Things Fall Apart has been translated into 30 languages and has sold 8 million
copies. The novel is internationally acclaimed, has become a classic of African literature, and has served as a
seminal text for postcolonial literature around the world.
Master List of Major Characters
Okonkwo—the protagonist; a strong, proud, hardworking Igbo
Obierika—Okonkwo’s confidant; he refuses to participate in killing Ikemefuna
Ikemefuna—a boy taken from Mbaino as a compensation for murder
Ani—the Earth goddess who calls for Ikemefuna’s death
Things Fall Apart: Overview 5
Unoka—Okonkwo’s father; he loves to play the flute and appears to be lazy
Nwoye—Okonkwo’s eldest son; he takes the Christian name Isaac
Ekwefi—Okonkwo’s second wife; mother of Ezinma
Ezinma—Ekwefi’s only daughter
Agbala—Oracle of the Hills and Caves
Chielo—Agbala’s priestess; she is a widow with two children
Nwoye’s mother—Okonkwo’s first wife; she is very strong
Ojiugo—Okonkwo’s youngest wife, who is beaten during the Week of Peace
Uchendu—Okonkwo’s uncle; his mother’s brother and the elder in Mbanta
Ezeudu (Ogbuefi Ezeudu)—an elder and a friend of Okonkwo
Nwakibie—an important man in Umuofia; he helps Okonkwo begin his farm
Ndulue—a respected elder who dies shortly before his beloved wife Ozoemena
Ozoemena—Ndulue’s wife; she dies shortly after her husband
Mr. Brown—a European missionary based in Umuofia
Mr. Kiaga—an Igbo missionary in charge of the congregation in Mbanta
Mr. Smith—a zealous, rigid missionary who takes over for Mr. Brown
District Commissioner—the British official in charge of Igboland
Enoch—a zealous Christian
Okoli—a convert to Christianity who kills the sacred python and dies
Chukwu—the supreme Creator God of the Igbo traditional religion
Minor Characters
Akueke—Obierika’s daughter; her marriage is negotiated
Amalinze—called the Cat; a great wrestler who is thrown by Okonkwo
Anene—Ekwefi’s first husband
Chika—Agbala’s priestess during Unoka’s time
Ezeani—the priest of the Earth goddess
Things Fall Apart: Overview 6
Ezeugo—a powerful orator
Maduka—Obierika’s son; a great wrestler
Obiageli—Nwoye’s sister
Ogbuefi Udo—his wife is murdered by the people of Mbaino
Okagbue—the medicine man who destroys Ezinma’s iyi-uwa
Okeke—the interpreter for Mr. Smith
Okoye—a neighbor who unsuccessfully tries to collect a debt from Unoka
Osugo—a man without titles
Note: The “o” in Igbo words is pronounced “aw” as in “awesome.”agadi-nwayi—an old woman
agbala—a woman, the term is an insult to a man because it implies weakness
Amadioha—the god of thunder and lightning
bride-price—a dowry paid by the groom’s parents to the bride’s parents
chi—the god-force within each person; an individual’s character, destiny, or fate
cowries—shells used as money
diala—a freeborn individual
efulefu—a worthless man
egwugwu—leaders dressed as masked spirits representing the ancestors
ekwe—a wooden drum
eneke-nti-oba—a bird
eze-agadi-nwayi—an old woman’s teeth
foo foo—a pounded yam dish
harmattan—a dry wind from the north
iba—a fever
Iguedo—Okonkwo’s village
ikenga—a wooden carving containing a man’s personal spirit
Things Fall Apart: Overview 7
ilo—the village playground or common where meetings are held
inyanga—showing off; bragging
isa-ifi—a ceremony determining a woman’s faithfulness to her fiancé after a long separation
iyi-uwa—a sacred stone that links the ogbanje child with the spirit world
jigida—a string of waist beads
kite—a bird that arrives during the dry season
kola nuts—nuts offered to guests as a symbol of hospitality
kotma—a court man or court messenger
kwenu—a greeting
ndichie—the elders who meet in a judicial council
nna ayi—our father
nso-ani—a taboo or religious offense
nza—a small bird
obi—the living quarters of the head of a family
obodo dike—the land of the brave
ochu—murder or manslaughter
ogbanje—a child who dies and returns to his/her mother’s womb to be reborn
ogene—a gong
osu—a person dedicated to a god; a slave and an outcast
otu omu—a women’s council that controls the marketplace by imposing fines on anyone who disturbs the
Oye—one of the four market days
ozo—one of the titles a man could achieve
palm wine—a fermented beverage made from palm tree sap
tufia—a curse
Things Fall Apart: Overview 8
udu—a type of drum
umuada—a gathering of daughters in a family
umunna—the extended family
Umuofia—Okonkwo’s clan, consisting of nine villages
uri—part of a betrothal ceremony where the bride-price is paid
Things Fall Apart: Chinua Achebe Biography
Chinua Achebe is a world-renowned scholar recognized for his ability to write simply, yet eloquently, about
life's universal qualilies. His writing weaves together history and fiction to produce a literary broadcloth that
offers visions of people enduring real life. Critics appreciate his just and realistic treatment of his topics.
Achebe writes primarily about his native Africa, where he was born Albert Chinualumogu Achebe in 1930.
He grew up in Ogidi. Nigeria, one of the first centers of Anglican missionary work in Eastern Nigeria. His
father and mother, Isaiah and Janet Achebe, were missionary teachers. Achebe's life as a Christian and
member of the Ibo tribe enables him to create realistic depictions of both contemporary and pre-colonized
Africa. He blends his knowledge of Western political ideologies and Christian doctrine with folklore,
proverbs, and idioms from his native tribe to produce stories of African culture that are intimate and authentic.
Achebe left the village of Ogidi to attend Government College in Umuahia. and later. University College in
Ibadan. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from University College in 1953. He worked first for the
Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation as a writer and continued radio work in various capacities until 1966,
when he resigned from his post as Director of External Broadcasting. Dissatisfied with the political climate
that would later prompt the Biafran War, he began traveling abroad and lectured as the appointed Senior
Research Fellow for the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Continuing his teaching career, Achebe accepted a position with the University of Massachusetts. Amherst, in
1972. He was a visiting Professor of English at that institution until 1976 and again in 1987-1988. He also
spent a year as a visiting professor at the University of Connecticut. In the intervening years. Achebe returned
to his native country to teach at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Achebe has written extensively throughout his adult life. His numerous articles, novels, short stories, essays,
and children's books have earned prestigious awards. For example, his book of poetry Christmas in Biafra
was a winner of the first Commonwealth Poetry Prize. His novels Arrow of God and Anthills of the Savannah
won, respectively, the New Statesman-Jock Campbell Award and finalist for the 1987 Booker Prize in
Achebe continues to write and participate in scholarly activities throughout the world, while making his home
in Annandale, New York, with his wife, Christie. They have four children and teach at Bard College.
Things Fall Apart: Summary
Summary of the Novel
Things Fall Apart is a story told by a skillful storyteller. The novel attempts to recreate the social, cultural,
and religious fabric of traditional Igbo life between 1850 and the early 1900s. However, the novel cannot be
interpreted as an accurate social and political history of the Igbo people, because it is a work of fiction.
Things Fall Apart: Chinua Achebe Biography 9
Nevertheless, the novel depicts conflicts and tensions within Igbo society as well as changes introduced by
colonial rule and Christianity. The novel is structured in three parts. Part One depicts life in pre colonial
Igboland. Part Two relates the arrival of the Europeans and the introduction of Christianity, and Part Three
recounts the beginning of systematic colonial control in eastern Nigeria. Okonkwo, the protagonist, is a
talented but inflexible Igbo who struggles to achieve success in the traditional world.
The setting of Part One is Umuofia, a union of nine villages. Okonkwo is introduced as a great wrestler, a
renowned warrior, and a hardworking member of the community. He has amassed two barns filled with yams,
three wives, many children, and two titles. His goal is to move through the traditional Igbo title taking system
by balancing personal achievement and community service. However, although Okonkwo feels he is destined
for greatness, his chi, or the god-force within him, does not seem destined for greatness.
Okonkwo seeks to overpower his mediocre chi by working hard. He is profoundly afraid of failure. As a
result, he is unable to balance the feminine energy of love with the masculine energy of material success.
Okonkwo often suppresses his feminine side as he pursues his goals and angers the Earth goddess Ani. His
rage, inflexibility, and fear of appearing weak like his lazy father, the musician Unoka, consistently
overshadow his respect for his community.
When a daughter of Umuofia is killed by the neighboring village of Mbaino, a young boy named Ikemefuna is
given to Umuofia in order to avoid war. Okonkwo adopts the boy and seems to admire him, for Ikemefuna is
both a talented musician and a great hunter. He is also a brother and role model for Okonkwo’s eldest son
Nwoye, who appears to be lazy. Ikemefuna lives with Okonkwo for three years until the Oracle of the Hills
and Caves demands his life. Ogbuefi Ezeudu, the oldest man in the village, advises Okonkwo not to take part
in the ritual killing of the boy. Although Okonkwo loves Ikemefuna, he does not want to appear weak. He
joins the ceremony and kills Ikemefuna. Okonkwo’s action ultimately shatters his relationship with his
sensitive son, Nwoye.
Okonkwo is both affectionate and violent with his family. He loves his daughter Ezinma, who is an ogbanje,
or a changeling child who seems to die continually only to return to her mother’s womb to be reborn and die
again. In an attempt to break the power of the ogbanje, Okonkwo follows his wife Ekwefi, the priestess
Chielo, and his daughter Ezinma on a journey to the oracle Agbala. Okonkwo also assists a medicine man
locate and destroy his daughter’s iyi uwa, or the sacred stone that links the child with the spirit world.
However, Okonkwo also has a dark and dangerous side, for he controls his family through anger. In bouts of
rage, he beats his youngest wife, Ojiugo, for neglecting to cook dinner and braiding her hair instead during the
Week of Peace. He also takes a shot at Ekwefi with a rusty gun during the Yam Festival.
Okonkwo’s immoral actions affect the community. During the funeral rite for the elder Ezeudu, Okonkwo’s
gun accidentally explodes, killing Ezeudu’s son. Okonkwo’s crimes enrage the Earth Goddess Ani, for he
has consciously and unconsciously chosen death by beating his wife, killing Ikemefuna, and now, killing
Ezeudu’s son. His irrational actions are destroying the moral fabric of traditional life. Therefore, Ani banishes
Okonkwo to Mbanta, his mother’s village, for seven years.
Part Two of the novel takes place while Okonkwo is in exile in Mbanta. Okonkwo flees to his mother’s
village and takes refuge with the feminine principal represented by the Earth goddess. He is given time to
learn the supremacy of a mother’s nurturing love. However, Okonkwo’s goals never change. He works hard
to amass wealth through the production of yams, and he dreams of returning to Umuofia to become a judicial
leader in the clan. While Okonkwo single-mindedly labors in Mbanta, the Europeans arrive in Igboland. His
friend Obierika visits him twice with news of the political and social upheaval. Abame, one of the villages in
the union of Umuofia, is razed by the British. Christianity, a new religion, is attracting the marginal members
of the Igbo community. The disenfranchised among the Igbo include the anguished mothers of twins who are
forced to discard their children in the Evil Forest, the osu, who are despised descendants of religious slave
Things Fall Apart: Summary 10
cults, and unsuccessful men who do not earn titles or achieve status in the traditional world. The new
Christian converts include Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye.
In Part Three, Okonkwo returns from exile in Mbanta to a tense and radically changed Umuofia. At this point,
a colonial government is taking root, the palm-oil trade is transforming the economy, and Christianity is
dividing the Igbo people. Tensions escalate at the annual worship of the Earth goddess when the zealous
Christian convert Enoch unmasks an egwugwu, a masquerader representing an ancestral spirit. His apostasy
kills the spirit, unmasks the traditional religion, and throws Umuofia into confusion. Other egwugwu, who are
actually Igbo men masked as ancestors, are enraged and retaliate. They raze Enoch’s compound to the ground
and burn the new Christian church. Okonkwo and other village leaders are subsequently jailed and whipped
by order of the District Commissioner. After paying a fine, the humiliated Igbo are released from prison.
The traditional Igbo gather to mourn the abominations suffered by the ancient gods, the ancestors, and the
entire Igbo community. They decry the new religion, which has pitted Igbo against Igbo. When colonial
officials arrive to disperse the crowd, Okonkwo blocks them. He draws his machete and decapitates the court
messenger. Okonkwo marshals no support; however, for the divided Igbo community fails to rise in defense
of traditional life. Okonkwo has no recourse. He retreats and hangs himself from a tree.
Okonkwo fails to achieve immortality according to Igbo tradition. Only strangers may touch him now, for he
has committed suicide, the ultimate offense against the Earth goddess. Okonkwo does not even merit a simple
burial among his own people. In the final denouement, a perplexed District Commissioner orders members of
the Igbo community to appear in court with Okonkwo’s corpse. The commissioner decides to allot the
tragedy of Okonkwo a paragraph in his anthropological study of the Igbo, which he has cruelly entitled “The
Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.” (p. 148)
Although the novel represents Igboland in the 1890s, it is crucial for the reader to remember that Achebe
wrote Things Fall Apart in 1958, at the dawn of Nigerian independence. Achebe writes from a realistic third
person point of view and questions assumptions about civilization, culture, and literature. Proverbs, folk tales,
myths, and portraits of rituals and festivals support the basic plot line and paint a picture of Igbo life. In
Morning Yet on Creation Day, Achebe explains his desire to show that precolonial Africa was “not one long
nightmare of savagery.” (p. 45) Overall, Achebe succeeds in presenting Igbo society as an organic whole and
providing a window into the heart of Africa.
Estimated Reading Time
Things Fall Apart is approximately 150 pages long. Reading time depends upon your reading level. You will
read faster as you become familiar with Chinua Achebe’s style. Thirty to thirty-five pages may be covered in
an hour’s sitting. The book may be completed in approximately seven to eight hours.
Things Fall Apart: Summary and Analysis
Part One, Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Okonkwo: famous in the nine villages of Umuofia for his personal achievements
Amalinze: the Cat; the greatest wrestler in Umuofia
Unoka: Okonkwo’s father; he is a lazy debtor
Okoye: Unoka’s neighbor who attempts to collect a debt
Things Fall Apart: Summary and Analysis 11
Ikemefuna: a young boy who is given to Umuofia by a rival village
Okonkwo is a man of great personal achievements. After he threw the great wrestler Amalinze the Cat, at the
age of 18, his fame spread. He is a wealthy farmer with three wives, many children, two barns full of yams,
and two titles. He has also proven his prowess in two intertribal wars. Because he is so well respected,
Okonkwo is chosen to adopt the ill-fated lad Ikemefuna, who is given to the community of Umuofia by the
village of Mbaino in order to avoid war and bloodshed.
Unoka, Okonkwo’s father, loves to drink palm wine and play the flute. He is poor, and his wife and children
barely have food to eat. Unoka never repays his loans, and the people laugh at him. When Unoka dies, he
holds no title, and he is heavily in debt. Okonkwo is ashamed of him.
Unoka welcomes his neighbor Okoye by breaking open the kola nut, which is a symbol of hospitality. The
men talk about the rains, the upcoming feasts, and the impending wars. Okoye reminds Unoka that he will
soon take the Idemili title, which is the third highest title in the land. This is an expensive ceremony. Okoye
speaks indirectly through proverbs and then finally asks Unoka to return the 200 cowries he borrowed more
than two years ago. Unoka bursts out laughing and tells Okoye that the walls of his house are covered with
strokes marking debts of 100 cowries he owes to various people in the community. Unoka tells Okoye that he
will pay him someday but that he will pay his big debts first.
Okonkwo is famous because of his “solid personal achievements.” (p. 3) This statement is central to
understanding the protagonist. Okonkwo believes he is clearly cut out for great things, for “As the elders said,
if a child washed his hands, he could eat with kings.” (p. 6) Okonkwo strives to succeed in the traditional
Igbo world, and he stands in stark contrast to Unoka, his poor, lazy father. Okonkwo is afraid of failing and
appearing weak like his father. He disdains feminine activities such as playing the flute, and he gravitates to
the masculine energy in Igbo society by amassing material wealth in yams.
Both Okonkwo and Unoka stand in contrast to Okoye. Okoye is also a musician who plays an instrument
called the ogene, or a gong. However, Okoye is not a failure like Unoka. He owns a large barn full of yams;
he has three wives; and he is preparing to take the expensive Idemili title. This title will allow him to
participate more fully in political matters of the community. Throughout the novel, Okonkwo attempts to
succeed; however, unlike Okoye, he never achieves the balance between the feminine and masculine energies.
The first chapter involves the reader in Achebe’s “Africanized” English. Musical instruments such as the
ekwe, udu, and the ogene are introduced. The reader can decipher the meaning of the Igbo words by using
context clues. Other Igbo words such as egwugwu represent concepts that the Western reader cannot
understand through the context alone. The Igbo terms and concepts are defined in the novel’s glossary. The
reader is also introduced to several proverbs, for “Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very
highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.” (p. 5) A careful reading of the Igbo words
and concepts as well as the many Igbo proverbs sprinkled throughout the text provide an in-depth
understanding of the novel.
Finally, the Igbo culture and the main character are introduced in contrast to Unoka, who chooses to be an
individual or an agbala by following feminine energy. The litany of Okonkwo’s achievements sets up the
opposition between father and son and introduces a narrative and a culture defined by duality.
Part One, Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis 12
Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Ogbuefi Ezeugo: a powerful orator who accuses Mbaino of murder
Ogbuefi Udo: a man of Umuofia; his wife is murdered by the people of Mbaino
Nwoye: Okonkwo’s 12-year-old son, who appears to be lazy
The ogene, a kind of gong, pierces the night in Umuofia. Umuofia is a community of nine Igbo villages
related to one another in political matters. Every man is called to meet at the marketplace where Ogbuefi
Ezeugo, a powerful orator, shouts the greeting “Umuofia kwenu,” and 10,000 men respond “Yaa.” In anger
he explains that the wife of Ogbuefi Udo has been murdered in Mbaino, a rival village. An ultimatum is given
to the people of Mbaino. They may choose war, or offer a young man and a young virgin to Umuofia as
compensation for the murdered woman.
Umuofia is feared by its neighbors, and Okonkwo is sent to Mbaino as an emissary of war. He returns with a
young girl and a 15-year-old boy named Ikemefuna. The elders, or the ndichie,
decide the girl should replace Ogbuefi Udo’s murdered wife. Ikemefuna, however, belongs to the clan.
Because Okonkwo is a prosperous village leader, he is asked to look after Ikemefuna. The boy is terrified as
he is handed over to Okonkwo’s senior wife.
Okonkwo works on his farm from morning until night, and he rarely feels fatigued. He rules his household
with a heavy hand. However, Okonkwo’s three wives and eight children are not as strong, and they suffer.
Okonkwo constantly nags and beats Nwoye, his 12-year-old son, because he appears to be lazy. Therefore,
Nwoye is developing into a sad-faced youth.
Okonkwo is depicted as a prosperous and warlike man. Okonkwo’s homestead, or compound, illustrates his
prosperity. His own living area is called an obi, and his three wives have separate houses behind the obi. The
compound includes a barn with large stocks of yams, or sweet potatoes. There is also a shrine where
Okonkwo keeps the symbols of his personal god and ancestral spirits. He has captured numerous human heads
throughout the wars of Umuofia. Okonkwo displays his warlike nature on important occasions like funerals by
drinking his palm wine from the first human head he captured in battle. Okonkwo also plays an active role in
village politics. He serves as the emissary to Mbaino because he is so well respected.
Although Okonkwo appears to rule his family with an iron fist, his life is controlled by a deep-seated fear of
failure; fear is also his motivation for working so hard. Okonkwo is afraid he will resemble his father, who did
not earn any titles and died a miserable debtor. Okonkwo is also fearful that his eldest son, Nwoye, will be
lazy like his grandfather, Unoka. Therefore, the character of Okonkwo is developed not only in contrast with
Unoka, his father, but also in contrast with Nwoye, his son.
Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Agbala: Oracle of the Hills and Caves; a kind of god
Chika: the priestess to Agbala in Unoka’s time
Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis 13
Ani: the Earth goddess; the owner of the land
Ifejioku: the god of yams
Nwakibie: a successful man who has taken all the titles except one in the clan
Anasi: one of Nwakibie’s wives
Ogbuefi Idigo: a villager at Nwakibie’s homestead
Obiako: a palm-wine tapper who suddenly gives up his work
Akukalia: a villager at Nwakibie’s homestead
Igwelo: Nwakibie’s elder son
People like Unoka consult Agbala, the Oracle of the Hills and Caves, during times of misfortune. Chika,
Agbala’s priestess, tells Unoka his harvest depends upon hard work. Unoka sows yams on exhausted farms,
and he does not work like a man. Unoka has a weak chi, or personal god. He is ill-fated, and evil fortune
follows him. Therefore, Okonkwo does not inherit a barn, a title, or a young wife from his father.
Okonkwo works for Nwakibie, a highly successful man with nine wives and 30 children, who has taken all the
titles in the clan except one. Okonkwo meets with Igbo men named Idigo, Akukalia, and Igwelo at
Nwakibie’s obi. They drink from a pot of palm wine and discuss village affairs. The men speak in riddles and
proverbs rich in meaning. Finally, Okonkwo explains he has cleared a farm, but he has no yams to plant. He
says he is not afraid of hard work. Nwakibie has refused similar requests because young farmers often neglect
the yam saplings. He says, “Eneke the bird says that since men have learnt to shoot without missing, he has
learnt to fly without perching.” (p. 16) Like Eneke the bird, Nwakibie has learned from experience. However,
Nwakibie is impressed with Okonkwo and gives him 800 yams. Okonkwo receives an additional 400 yams
from one of his father’s friends in Isiuzo.
That year Okonkwo sows the 400 yam seeds he has saved from his previous harvest. However, a severe
drought burns the yams. When the rains return, Okonkwo plants the rest of his seed-yams. After the drought,
rain pounds the earth. The harvest is like a sad funeral, and farmers weep as they dig up the rotting yams. One
man hangs himself from a tree in desperation. Okonkwo remembers that tragic year the rest of his life. Unoka
tells him that a proud heart can survive a general failure. As Unoka grows old and sick, his love of talk
increases. It tries Okonkwo’s patience.
The religious concepts of the Oracle and the chi are introduced in this chapter. The Oracle straddles the
religious and mundane worlds of the Igbo people and functions as a center of divination. The Oracle explains
events and offers advice. Unoka is an example of an individual who consults an oracle. The chi is the personal
god-force, the fate, or the destiny of an individual. A person’s fortunes in life are more or less controlled by
the chi. An individual’s chi may be malicious or benevolent. A person with a good chi is successful. A person
with a bad chi will achieve success only by working very hard. Unoka is a failure according to Igbo norms. He
has a weak chi, or poor character. By using the term chi throughout the novel, Achebe retains the unique Igbo
sense of this religious concept.
The yam is also introduced as the king of crops—a man’s crop. It stands as an indication of wealth and a type
of currency in Igbo society. The masculine yam is contrasted with the women’s crops, which include
Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis 14
cocoyams, beans, and cassava. Nwakibie, a prosperous Igbo farmer with a huge store of yams, is held up as an
ideal Igbo. He has acquired much wealth and many titles. Men like Nwakibie play an important role in the
community by helping younger men start farms through sharecropping. Okonkwo strives to become like
Nwakibie, but due to the drought, his harvest is a failure. He survives the difficult year only because of his
iron, inflexible will. Unoka’s reminder that individual failure is more bitter than the general failure of the
community may serve as a curse on Okonkwo.
Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Osugo: a man who has taken no titles
Ojiugo: Okonkwo’s youngest wife
Ezeani: Ani’s priest
Ogbuefi Ezeudu: oldest man in the village
Nwayieke: old woman who lives near the udala tree
Okonkwo is successful because he works hard. However, he is rude to unsuccessful men. For example, he
calls Osugo a woman because he has not taken any titles. Okonkwo continues to rule his family with an iron
hand. Ikemefuna, the hostage from Mbaino, has stayed with Okonkwo for three years. Nwoye’s mother,
Okonkwo’s first wife, is kind to the boy and treats him as one of her own children. Ikemefuna gradually
overcomes his fear and becomes inseparable from Nwoye. Okonkwo is fond of Ikemefuna, and the boy calls
him father.
The ancestors know that crops will not grow without the blessing of Ani, the Great Earth Goddess. Therefore,
before planting their crops, the Igbo observe a week in which no one says a harsh word and no work is done.
During the Week of Peace, Ojiugo, Okonkwo’s youngest wife, provokes him to a fiery rage. Ojiugo visits a
friend who braids her hair; she does not return to cook the afternoon meal. Okonkwo forgets it is the Week of
Peace and beats her.
Ezeani, Ani’s priest, tells Okonkwo that he has committed a great evil. Ojiugo is wrong, but Okonkwo is
wrong too. The crime he has committed could ruin the whole clan. Okonkwo has insulted the Earth goddess,
and she could refuse to provide food. Ezeani commands Okonkwo to bring one female goat, one hen, a length
of cloth, and 100 cowries to Ani. Okonkwo complies. Although Okonkwo is inwardly repentant, he will not
admit his crime in public. The people say he has no respect for the clan, the gods, and the ancestors.
Throughout the week the people talk about the nso-ani, or the crime that Okonkwo has committed. Ogbuefi
Ezeudu, the oldest man in the village, says that the punishment for breaking the Week of Peace has become
very mild.
After the Week of Peace, the people clear the bush to make new farms. Kites, or birds, appear from different
directions. The people cultivate yams, which are a symbol of manliness and the king of the crops. The young
plants are protected from the heat with rings of sisal leaves. When the heavier rains arrive, women plant
maize, melons, and beans between the mounds of yams. The women weed the farms three times. When
Nwoye and Ikemefuna try to prepare seed-yams, Okonkwo finds fault with their efforts and threatens them.
Okonkwo particularly wants his eldest son, Nwoye, to be a great farmer and a great man.
Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis 15
In Achebe’s portrait of the Igbo people, daily life is controlled by religious forces. Although Okonkwo’s chi
may not be destined for greatness, his chi says “yes” to success because Okonkwo works so hard. The clan of
Umuofia judges Okonkwo by the work of his hands; however, they also condemn Okonkwo’s disrespect
toward others.
The powerful Earth goddess, Ani, is a feminine force representing the spirit of fertility. As an agrarian society,
the people of Umuofia depend upon their relationship with the Earth goddess. Yet, Okonkwo shows no fear of
Ani. He commits a serious crime by beating his wife during the Week of Peace. This act reveals Okonkwo’s
impulsive and violent nature. His failure to observe the traditional peace is a foreshadowing of his failure to
succeed in the traditional world in spite of his personal achievements. Okonkwo does not respect the feminine
energy in the Igbo world, and he does not respect his wife. Although Okonkwo regrets his crime and makes
amends, he cannot admit his mistake publicly because he is afraid of appearing weak like his father.
Okonkwo loses the balance of the masculine and feminine energies and is overcome by irrational, violent
anger. He is also unable to show his affection for his adopted son, Ikemefuna, or his eldest son, Nwoye. In his
desire to be strong and successful, Okonkwo is harsh to both Nwoye and Ikemefuna. He continues to stamp
out the laziness he detects in Nwoye. Although Ikemefuna is beginning to feel comfortable in Okonkwo’s
homestead, he is identified as a sacrificial offering. The author clearly refers to the boy as a doomed, ill-fated
lad given to Umuofia to atone for murder.
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Ekwefi: Okonkwo’s second wife
Ezinma: Okonkwo’s daughter of his second wife; Ekwefi’s only daughter
Obiageli: Okonkwo’s daughter of his first wife; Nwoye’s sister
Nkechi: Okonkwo’s daughter of his third wife
The Feast of the New Yam is a big event. It is held every year before the harvest to honor the ancestral spirits
and Ani. Ani is the most important deity in Igbo cosmology because she is the source of all fertility. In
addition to playing an active role in the daily lives of the people, she judges morality and conduct.
Okonkwo is edgy as his family prepares for the feast because he would rather be working in the farm. He
accuses Ekwefi, his second wife, of killing a banana tree. He beats Ekwefi and leaves her crying with Ezinma,
her only daughter. The beating serves as an outlet for Okonkwo’s anger. Okonkwo picks up his rusty gun,
and Ekwefi mutters something about guns that never shoot. Okonkwo hears the remark and pulls the trigger.
His shot misses Ekwefi. Although the incident is upsetting, it does not dampen the spirit of the festival. The
relatives of Okonkwo’s wives arrive for the first day of feasting.
Wrestling matches between villages are held on the second day of the New Yam Festival. Ekwefi loves
wrestling matches. Years ago, when she was the village beauty, Okonkwo won her heart by throwing the Cat
in a wrestling match. Then, she ran away from her first husband to live with Okonkwo. Since then, Ekwefi has
suffered much; she only has one daughter, whose name is Ezinma.
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis 16
Obiageli, the daughter of Okonkwo’s first wife, has been making inyanga, and she is showing off with her
pot. She balances it on her head, folds her arms in front of her, and begins to sway like one of the women.
When she breaks her pot, she laughs. However, as she gets closer to the homestead, Obiageli begins to cry.
Ikemefuna signals the other children not to tattle on Obiageli.
The drums announce the wrestling matches and fill the air with excitement. Ezinma takes her father a dish to
eat in his obi. Okonkwo is eating his first wife’s meal. Obiageli sits waiting for her mother’s empty bowl.
Ezinma places her mother’s dish before him and sits with Obiageli. Okonkwo is especially fond of Ezinma
because she is a beauty like her mother. However, he only shows his fondness on rare occasions. Ezinma asks
to carry her father’s chair to the wrestling match. Okonkwo refuses. Nkechi, the daughter of Okonkwo’s
third wife, brings in his third and final dish of food.
Like the Week of Peace, the Feast of the New Yam honors the ancestors and gods of the community.
However, the feast presents another opportunity for Okonkwo to display his angry nature; he again offends
the Earth goddess by taking a shot at his second wife, Ekwefi. Ekwefi is introduced as the wife who left her
first husband because of her love of Okonkwo. Again, Okonkwo’s actions disregard the feminine energy in
Igbo society and result in violence. He is angry because he cannot work.
In this chapter, the author attempts to present a realistic portrait of a polygamous household, which is the key
unit of agricultural production in Igbo society. In reality, many children are needed to plant, cultivate, and
harvest crops; therefore, most men marry more than one wife. Historically, many wives enhanced a man’s
status and often increased the prestige of the first wife. The senior wife was the head of the household; she
shared every title her husband acquired, and she managed her husband’s younger wives. In many cases, the
junior wives enjoyed security and prosperity in a large household. The Igbo women lived in their own houses,
cooked for themselves, and raised their own children. In some cases women sold their crops in the
marketplace and kept the proceeds. Igbo law also allowed an unhappy wife to leave her husband.
In this chapter, Ikemefuna is introduced as a sensitive youth who protects one of his sisters. It is significant
that Ikemefuna stops the younger brothers from tattling on Obiageli because he is aware of what Okonkwo
might do if he knows the truth. The girls in the family, Obiageli, Ezinma, and Nkechi, serve their father food
in a specific order because they are the daughters of Okonkwo’s first, second, and third wives. These girls are
actually half-sisters. Okonkwo’s first wife is never given a name. She is always called “Nwoye’s mother”
because she is identified with her eldest son. Ezinma seems to be a model daughter; however, she cannot carry
her father’s chair to the wrestling match because this is a boy’s job. The Igbo culture clearly defines male
and female roles. Things Fall Apart is fiction; nevertheless, this chapter provides a window on the daily lives
of the Igbo people at a particular point in time and explains an important religious festival.
Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Maduka: the son of Obierika
Chielo: a priestess of Agbala
Okafo: a wrestler
Ikezue: a wrestler
Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis 17
The whole village turns out for the wrestling match involving the nine villages of Umuofia. The drummers
face the elders and a huge circle of spectators. There are seven drums arranged according to size in a long
wooden basket. Three men beat the drums feverishly as if they are possessed by the spirits of the drums.
Several young men keep order by beating the crowd back with palm branches. Finally, the two wrestling
teams dance into the circle. The younger boys wrestle first, and the crowd roars as the third boy throws his
opponent. Maduka, the son of Obierika, wins, and three young men from his team run forward and carry him
on their shoulders through the cheering crowd.
Ekwefi and Chielo stand next to one another in the crowd. Chielo cannot believe that Ekwefi was nearly killed
by Okonkwo. Chielo is an ordinary woman who also serves as the priestess of Agbala, the Oracle of the Hills
and the Caves. She is very friendly with Ekwefi. She loves Ezinma and calls her “my daughter.” It is hard to
believe that this ordinary woman is the same person who prophesies when the spirit of the god Agbala is upon
Two teams with 12 men on each side wrestle. The last match is between the leaders of the teams. These men
are the best wrestlers in all the nine villages. Okafo and Ikezue wrestle one another until the muscles on their
arms, thighs, and backs stand out and twitch. It seems like an equal match, but Okafo uses a surprise
maneuver and throws his opponent. Okafo is swept off his feet by his team and carried home as the villagers
sing his praises.
The wrestling match provides another example of life among the Igbo people. Achebe attempts to recreate the
match of the New Yam Festival, which is one of the most exciting events in Igbo society. Historically,
wrestling was an important sport among the Igbo because the matches allowed young men to gain recognition
by demonstrating their strength and skill. The younger boys set the scene for the older, more experienced
wrestlers. The match in this chapter reminds Okonkwo of his own accomplishments. The community
involvement in the wrestling match illustrates the solidarity among the people in the nine-village consortium
of Umuofia. The drummers provide the beat and the background, and the drums serve as the pulse of the
people. The excitement of the wrestling match, which involves the entire community, contrasts with the
shadowy world of Chielo, the priestess of Agbala.
Chielo is introduced as an ordinary woman against the backdrop of the wrestling match. She is a friend of
Ekwefi and Ezinma; however, she is also the priestess of Agbala, the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves. This
is the same Oracle Unoka consulted about his poor harvests. Agbala is a minor god and a center of divination;
the Oracle links the world of the living with the world of the dead. Historically, the Igbo people offered
sacrifices, prayers, and invocations through the priest or priestess of the Oracle. Achebe implies that Chielo is
not an ordinary person when she serves as Agbala’s priestess.
Chapter 7 Summary and Analysis
The elders seemed to have forgotten about Ikemefuna, who has been living in Okonkwo’s household for
three years. Ikemefuna is a positive influence on Nwoye. He is described as a yam tendril in the rainy season.
Ikemefuna and Nwoye listen to Okonkwo’s stories about war and violence. Nwoye remembers the stories his
mother used to tell of the tortoise, the bird eneke-nti-oba, and the quarrel between Earth and Sky. Nwoye
knows his father wants him to be a man, so he pretends he does not like women’s stories.
Ogbuefi Ezeudu, the oldest man in the village tells Okonkwo that Umuofia has decided to kill Ikemefuna
because the Oracle of Hills and Caves has pronounced the boy’s death. However, Ezeudu cautions Okonkwo
Chapter 7 Summary and Analysis 18
saying, “. . . I want you to have nothing to do with it. He calls you father.” (p. 40) When the elders gather,
Okonkwo tells Ikemefuna he is going home. Nwoye cries, and Okonkwo beats him severely. Ikemefuna is
confused because his old home has grown distant.
The men of Umuofia travel down a narrow footpath through the heart of the forest. Ikemefuna carries a pot of
palm wine on his head and walks in their midst. He feels uneasy at first, but he is reassured because Okonkwo
walks behind him. Ikemefuna feels as though Okonkwo is his father. He was never fond of his real father.
Ikemefuna remembers his mother and his younger sister, and he wonders if his mother is still alive.
One of the men clears his throat and growls at Ikemefuna. It sends a cold shiver of fear down the boy’s back.
Okonkwo has withdrawn to the rear of the party. Ikemefuna feels his legs give way under him. The man raises
his machete, and Okonkwo looks away. He hears the blow. Ikemefuna’s pot falls and breaks. Ikemefuna
cries, “My father, they have killed me!” (p. 43) Ikemefuna runs toward Okonkwo. Dazed with fear, Okonkwo
draws his machete and kills Ikemefuna.
Nwoye knows that Ikemefuna has been killed. Something has snapped inside him, and he feels limp. He had
the same feeling during the harvest season when he heard infants crying in the bush. Nwoye has heard that
twins are put in earthenware pots and thrown away in the Evil Forest. A deep chill overcomes him when
Okonkwo returns after killing Ikemefuna.
Ikemefuna is compared to a yam tendril in the rainy season because he is full of the sap of new life. Although
Okonkwo does not display his emotions publicly, he loves his adopted son Ikemefuna. This is evident because
Ikemefuna carries his stool and calls Okonkwo father. Ezeudu, the eldest man in the village, a leader, and an
authority figure, explains the Oracle’s command to kill Ikemefuna. Neither Ezeudu nor the Oracle give any
reason for requiring Ikemefuna’s death. However, Ezeudu clearly tells Okonkwo not to take part in the ritual
Okonkwo does not listen to Ezeudu’s warning. He joins the party, and he provides comfort and assurance for
his unsuspecting adopted son on the journey through the forest. However, Okonkwo does retire to the rear of
the party when Ikemefuna receives the first blow. He does not expect the injured boy to run to him. Okonkwo
deals the death blow to Ikemefuna as part of a ritual sacrifice because he is afraid of appearing weak.
Ikemefuna’s journey is reminiscent of the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. However, here, no animal is
substituted for Ikemefuna as a ram is substituted for Isaac. The incident may be Achebe’s attempt to address
ritual sacrifice in Christian terms. In any event, Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna, a skillful hunter and sensitive
musician. Ikemefuna has achieved the balance of the masculine and feminine energies in Igbo society that
escapes Okonkwo. Okonkwo’s ritual killing of this balance may represent his own self-destruction.
Okonkwo loves Ikemefuna, yet he kills him; Okonkwo also loves Nwoye, yet he devastates his son by killing
Ikemefuna. Nwoye is haunted by other unexplained deaths. The Igbo believe that twins are abnormal and
leave the infants to die in the bush; otherwise, the entire community might suffer. The cries of infants
abandoned in the forest and the ritual killing of Ikemefuna chill Nwoye’s spirit. Nwoye is sensitive, and he
does not understand these customs.
Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Obierika: Okonkwo’s friend and confidant
Ofoedu: a villager who comes with a message
Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis 19
Ogbuefi Ndulue: the oldest man in Ire
Ozoemena: Ogbuefi Ndulue’s first wife
Akueke: Obierika’s daughter
Obidrika: a brother of Obierika
Machi: the eldest brother of Obierika
Dimaragana: a man who would not lend his knife for cutting up a dog
Umezulike: a man who taps Okonkwo’s palm trees
Ibe: a young suitor of Akueke
Ukegbu: the father of Ibe
Amadi: a leper who often passes by Obierika’s compound
Okonkwo does not eat for two days after Ikemefuna’s death; he drinks palm wine day and night. He cannot
forget Ikemefuna, and he admonishes himself for becoming a shivering old woman. Okonkwo visits his friend
Obierika and asks him why he refused to kill Ikemefuna. He asks Obierika if he questions the authority of the
Oracle who said that the boy must die. Obierika explains that he is not afraid of blood, but the Oracle did not
ask him specifically to carry out its decision. Obierika says that if he had been Okonkwo, he would have
stayed at home. Okonkwo’s action will not please the Earth goddess; it is the kind of thing for which she
wipes out whole families. Obierika says that if the Oracle declared that his own son should be killed, he would
neither dispute the decree nor help carry out the ritual murder.
Ofoedu, a villager, arrives with a message. He says that Ogbuefi Ndulue, the oldest man in Ire, has died. It is
very strange. Ozoemena, Ndulue’s first wife, has died on the same day. It was always said that Ndulue and
Ozoemena had one mind. He could not do anything without telling her. Ogbuefi Ndulue was a strong man in
his youth and led Umuofia to war. Okonkwo does not understand why a strong man would share his thoughts
with his wife. The men also talk about Umezulike, the man who taps Okonkwo’s palm trees. Obierika says
that sometimes he regrets taking the ozo title because men of this title cannot climb tall trees; they can only
tap short trees while standing on the ground. Okonkwo argues that it is good that the ozo title is esteemed. In
other clans, like Abame and Aninta, the ozo title is worth very little. Obierika recants and says that he is just
Then Ibe arrives with his father, Ukegbu, and his uncle. Ibe wants to marry Obierika’s beautiful daughter,
Akueke. Obierika and his brothers negotiate Akueke’s bride-price. Obidrika, Obierika’s brother, presents a
bundle of 30 short broomsticks to Ukegbu. Ukegbu consults his family and returns 15 sticks to Obierika.
Machi, Obierika’s eldest brother, claims that they do not want to go below 30. He adds 10 sticks to the 15 and
returns the bundle to Ukegbu. Akueke’s bride-price is finally settled at 20 bags of cowries. Obierika’s wives
and his son, Maduka, serve food and palm wine.
Later, the men eat and drink and criticize the customs of their neighbors. In Abame and Aninta men haggle
over a bride-price; they climb trees and pound foo-foo for their wives. Their customs are upside-down.
Obierika’s eldest brother says, “But what is good in one place is bad in another place.” (p. 51) In some areas
a suitor offers bags of cowries until his in-laws say stop. Okonkwo heard that in some places a man’s children
Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis 20
belong to his wife’s family. Obierika says there was a story of white men, the color of chalk. The only white
man they know is Amadi, a leper who passes by Obierika’s compound.
It is the season of rest. Okonkwo is a man of action and not thought; he is frustrated because he cannot work,
and he is haunted by the murder of Ikemefuna. Obierika chastises Okonkwo and questions the morality of his
participation in the ritual sacrifice. He says he would have respected the Oracle, but he would not have
participated in killing his own son. Obierika is more balanced than Okonkwo because he understands how to
temper the rules and regulations of the traditional Igbo religion. Obierika is like Ezeudu who warned
Okonkwo not to kill his son. Obierika will provide insight throughout the rest of the novel; he may serve as
the author’s mouthpiece.
Okonkwo is also worried about Nwoye, who seems weak like his grandfather Unoka. Whenever Okonkwo
thinks about his father’s weakness and failure, he thinks about his own strength and success. Okonkwo
continues to juxtapose his own achievements with the inadequacies of his father and son. In Okonkwo’s
mind, a weak man is like a woman. Therefore, Okonkwo cannot understand why a strong man like Ogbuefi
Ndulue has shared his thoughts with Ozoemena, his first wife, throughout his life. This elderly couple died as
they had lived—together. They are a symbol of the balance of the masculine and feminine energies in life. It is
this balance that Okonkwo cannot achieve. The dual death of Ndulue and Ozoemena clearly identifies this
moral code for Okonkwo; his inability to understand the code dramatizes the discrepancy between his
understanding and the values of the clan as a whole.
The conversation about the palm wine tappers provides some comic relief and allows Obierika to question
Igbo customs. At the same time, the bride-price negotiations provide another backdrop illustrating Igbo life. In
Igbo society, discussions leading to marriage involve the extended family, and serious negotiations are
necessary because every adult is responsible for building a family and strengthening the lineage. Because a
woman leaves her homestead when she marries, her family receives a bride-price to compensate for their loss.
In the discussion about customs, Obierika again questions assumptions about culture. The men are aware that
customs in one area are not accepted in another. Even Okonkwo realizes that the world is wide. However, the
final passage is an ironic foreshadowing. The Igbo laugh about the white man; they are certainly not worried
about pale men the color of chalk.
Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis
New Character:
Okagbue Uyanwa: a famous medicine man
Okonkwo finally sleeps. He questions his uneasiness about killing Ikemefuna. As a mosquito buzzes in his
ear, he remembers a story his mother used to tell him. When Mosquito asked Ear to marry him, she fell on the
floor laughing. Ear thought Mosquito looked like a skeleton and insinuated that he would not live much
longer. Mosquito was humiliated. To this day, any time Mosquito passes by, he tells Ear that he is still alive.
Later in the chapter, Ekwefi tells Ezinma another story. The snake-lizard gave his mother seven baskets of
raw vegetables to cook; they yielded three baskets of cooked vegetables. As a result, the snake-lizard killed
his mother. Then, he brought another seven baskets of raw vegetables and cooked them himself; again they
yielded three baskets of cooked vegetables. The snake-lizard was distraught, so he killed himself.
During the night, Ekwefi, Okonkwo’s second wife, tells him that Ezinma is dying. She is shivering on a mat
beside a huge fire. Okonkwo collects bark, leaves, and grass to make a medicine to cure her fever, or iba.
Ezinma is her mother’s only child and the center of her world. Their relationship is a companionship of
Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis 21
equals. Ekwefi has suffered; she has borne 10 children, but nine of them died in infancy, after which, she sank
into despair and resignation. After the second child died, a diviner told Okonkwo it was an ogbanje, or a
changeling child who dies and returns to its mother’s womb to be reborn. Okonkwo called in another diviner,
Okagbue Uyanwa, who was a medicine man famous for his knowledge of ogbanje children. When Ekwefi’s
third child died, he mutilated the body with a razor and dragged it into the Evil Forest so it would never
Ekwefi loves Ezinma, but everyone knows she is an ogbanje. Ekwefi believes Ezinma is going to stay on
Earth because a medicine man had dug up her iyi-uwa, or the sacred stone that linked her to the spirit world.
He had asked Ezinma where the stone was buried, and she led him through the bush. Finally, she pointed to a
spot in the homestead. Okonkwo and the medicine man had dug a huge pit and found the iyi-uwa. Since then,
Ezinma had not been sick.
Okonkwo’s other wives say Ezinma has a fever, but Ekwefi does not hear them. Okonkwo prepares the
medicine, and Ekwefi tends the medicine pot. He brings a low stool and a thick mat. Ezinma sits on the stool
next to the steaming pot, and Okonkwo throws a thick mat over her head. She struggles to escape from the
overpowering steam, but she is held down. Finally, she emerges drenched in perspiration. Ekwefi dries her
off, and Ezinma sleeps.
The stories about the mosquito and the snake-lizard provide comic relief and a backdrop of daily life in the
homestead during the intense story about Ezinma. Mosquito was humiliated by Ear, so he buzzes every time
he gets close to her. The snake-lizard also explains daily life when he learns what happens to cooked
vegetables. However, both stories also explain relationships that are out of balance. The feminine Ear rejects
the masculine Mosquito. The snake-lizard is completely off balance and commits murder and suicide over
cooked vegetables. Perhaps the snake-lizard killed himself because he unjustly murdered his mother. These
stories may provide parallels to Okonkwo’s gender imbalance.
The religious concept of ogbanje is also illustrated in this chapter. An ogbanje is a child who dies and then
reenters its mother’s womb to be born again. The constant birth and death of the child torments its
unfortunate parents. The concept is an example of a religious belief that explains natural phenomena. The
iyi-uwa is a symbol of the child’s link with the spirit world. By digging up this smooth pebble wrapped in a
dirty rag, the medicine man breaks Ezinma’s bond with the world of the ogbanje. His quiet, patient voice
lends calm to the scene, but also contrasts with the intensity of his mission. This chapter also shows Okonkwo
as both a loving and angry father. He cares for Ezinma by collecting materials to make her medicine, but he
also threatens her if she does not locate her iyi-uwa.
Chapter 10 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Mgbafo: a woman who is beaten by her husband
Odukwe: Mgbafo’s eldest brother
Uzowulu: Mgbafo’s husband
Trials are held in the center of Umuofia. Only the men participate; the women observe as outsiders. The titled
elders sit on stools, and a powerful gong sounds. The people hear the terrifying, guttural voices of the
egwugwu, or the nine masked spirits of the clan. Each egwugwu represents one of the villages in Umuofia.
Chapter 10 Summary and Analysis 22
The leader is named Evil Forest; he is the eldest egwugwu, and smoke pours out of his head. All the other
egwugwu sit in order of seniority after him. He looks terrible. His body is made of smoked raffia, and his
huge wooden face is painted white except for his round hollow eyes and large charred teeth. He has two
powerful horns on the top of his head.
Uzowulu is a wife-beater who put his case before the spirits of the ancestors. He has married Mgbafo properly
and offered money and yams as bride-price. He does not owe his in-laws anything, yet they beat him and took
away his wife and children. He wants his wife back, or he wants the bride-price returned. Mgbafo’s brothers
refuse. Odukwe, Mgbafo’s brother, confirms the story. He says Uzowulu is a beast because he has beaten
Mgbafo every day for nine years. He beat her when she was pregnant, and he beat her when she was ill. The
brothers agree that the children belong to Uzowulu, but they are too young to leave their mother. They say
Mgbafo will return if Uzowulu recovers from his madness; however, if he beats Mgbafo again, they will cut
off his genitals.
The nine egwugwu confer in their house. The metal gong and the flute sound. Evil Forest settles the dispute.
He tells Uzowulu to go to his in-laws with a pot of wine and beg his wife to return. He says it is not bravery
when a man fights a woman. Evil Forest tells Odukwe that if Uzowulu supplies wine, Mgbafo should return
with him. One elder wonders why such a trifle is put before the egwugwu. The people say that Uzowulu will
not listen to any other decision. Then two other groups present a great land case to the egwugwu.
This chapter introduces and defines the concept of egwugwu. The egwugwu are elders who wear masks and
dress as ancestors. They represent the spirits of the ancestors and speak in a strange gutteral language. When
the egwugwu appear, the women and children scream and run away. The trial attempts to represent the judicial
system among the Igbo people. The masked spirits of the ancestors judge civil and criminal disputes and serve
as a center of political power. The decision of the egwugwu reflects the moral code of the people of Umuofia.
Although the egwugwu are a secret society of men impersonating spirits, they are understood as sacred spirits
by the people. It is necessary to understand the role of the egwugwu in order to comprehend the conflict and
resolution of the plot of Things Fall Apart.
The trial of Uzowulu clearly identifies wife-beating as deviant behavior in the Igbo moral code. The decision
denouncing Uzowulu also provides a clear judgment on Okonkwo’s violent attacks on his wives. Okonkwo is
a paradox. He seems to esteem Igbo values since he is working so hard to succeed in Igbo society, yet he
himself beats his wives. Okonkwo’s wives and the reader notice that the second egwugwu has a springy walk
and that Okonkwo is not among the men in the audience. The second egwugwu is Okonkwo; therefore,
Okonkwo himself sits in judgment against wife-beating.
In his recreation of Igbo life, Achebe does not emphasize the political role of women. In the traditional Igbo
world, women not only regulated markets, but they also settled civil and marital disputes. In this chapter, the
male egwugwu are the authority figures who settle the case against Uzowulu. However, historically, Igbo
women would have shamed the wife-beater by “sitting” on him or singing rude songs and making obscene
gestures. Many critics feel the omission of female authority in Igbo society is a weakness in Things Fall
Apart. The reader encounters women who cook, braid their hair, and run away from egwugwu. Female
characters are not portrayed as powerful market women or judges. Some critics feel that a balanced portrayal
of women and their roles in Igbo society would be more realistic and historically accurate.
Chapter 11 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Nwayieke: woman who is notorious for her late cooking
Chapter 11 Summary and Analysis 23
Anene: Ekwefi’s first husband
Ekwefi tells Ezinma a story about the Tortoise. It was a time of famine, and all the birds were invited to a
feast in the sky. Tortoise, a great orator, convinced the birds to take him along. He told them to select new
names for the feast. Tortoise took the name “All of you.” The men in the sky thought Tortoise was the king
of the birds and declared they had prepared the feast for “all of you.” Since that was Tortoise’s new name, he
ate the best portions of food and drank two pots of palm wine. The birds ate the leftovers. They were very
angry and left Tortoise in the sky without wings to fly. Tortoise sent a message with Parrot asking his wife to
put soft things around his homestead so he could jump down from the sky without danger. However, Parrot
was very angry; he told Tortoise’s wife to put hard things around the homestead. When Tortoise jumped from
the sky, he crashed. He did not die, but his shell broke into pieces and a great medicine man had to mend his
shell. This story explains why the Tortoise has a bumpy and cracked shell.
The night is very dark, and Ekwefi and Ezinma hear the high-pitched voice of Chielo, the priestess of Agbala,
prophesying. She says Agbala wants to see Ezinma in the hills and caves. Chielo carries Ezinma on her back.
Ekwefi follows Chielo, but she cannot see anything in the darkness. As Ekwefi runs after the priestess, it
seems as if Chielo is running too. Then Chielo stops. She is only a few feet ahead of Ekwefi. Ekwefi is
terrified, and Chielo screams. Ekwefi lets Chielo increase the distance between them. They travel all the way
to the farthest village in the clan. Then, Chielo turns around. It is a long journey. Ekwefi is afraid Chielo
might see her as the day dawns. She is numb like a sleepwalker. Finally, Chielo heads for the hills. She and
Ezinma enter a cave through a tiny hole. Ekwefi waits, and Okonkwo appears behind her. As they stand there
together, Ekwefi remembers how she had married her first husband, Anene, because Okonkwo was too poor
to marry. Then two years later, she ran away to marry Okonkwo. She is grateful for his support at the end of
this haunting journey.
On the surface, the story of Tortoise explains why the turtle’s shell is cracked. Traditional folklore again
explains natural phenomena, and storytelling illustrates the close relationship between Ezinma and her
mother. However, the animal fable may send a political message, and the story may be understood as an
allegory of resistance. Tortoise is like a colonial power, and the birds are like colonized people. Tortoise uses
language to deceive the birds. Parrot uses language to deceive Tortoise. The conflict is resolved when Tortoise
falls upon his own weapons. Perhaps the author is indicating that both language and arms are necessary for
oppressed people to resist domination.
It is against this backdrop of storytelling that Chielo transports Ezinma to the god Agbala, who is the Oracle
of the Hills and Caves. Chielo speaks in a shrill, high-pitched voice, and she has
superhuman strength as she carries Ezinma all night long throughout the nine villages and then back to the
hills and caves. Chielo is possessed by the spirit of Agbala, and she is completely different from the ordinary
woman she was in the marketplace. Chielo cannot provide the human sympathy, compassion, and
companionship Ekwefi needs on the journey because she is devoid of humanity in this situation. In contrast,
Okonkwo emerges as a humble husband and father in this chapter. Okonkwo does not challenge the Oracle;
he simply supports his wife and daughter. The encounter emphasizes the relationship between the spirit world
and the world of the living. The night’s experience also gives Ekwefi an opportunity to reminisce about her
youth and her love for Okonkwo.
Chapter 12 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Nwankwo: a man in Obierika’s household who is sent to buy a goat
Chapter 12 Summary and Analysis 24
Mgbogo: a woman who is home with a fever
Udenkwo: a woman who is home with her infant
Ezelagbo: a woman whose husband’s cow is let loose
Okonkwo has not slept during the night because he is worried and anxious. However, he does not show his
feelings. He has gone to the shrine, but he realizes that Chielo has traveled through the nine villages. He waits
at home and returns to the shrine four times. Finally, he finds Ekwefi. While he waits with her, Chielo crawls
out of the shrine on her belly like a snake. Ezinma is sleeping on her back. The priestess does not look at
Okonkwo or Ekwefi. She returns to the compound and silently places Ezinma on her bed.
The next day Obierika, Okonkwo’s friend, celebrates his daughter’s uri, or betrothal. This ceremony marks
the payment of the bride-price. Ibe, the suitor, brings palm wine to the umuada, or the gathering of the
daughters in the family. The central figures are the bride and her mother, but many other women help cook for
the whole village. Chielo, the priestess, participates like an ordinary woman. However, as the feast is being
prepared, a cow escapes from its corral. Five women stay behind with the cooking pots, while the other
women chase the cow back to its owner. The women charge the owner of the cow with a heavy fine. They
also identify the women who have not participated in this social action as they are required. Mgbogo is ill, and
Udenkwo has just given birth, so they are excused.
Obierika’s in-laws arrive carrying 50 pots of palm wine. Then Ibe, the groom, arrives with the elders of the
family. The bride, her mother, the women, and the girls of Obierika’s family shake hands with the guests.
Then Obierika presents kola nuts as a symbol of hospitality to his in-laws. His eldest brother breaks the first
kola nut and says, “. . . let there be friendship between your family and ours.” (p. 82) The in-laws respond,
“You are a great family of prosperous men and great warriors.” (p. 82) The two families celebrate with a
great feast. The young men sing praise songs, and Okonkwo is lauded as the greatest wrestler and warrior
alive. The young girls and the bride dance. Finally, Ibe takes his bride home to spend seven market weeks
with his family. The in-laws sing songs and pay their respects to prominent men like Okonkwo as they leave.
In the beginning of the chapter, Okonkwo is depicted as a humble father powerless in the face of his god. He
submits to Agbala’s will, and he patiently travels to the hills and caves four times in order to assist his wife
Ekwefi and his daughter Ezinma. This portrait is contrasted with Okonkwo at the end of the chapter where he
is praised as a great wrestler, warrior, and prominent leader. The betrothal of Obierika’s daughter illustrates
the author’s view of a woman’s role in Igbo society. A woman who increases her husband’s lineage is
respected because children are considered a reincarnation of the ancestors and protection against poverty in
old age. The uri is a woman’s ceremony and contrasts with the trial of Uzowulu, which is a man’s ceremony.
However, Achebe has been criticized for his treatment of women in the novel. Some critics feel his female
characters are portrayed like possessions who are bought and sold by polygamous men. The incident
concerning the cow may be an attempt to portray the otu omu, a women’s council that controls the local
marketplace by imposing fines on anyone who disturbs the peace. However, in his re-creation of Igbo life,
Achebe does not emphasize the political role of women. In the traditional Igbo world, women not only
regulated markets, but also settled civil and marital disputes.
Chapter 13 Summary and Analysis
Ezeudu, one of the oldest men in the clan, is dead. The last time Ezeudu visited Okonkwo, he told him not to
Chapter 13 Summary and Analysis 25
participate in Ikemefuna’s death because the boy called him father. Ezeudu was a great man, and he is given
a warrior’s funeral. The drums of death are beaten, and the guns are fired. Warriors painted with chalk and
charcoal assemble in age groups wearing smoked raffia shirts. Several ancestral spirits or egwugwu appear
from the underworld speaking in unearthly voices. Some egwugwu, like Evil Spirit, are violent and have to be
restrained. There is another dreaded egwugwu who is always alone. He is shaped like a coffin; a sickly odor
hangs in the air, and flies travel with him. Even the greatest medicine men retire when he passes. He has one
hand and carries a basket full of water. Other egwugwu, however, are harmless. Another one is so old, he
leans heavily on a stick. He walks to the corpse, gazes at it awhile, and then disappears into the underworld.
It is a great funeral, and everyone in the clan participates. The men shout, fire guns, beat drums, and clash
their machetes. They celebrate the life of Ezeudu, who has taken three titles. This is a rare achievement
because there are only four titles in the clan. Only one or two men in any generation ever achieve the fourth
and highest title. When they do, they become lords of the land. Before Ezeudu is buried, the tumult increases
tenfold. Drums beat violently, and men leap up and down in a frenzy. The drums and dancing reach fever
pitch. Then an anguished cry comes from the center of the fury. Everyone is silent like a spell has been cast.
Ezeudu’s 16-year-old son lies dead in a pool of blood. He has been dancing the traditional farewell to his
father with his brothers and half-brothers. Okonkwo is responsible; his gun has exploded accidentally, and a
piece of iron has pierced the boy’s heart. Nothing like this has ever happened in Umuofia before.
It is a crime against the Earth goddess to kill a clansman. There are two types of crimes, male and female.
Okonkwo has committed a female crime because the murder is an accident. Nevertheless, he is forced to flee
from the clan. He may return after seven years. Okonkwo collects his belongings, and his wives and children
weep bitterly. Obierika stores his yams, and Okonkwo and his family flee to his motherland. It is a little
village called Mbanta, just beyond the borders of Mbaino. The next day, a crowd of men from Ezeudu’s
quarter storm into Okonkwo’s compound dressed in war regalia. The men set fire to his houses, demolish his
walls, kill his animals, and destroy his barn. There is no malice in their hearts; they are simply messengers
administering the justice of Ani, the Earth goddess. They are cleansing the land that Okonkwo has polluted
with the blood of a clansman.
Obierika, Okonkwo’s greatest friend, is among the men who raze his compound. Obierika is a man who
thinks about things. He mourns his friend’s calamity and wonders why a man should suffer so grievously for
an offense he has committed inadvertently. He remembers his wife’s twins, whom he had thrown away, and
he wonders what crime the infants committed. Yet, the earth goddess decreed that twins were an offense of
the land and must be destroyed. If the clan did not exact punishment for an offense against the great goddess,
her wrath would be unleashed upon everyone, not just the offender.
Ezeudu is an example of a great Igbo who has taken three titles. The Igbo system allows talented men to
proclaim their prestige and power by purchasing titles. The process requires a general consensus of the
community, and the titles allow men greater participation in political and religious life. Great men who
achieve the highest title undergo a ritual death and resurrection during their lifetime. As the great elder
Ezeudu physically passes over the threshold of death into the afterlife, the community is reminded that the
spirit world is not far removed from the land of the living. The egwugwu illustrate the domain of the
ancestors, for the spirits of the dead travel freely between the two worlds, especially at festivals and funerals.
It is ironic that Ezeudu, the elder who told Okonkwo to refrain from killing Ikemefuna, now loses a son to
Okonkwo. Defending himself from appearing weak, Okonkwo deliberately killed Ikemefuna. At Ezeudu’s
funeral, however, Okonkwo accidentally kills Ezeudu’s 16-year-old son. This is considered involuntary
manslaughter, which is a female crime. The male crime would have been premeditated murder. Nevertheless,
the killing of Ezeudu’s son is the last in a long list of offenses Okonkwo has committed against the Earth
goddess and the traditional moral order of the Igbo people. Okonkwo beat his youngest wife, Ojiugo, during
Chapter 13 Summary and Analysis 26
the Week of Peace; he took a shot at his second wife, Ekwefi, before the Yam Festival; and he participated in
the ritual murder of his adopted son, Ikemefuna. Okonkwo also beat his son Nwoye and disdained
unsuccessful men in the community. Okonkwo has committed many offenses; now he is banished to his
mother’s homeland because he accidentally killed a clansman. It is ironic that Okonkwo, a man who
committed many acts of violence, is punished for an accident.
Obierika helps Okonkwo by storing his yams; he also participates in razing Okonkwo’s compound to the
ground. Again, Obierika illustrates the complexity of the Igbo moral code. Obierika is described as a man who
thinks about things. In some ways, he presents a foil to Okonkwo, who is an unreflective man of action.
Although Obierika feels that Okonkwo’s banishment is extremely harsh punishment, he accepts Ani’s
mandate. However, Obierika questions the traditional order as he did after Ikemefuna’s death. He mourns
Okonkwo’s banishment and remembers the twins he abandoned in the forest. Some critics believe Achebe
uses Obierika as the center of consciousness at this point.
As Part One of the novel ends, Okonkwo has failed because he has not been faithful to the moral code of
traditional Igbo life. His crimes stem from a lack of balance between masculine and feminine energies; as a
result he cannot balance his personal achievements and quest for success with his responsibilities to the
community at large. Okonkwo may be a victim of his ill-fated chi. His downfall may also represent the
disintegration of traditional Igbo life and serve as a foreshadowing of the profound change Igbo society will
undergo at the hands of the British colonial powers.
Part Two, Chapter 14 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Uchendu: Okonkwo’s uncle; his mother’s brother
Amikwu: the youngest of Uchendu’s five sons
Njide: Uchendu’s eldest daughter
Akeuni: Uchendu’s daughter who has borne and thrown away many twins
Part Two takes place in Mbanta, the home of Okonkwo’s mother. Okonkwo’s crime of killing Ezeudu’s son
is involuntary manslaughter, a female ochu. Okonkwo is banished by Ani, the Earth goddess, to Mbanta for
seven years. Uchendu, Okonkwo’s mother’s brother, arranges the rites of purification. Okonkwo is given
land for his homestead and farm. He works hard, but work no longer holds any pleasure for him. The passion
to become one of the lords of the clan has ruled his life. He almost achieved it, and then everything was
shattered. His personal god, or chi, is not made for great things. Okonkwo is bowed with grief and sorrow.
The entire extended family, or the umunna, meets to celebrate the isa-ifi ceremony for Amikwu, Uchendu’s
youngest son. Amikwu is marrying a new wife, and this ceremony determines the
faithfulness of a woman who has been separated from her fiancé for a long period of time. Njide, Uchendu’s
eldest daughter, asks the bride how many men she has lain with since Amikwu expressed his desire to marry
her. She said she has not lain with any other men. Amikwu takes the young bride to his home, and she
becomes his wife.
Uchendu takes the opportunity to speak. He confirms that Okonkwo is an exile condemned to live in a strange
land for seven years. He also confirms that a man and his children belong in their fatherland. Yet, he reminds
Okonkwo that his mother is buried in Mbanta. Uchendu asks Okonkwo why the Igbo people give their
Part Two, Chapter 14 Summary and Analysis 27
children the name “Nneka” or “Mother is Supreme.” Okonkwo does not know the answer. Uchendu then
asks Okonkwo why a woman is buried in her parent’s home with her own kinsmen. Again, Okonkwo does
not know the answer. Uchendu tells Okonkwo that he is like a child. He explains that when a father beats a
child, it seeks sympathy in its mother’s hut. He said that a man belongs to his fatherland when life is good,
but when there is sorrow and bitterness, a man finds refuge in his motherland. Mother is there to protect the
child. That is why the Igbo say, “Mother is Supreme.” (p. 94)
Uchendu tells Okonkwo he is not the greatest sufferer in the world. He explains that some men lose all their
yams, and some are banished for life. Uchendu had six wives; they are all dead now except one. He has buried
22 children, yet he has not hung himself. His daughter Akeuni has also suffered because she has abandoned
many twins. Uchendu explains that Okonkwo’s duty is to comfort his wives and children; otherwise, his
family will die in exile. Okonkwo must accept his cousins as his kinsmen. Uchendu concludes his message to
Okonkwo, saying, “I have no more to say to you.” (p. 95)
This chapter illustrates the maternal lines of land entitlement among the Igbo, for Okonkwo is entitled to land
in his mother’s village. The backdrop for the chapter is the betrothal and marriage customs of the Igbo
people. This is the third marriage described in the novel. The ceremony focuses on proving the fidelity of the
new wife; there is no such ritual to ascertain the groom’s fidelity. The marriage provides an opportunity for
Uchendu to speak. Uchendu’s dialogue with Okonkwo illustrates Okonkwo’s inability to grasp the concept
of the feminine principle in the Igbo world view. Okonkwo basically rejects the feminine principle
represented by Mbanta and refuses the comfort of his motherland. He also rejects the civil culture the
feminine principle regulates.
Okonkwo’s main objective in life is to become a respected leader in the clan. Work is his passion and
life-spring, and now work holds no meaning for him. Okonkwo seeks to amass wealth, demonstrate personal
achievement, and acquire prestigious titles. He has earned two titles and was chosen as an egwugwu
representing clan’s ancestors. Okonkwo is bitter about his exile in Mbanta because he is delayed in achieving
his goals. Although Okonkwo works hard, he realizes that a man cannot rise above the destiny of his chi.
Therefore, he wallows in depression and self-pity and is rebuked by Uchendu.
While Okonkwo experiences the bitterness of exile, he has the opportunity to take refuge with the feminine
principle and learn the supremacy of a mother’s nurturing love. Uchendu tells Okonkwo and the entire
extended family that “Mother is Supreme.” (p. 94) This truth sets the tone for Part Two of the novel.
However, Okonkwo never internalizes this truth.
Chapter 15 Summary and Analysis
New Character:
Nweke: a young man who accompanies Obierika
Two years after Okonkwo’s banishment to Mbanta, his friend Obierika comes to visit him. He is
accompanied by two young men carrying heavy bags of cowries. Obierika tells Okonkwo that the clan of
Abame has been wiped out. Fugitives from Abame explained that a white man appeared. The Oracle
explained that the strange man would break their clan and spread destruction among them. The Igbos of
Abame killed the white man and tied his iron horse to a sacred tree. He said a word that resembled Mbaino.
Perhaps he had been traveling to Mbaino and lost his way. Sometime later, three white men led by a band of
ordinary men like the Igbo of Umofia came to the clan. They saw the iron horse and went away. Nothing
happened for many weeks. Then on the market day when the whole clan was gathered together, the men
Chapter 15 Summary and Analysis 28
surrounded the market. They shot and killed just about everyone in the clan.
Uchendu says the men of Abame were fools because they should not have killed a man who said nothing. He
tells a story about a mother bird and her daughter to illustrate his point. Okonkwo agrees that the men should
have been more vigilant; they had been warned of danger. Obierika expresses fear because the Igbo have
heard stories about armed white men who sell Igbos into slavery.
Nwoye’s mother cooks a fine meal; Ezinma brings a bowl of water for the guests to wash their hands, and
Nwoye serves wine. Obierika finally explains that the heavy bags contain money from Okonkwo’s yams.
Obierika sold the large yams and some of the seed-yams; he gave other yams to sharecroppers. Obierika
promises to sell the yams every year until Okonkwo returns. Okonkwo is overwhelmed by his friend’s
goodness and cannot thank him enough. Obierika jokes and says, “Kill one of your sons for me.” (p. 100)
When Okonkwo replies that would be inadequate, Obierika responds, “Then kill yourself.” (p. 100)
Okonkwo asks his friend to forgive him.
The changes that occur while Okonkwo is in exile in Mbanta reflect the dawn of the colonial period in
Nigeria. In the nineteenth century, the Igbo traded palm oil for European goods. However, friendly relations
with the British eventually crumbled, and pockets of violence erupted along the Niger River. In order to
“pacify” Eastern Nigeria, the British destroyed much of Igboland and launched extensive military
expeditions. Although the Igbo people resisted, the twentieth century saw the dawn of British imperialism.
The fictional incident of the white man with an iron horse is directly drawn from the murder of J. F. Stewart
on November 26, 1905. This historical event led to the destruction of the village of Ahiara, which in turn led
to the pacification of the Igbo people in areas around Onitsha. The destruction of Abame reflects this
historical event in the novel.
This chapter also illustrates Obierika’s loyal friendship. Not only does Obierika act as a steward of
Okonkwo’s fortune in yams, he also acts as a link between Okonkwo’s clan and Mbanta. It is Obierika who
keeps Okonkwo abreast of the events in Umuofia during his exile. Obierika provides invaluable information
for Okonkwo and the reader. The joking between the friends at the end of the chapter provides foreshadowing
of the denouement of the novel. It is interesting that Okonkwo does not view Obierika’s empathy and
kindness as feminine weakness in this case.
Chapter 16 Summary and Analysis
Two years later, Obierika visits Okonkwo again. He has seen Nwoye among the missionaries in Umuofia.
They have built a church and won a handful of converts. The converts are considered to be efulefu, or
worthless men, by the Igbo community. The missionaries have also come to Mbanta. One is a white man who
speaks through an interpreter. He preaches about a new God, the Creator of all the world. He says this God
judges the dead. Good men who worship the true God live forever. Evil men who worship wood and stone are
thrown into an eternal fire.
An old man asks if the Christian God is the goddess of the Earth, the god of the sky, or Amadiora. He asks
about protection from the anger of the neglected gods and ancestors. The missionary says the Igbo deities are
deceitful and teach the people to kill one another and destroy innocent children. He preaches about one true
God who created the earth, the sky, and all humankind. The Igbo gods are simply wood and stone. The men of
Mbanta break into derisive laughter. They think the missionary is mad; otherwise, he would never say that
Ani, Idemili, Ogwugwu, and Amadiora are harmless.
Chapter 16 Summary and Analysis 29
Then the missionary bursts into song. The interpreter explains each verse. He sings about a brother who lives
in darkness, fear, and the ignorance of God’s love. He sings about a sheep on the hills away from the tender
shepherd’s care. Then, the interpreter speaks about the Son of God named Jesu Kristi. A man challenges
him— first he preaches about one God; then he teaches about his son. One Igbo reasons that God must have a
wife, and the crowd agrees. The interpreter’s response is confused. He is from a different region and speaks a
different dialect. Instead of referring to himself as “myself,” he refers to himself as “my buttocks.” (p. 102)
This makes everyone laugh. When the missionary continues preaching about the Holy Trinity, Okonkwo
thinks he is mad.
However, Nwoye has been captivated by the poetry of the new religion. It touches something in the marrow of
his bones. The hymn about brothers who sit in darkness and fear seems to answer a vague and persistent
question that has haunted his soul. It is the question of the twins crying in the bush and the question of
Ikemefuna, who was killed. When Obierika sees Nwoye among the Christians in Umuofia, Nwoye tells him
he no longer knows his father, Okonkwo.
The arrival of the Europeans alters the fabric of economic, political, and social life; Christian missionaries
simultaneously offer respite to the disenfranchised among the Igbo and attack the foundation of traditional
Igbo religion. The Anglican Church Missionary Society established a mission in Onitsha in 1857; later the
Roman Catholic Holy Ghost Fathers and the Society of African Missions set up stations east and west of the
Niger River. Christianity offered a message of love to those who did not succeed in the Igbo world. The first
converts included those who felt disenfranchised: the anguished mothers of twins, who had been forced to
abandon their children; the osu, who were despised as descendants of religious slave cults; and the men who
did not earn titles and achieve traditional wealth and status.
Although Christianity offered respite to the marginalized, the new faith tore apart the fabric of traditional Igbo
life. The missionaries preached the mystery of the Trinity but could not understand the Igbo concept of a
multidimensional God. The Christians reenacted the Last Supper but could not accept the rituals performed by
the egwugwu, or masked elders, who ritually represented the ancestral spirits of the village. In addition to the
religious dogma, the missionaries condemned polygamy and other traditional Igbo customs.
Chapter 17 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Mr. Kiaga: Igbo interpreter for the missionaries
Nneka: the wife of the prosperous farmer Amadi
When the Christians ask the Igbo for a plot of land to build a church, the elders offer them the Evil Forest,
which is filled with sinister forces. The Igbos know the gods and ancestors of Mbanta have a limit; they
expected the missionaries to be punished by the seventh market week. However, the missionaries live on, and
they build a new house for their teacher, Mr. Kiaga.
Nwoye is secretly interested in the new faith, and he listens when the missionaries preach in the open
marketplace. He learns some of the simple stories. Mr. Kiaga tells the people to come every seventh day to
worship the true God. Nwoye hears their loud and confident singing. One of the new converts is Nneka, who
is heavy with child. She is the wife of Amadi, a prosperous farmer. Nneka has had four previous pregnancies.
Each time she bore twins, and the infants had been thrown away. Her husband and family consider her
Chapter 17 Summary and Analysis 30
Okonkwo hears about Nwoye’s interest in Christianity and beats him savagely. Uchendu orders him to
release the boy, and Nwoye leaves his homestead forever. He tells Mr. Kiaga that he has decided to go to
Umuofia, where the missionaries have set up a Christian school. Okonkwo wants to take his machete and
wipe out the vile Christians, but he tells himself that Nwoye is not worth the fight. He wonders about the
curse of his son. He blames the great misfortune of his exile and now his despicable son’s behavior upon his
chi. Nwoye’s crime is an abomination. He has abandoned the gods of his ancestors. Okonkwo is deeply
worried that all his male children will follow Nwoye’s steps. A cold shudder runs through him at the terrible
prospect. It is the prospect of annihilation. He sees himself and his father crowded around their ancestral
shrine; they are waiting in vain for worship and sacrifice and find nothing but the ashes of bygone days. He
envisions his children praying to the white man’s God. If such a thing happens, he will wipe his descendants
off the face of the earth. Okonkwo wonders how he could have begotten a son like Nwoye who is such a
degenerate and so clearly resembles his father, Unoka.
Okonkwo has hoped to achieve immortality by taking the highest title in the land. The ozo title achieves ritual
death and resurrection for an individual during his lifetime. Okonkwo has not been able to achieve this title.
Therefore, as a departed ancestor, he will expect his sons to pour libations or offerings to him before drinking
palm wine. He will expect a piece of kola nut to be offered in his name as his sons ask for his protection and
guidance. Okonkwo also will expect his descendants to offer animal sacrifices in his name. In this way,
Okonkwo will achieve immortality, and his memory will live on.
If Nwoye and the rest of his children turn away from the traditional Igbo religion, Okonkwo will never
achieve immortality and live on in the memory of his children. His children will never offer him traditional
sacrifices. Okonkwo sees things falling apart. The new religion is destroying the fabric of Igbo life. Okonkwo
is angry and afraid because his belief system, his values, and his entire way of life are being challenged by the
white man and the new religion. If this religion takes hold, the Igbo will not live on after death.
Chapter 18 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Okeke: a man in Mbanta; interpreter for Mr. Smith
Mr. Brown: the white missionary
Okoli: a convert who kills the sacred python
The clan is not too worried about the church. The Christians rescue twins from the bush but never bring them
to the village. Some converts are beaten after boasting that the Igbo gods are dead. Otherwise, there is little
interaction between the church and the clan. Mr. Kiaga is quite harmless, and anyone who kills a convert will
be forced into exile. If the Christians become more troublesome, they will simply be driven out of the clan.
The little church is absorbed in its own troubles. The Christians protest admitting the osu or the outcasts of
society. Mr. Kiaga explains that there is no slave before God, and the osu need Christ. He is a source of
inspiration and confidence for the young church. Therefore, several osu shave off their long, dirty hair, and
some become strong adherents of the new faith. Most of the osu in Mbanta join the church. One osu named
Okoli has so much zeal, he kills a sacred python. No one actually sees him do it, but the leaders of Mbanta are
furious. Okonkwo wants to expel the Christians from the village. Others are afraid to get involved. Okonkwo
feels the Christians are pouring filth over them daily. He thinks Mbanta is a womanly clan. Such a thing
would never happen in Umuofia. The villagers decide to ostracize the Christians so they will not be held
Chapter 18 Summary and Analysis 31
accountable for their abominations.
Nevertheless, the Christians are confident. Mr. Brown, the white missionary, pays regular visits to the
community. During holy week, the women scrub the church. Some go to the stream to get water; some go to
the red-earth pit to get earth; and others go to the quarry to get chalk. However, all of the women are chased
back; some of them are whipped. Mr. Kiaga is perplexed. The villagers explain that the Christians have been
outlawed because Okoli killed the sacred python. Okoli denies it. He soon falls ill; by the end of the day,
Okoli is dead. This proves that the Igbo gods are alive.
Each diala, or freeborn individual, has the right to climb to the top of Igbo society. The only barrier to
achieving success is the payment of membership fees in order to secure titles and enter various societies.
However, the osu is a contradiction of the Igbo egalitarian ideology. The osu is a slave cult dedicated to a
deity, and an individual osu is a slave dedicated to a god. An osu cannot marry or be married by a free Igbo.
He lives close to his shrine, and he carries the mark of his forbidden caste—long, tangled, and dirty hair. An
osu cannot attend meetings, and he cannot take any of the four titles in the clan. When he dies, he is buried in
the Evil Forest. The slave plays an indispensable ritual role and poses a dilemma for the freeborn. The osu
serve a deity and carry the sins of a freeborn individual. Therefore, the osu functions as a special priest, but he
is not accorded high status. Furthermore, the freeborn do not know how to interact with the osu without
offending the deity he serves. As a result, all osu are hated, despised, and feared because they remind the
freeborn of their guilt. As outcasts, they are treated with horror and contempt. Generally, there is no
relationship between the freeborn and the osu. These outcasts are among the first Igbos to accept Christianity,
Western education, and economic opportunities offered by the colonial powers. As a result, the osu are among
the best-educated Igbos in the colonial world.
This chapter illustrates the tension created by the osu in the infant Christian congregation in Mbanta. The zeal
with which the osu receive the new religion exacerbates the relationship between the Igbo Christians and the
traditional Igbo community. The situation of the osu is related to other internal issues that may have
contributed to the breakdown of traditional Igbo life. Achebe does not romanticize the past. In fact, some
critics feel he is pointing out weaknesses in traditional Igbo society; others feel Achebe reveals his own
Christian bias as a Westernized male writing in 1958. For example, Achebe may identify the treatment of the
osu, the abandonment of twins, ritual sacrifice, and disdain for unsuccessful men as weaknesses within
traditional Igbo society. On the other hand, he may identify these elements as aspects of Igbo society that
provoke the Europeans to “pacify” and “civilize” the Igbo “savages.” The Igbo people are flexible and
capable of change. For example, the people phase out the custom of collecting heads in battle, yet Igbo society
does not fall apart because this custom is discontinued. Students must reflect on one of the fundamental
questions of the novel: Does the Igbo culture fall apart solely because of external pressures of European
Imperialism and Christianity, or are there internal tensions that cause the culture to disintegrate as well?
Chapter 19 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Unachukwu: an old man in Okonkwo’s mother’s clan
Emefo: an old man in Okonkwo’s mother’s clan
Okonkwo’s exile drags to an end. Even though he prospered in Mbanta, Okonkwo is still bitter; he would
have prospered more in Umuofia. In seven years he would have climbed to great heights. Nevertheless, his
mother’s kinsmen have been very kind to him. He calls the first child born to him in Mbanta Nneka, or
Chapter 19 Summary and Analysis 32
“Mother is Supreme.” However, two years later he calls his newborn son Nwofia, which means “Begotten in
the Wilderness.” During his last year in exile, Okonkwo asks Obierika to build him two houses in Umuofia;
he will construct the rest of his compound himself. Okonkwo has to delay his return to Umuofia until the dry
season in order to pay the full penalty of seven years in exile.
Okonkwo and his wives prepare a great feast to thank his mother’s kinsmen. Ekwefi provides the cassava;
Nwoye’s mother and Ojiugo provide smoked fish, palm oil, and pepper. Okonkwo takes care of the meat and
yams. Ekwefi harvests the cassava with Ezinma and Obiageli. They carry long cane baskets, machetes for
cutting the soft cassava stems, and little hoes for digging out the roots. The leaves are wet, and Ezinma
complains about the cold. Obiageli calls her sister “Salt” because she acts like she will dissolve. The
harvesting is easy, and the women carry the cassava to the stream.
Okonkwo shows his gratitude to his mother’s people by slaughtering three goats and several chickens. His
wives prepare foo-foo, yam pottage, and soup. All the umunna, or the extended family, are invited. Uchendu
breaks the kola nut and prays for Okonkwo and his family. The feast is like a wedding celebration. Okonkwo
explains that he could never repay his family because “a child cannot pay for its mother’s milk.” (p. 117) As
the palm wine is drunk, one of the oldest members of the umunna rises to thank Okonkwo for his generosity.
The feast is bigger than they expected. He says it is good for the younger generation to see a man like
Okonkwo doing things in the grand old way. He also says it is good for kinsmen to come together. He
expresses fear for the young people because they no longer know how to speak with one voice. Christianity,
an abominable religion, has settled among them. Now a man can curse the gods and the ancestors; now a man
can leave his father and brothers like a mad dog who suddenly turns on its master. The elders are fearful for
the young people, and they thank Okonkwo for calling the family together.
Okonkwo has prospered in his motherland, but even as he prepares to return home, he regrets every day of his
exile. He is bitter because he has not achieved the success he could have achieved in the warlike Umuofia. He
still feels like the clan in Mbanta is womanly. Okonkwo has not learned the values of the feminine principle.
He has not learned the truth that “Mother is Supreme.” Okonkwo is no more balanced after his exile than he
was when he was banished from Umuofia by the Earth goddess for his crime of accidentally killing Ezeudu’s
son at the funeral. Okonkwo has not learned to balance his masculine and feminine energies. This is the
balance that will help him achieve success in the traditional Igbo world. Okonkwo is still inflexible. He is still
focused on personal achievement. Ironically, if Okonkwo were a European, these qualities would most likely
result in success.
Furthermore, Okonkwo has alienated his son Nwoye, and he is enraged by the new religion. Okonkwo has not
moved with the new economic forces that the Europeans have introduced, and he is not fully aware of the
influence the Europeans wield in Umuofia. Okonkwo remains angry after seven years of exile in his
Part Three, Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Ogbuefi Ugonna: a man who has taken two titles and joined the Christian church
Oduche: a man who dies over a land controversy
Aneto: a man who kills Oduche and is hanged by the white authorities
Part Three, Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis 33
Seven years is a long time to be away. Okonkwo has lost his place among the nine masked spirits who
administer justice in the clan; he has also lost his chance to lead his people against the new religion.
Furthermore, Okonkwo has lost time during which he could have taken the highest titles. He is determined to
return to Umuofia with a flourish and regain the seven years he has wasted. Therefore, he decides to build a
magnificent compound and initiate his sons into the ozo society. Okonkwo believes he will be held in high
esteem, and he sees himself taking the highest title in the clan.
However, the white man has instituted many changes in Umuofia during the seven years Okonkwo was in
exile. The church has attracted some important men like Ogbuefi Ugonna, who had himself taken two titles
before he joined the Christians. He is one of the first men to receive Holy Communion, and the white
missionary is very proud of him. The white men have also brought their government. A District
Commissioner judges cases in court even though he is completely ignorant of Igbo law and custom. The court
messengers are called kotma, which means “court man,” and they are hated in Umuofia because they are
arrogant, high-handed foreigners. The kotma are also called “Ashy-Buttocks” because they wear ash-colored
shorts. The prison is full of men who have violated the white man’s law. Some of the prisoners have
abandoned twins and some have molested Christians. The kotma beat the prisoners and force them to clear the
government compound. Some of the prisoners are men who have earned titles, and they are outraged at this
Okonkwo wants to drive the white men out of Umuofia; he says the people of Abame were foolish because
they did not resist. Obierika says it is too late because many of the clan have become Christians, and they are
working in the white man’s government. There are only two white men in Umuofia, but many of the Igbo
people follow their ways and have been given power. They would marshal support, and Umuofia would be
wiped out like Abame.
Okonkwo and Obierika discuss a land dispute in which a man named Aneto has been hanged. The white
man’s court decided that the land belonged to a family named Nnama, who had given much money to the
court messengers and interpreter. The white man does not understand Igbo customs about land, and he does
not even speak Igbo. The white men and the Christian Igbos denounce the Igbo customs. Yet, the Igbo cannot
fight their own brothers. The white man is very clever because he came quietly and peaceably with his
religion. The Igbo were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. But now, the Igbo clan can no
longer act as one. Obierika explains that Aneto killed Oduche during that land dispute. Aneto fled to Aninta to
escape the wrath of the Earth goddess. The Christians told the white man, and he sent his kotma to capture
Aneto. Aneto and his family were imprisoned. Oduche died, and Aneto was hanged. The family members
were released, but they were so humiliated, they could hardly speak about their suffering. Okonkwo and
Obierika sit in silence.
During the colonial era, the British sought to govern hundreds of decentralized Igbo villages clustered in
various political constructs through a system of indirect rule. Igbo institutions were replaced with a “native
court.” This legal system was not administered by Igbo leaders who had earned titles within the community
but rather by appointed warrant chiefs, who derived their power from a colonial document called a warrant.
The British commissioners regulated local affairs through the warrant chiefs, who punished anyone who
resisted colonial rule. As a result, the “native courts” decided cases that had been judged by village elders in
the past. The land dispute between Aneto and Oduche is an example. Traditionally, the elders would have
banished Aneto to his motherland; however, in this case, he was hanged by the white man’s “native court.”
The district officers who controlled the native courts had very little knowledge of Igbo laws and customs.
Most of the officials did not speak Igbo. As a result, many of their decisions violated Igbo concepts of justice.
The district officers were supported by court clerks and messengers who also held no traditional status in the
Part Three, Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis 34
village. In many cases these court personnel were imported from other areas within Igboland and spoke a
somewhat foreign dialect. Corruption was rampant throughout the native court system, and the Igbo people
resisted the destruction of indigenous political life.
Chapter 21 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Enoch: a zealous convert; his father is a priest of the snake cult
Akunna: one of the great men of the village
Okonkwo hates the white man. However, some Igbos are happy because even though the white man has
brought a lunatic religion, he has also brought a trading store. The economy is booming due to the trade in
palm oil.
Mr. Brown, the white missionary, is very gentle. He restrains the Christians from provoking the clan and
preaches against the kind of excess zeal demonstrated by Enoch, who has killed and eaten a sacred python.
The clan has given Mr. Brown a carved elephant tusk as a sign of respect. Akunna, a great man, sends his son
to Mr. Brown’s school. The two men often discuss religion through an interpreter. Mr. Brown says there is
one God who made Heaven and Earth. Akunna says he is Chukwu, who created the world and other gods. Mr.
Brown says there are no other gods; the carved ikenga, which the Igbos call a god, is a piece of wood. Akunna
explains that the ikenga is imbued with a man’s spirit; the tree is made by Chukwu. Mr. Brown says that the
spiritual head of the church is God; the human head of the church is in England. Akunna explains that
Chukwu appoints minor gods because his work is too great for one person. Mr. Brown explains that Chukwu
is not a person; he says the Igbo worship false gods. Akunna replies that the Igbo worship minor gods who are
made by Chukwu. These gods are messengers; the people turn to Chukwu only when the lesser gods fail. Mr.
Brown says the Igbo are afraid of Chukwu and explain that God is a loving Father who loves those who do
His will. Akunna says that God’s will is too profound to be known.
Mr. Brown knows that a frontal attack on the traditional Igbo religion will fail. Therefore, he builds a school
and a small hospital in Umuofia. He explains that if Umuofia fails to send children to school, strangers will
rule them. This is already happening in the native court where the District Commissioner is surrounded by
Igbos who speak English. Most of them come from Umuru on the banks of the Niger River. After a few
months in school, a student could become a court messenger or clerk; some become teachers. The mission is
prestigious because it is linked with the new government. From the beginning, religion and education go hand
in hand.
Okonkwo’s return to Umuofia is not really memorable. The clan has undergone profound changes during his
exile. The new religion, the new government, and the new trading stores are in people’s minds. Many see
these institutions as evil, and most of the villagers are not interested in Okonkwo’s return. Okonkwo is deeply
grieved. He mourns for the whole clan, not just himself. He sees the clan breaking up and falling apart. He
mourns for the warlike men of Umuofia who have become soft like women.
Akunna explains the complex religious tradition of the Igbo. In this worldview, the creator God Chukwu is a
remote masculine force. Chukwu is introduced in Part One of the novel as the creator God who teaches the
people to survive through the cultivation of yams. The masculine Chukwu is balanced by lesser gods such as
the feminine Earth goddess Ani and Agbala, the Oracle of the Hills and Caves. Chukwu is the supreme creator
God; the lesser gods act as His messengers and relate to the daily lives of the Igbo people. One of Achebe’s
Chapter 21 Summary and Analysis 35
primary objectives in writing Things Fall Apart is to illustrate that the Igbo have a rich culture. In this chapter
he shows that the Igbo believe in a Supreme God; they do not worship idols but understand the lesser gods
who participate in their daily lives as manifestations of the Supreme God. Achebe exposes the truth about
Igbo society, which once functioned as an organic whole where religion, government, social relationships, and
the economy were connected. Traditional Igbo religion was the glue that held the Igbo culture together. Some
critics interpret the conversation between Akunna and Mr. Brown as Achebe’s search for convergence
between the traditional and Christian religions.
Historically, the Christian missionaries offered the Igbo educational opportunities. The colonial powers
subsidized the mission schools. As a result, Christianity became a handmaiden of the colonial government as
education became an agent of Christianization. The results were double edged. As more and more Igbo took
advantage of educational opportunities, they became Christians or synthesized Christianity with the traditional
religion. However, as the Igbo assimilated Western culture, the traditional way of life fell apart.
Chapter 22 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Reverend James Smith: Mr. Brown’s successor
Okeke: Mr. Smith’s interpreter
Ajofia: the leading egwugwu of Umuofia
Reverend Smith openly condemns Mr. Brown’s policy of compromise, and he suspends a woman from the
church who has allowed her heathen husband to mutilate her dead ogbanje child. Overzealous converts who
smarted under Mr. Brown now flourish. Enoch, the son of the snake priest who is believed to have eaten the
sacred python, sparks a great conflict between the church and clan in Umuofia. At the annual ceremony for
the Earth goddess, the ancestors of the clan emerge as egwugwuthrough tiny antholes. Christian women who
had gone to church could not go home because they could not pass the egwugwu. The men beg the spirits to
retire so the women can pass. They are retiring when Enoch boasts that the egwugwu would not dare touch a
Christian. One of them strikes Enoch with a cane; Enoch attacks him and tears off his mask. The other
egwugwuimmediately surround their desecrated companion and take him away. Enoch has killed an ancestral
spirit, and Umuofia is thrown into confusion. That night the Mother of the Spirits walks throughout the clan
weeping for her murdered son. It seems like the soul of the tribe is wailing for a great evil that is coming—its
own death.
The next day, the masked egwugwuof Umuofia assemble in the marketplace. They include the dreadful
Otakagu from Imo and Ekwensu from Uli. Bells clatter behind some of them, and the
eerie voices of countless spirits are heard. For the first time, Mr. Smith is afraid and prays to be delivered
from danger. The band of egwugwu move like a furious whirlwind and burn Enoch’s compound to the
ground. Then they go to the church intoxicated with destruction. When Mr. Smith sees the egwugwu, he
nearly flees in fear. But instead, he walks toward them. Their bells clang, and their machetes clash. The air is
full of dust and weird sounds.
Okeke, Mr. Smith’s interpreter, is behind him. The egwugwu are surprised by their composure. Then, Ajofia,
the leading egwugwu of Umuofia and the spokesman of the nine ancestors, rises up. As he speaks, clouds of
smoke rise from his head. Mr. Smith looks at his interpreter, but Okeke is from Umuru, so he is at a loss too.
Ajofia laughs at the ignorant strangers. He instructs the interpreter to tell Mr. Smith that the egwugwu liked
the foolish Mr. Brown, and for his sake they will not harm Mr. Smith. However, he must go back to his house;
Chapter 22 Summary and Analysis 36
the church will be destroyed because it has bred untold abominations. They say Mr. Smith may stay with the
Igbo people and worship his own God if he agrees to follow their ways. Mr. Smith tells them his church is the
house of God, and it should not be desecrated. In response, the egwugwu burn the red-earth church to the
The conflict between the Christian Igbo and the traditional Igbo clan is exacerbated by the intolerant Reverend
Smith and the zealous convert Enoch. The egwugwu are symbols of the spirits of the ancestors. When Enoch
unmasks the egwugwu, he is committing an atrocity. His actions reveal that the elders and leaders are
representing the spirits; some unbelievers would say the men are simply masquerading as spirits. The concept
of the egwugwu is an integral part of the complex Igbo religious belief system and traditional worldview. By
unmasking the egwugwu, Enoch symbolically kills the spirit of an ancestor; he also exposes the unmasked
spirit to women, children, and men who are not yet initiated. This crime has never been committed in the
history of Umuofia.
Christianity cuts into the core of Igbo life by striking at the traditional Igbo religion. As the spiral of history
and human experience widens for the Igbo people through the age of European Imperialism, the foreigners put
a knife in the traditional religion of the Igbo. Traditional religion holds the Igbo together; when it is
undermined, the Igbo culture cannot hold. All things that are traditionally Igbo fall apart. The title of the novel
comes from W. B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming.” The novel begins with a quote from the poem:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
A falcon is a hawk with long, pointed wings and a short, curved beak; it is trained to hunt small game. A
falconer is a person who breeds, trains, or hunts with falcons. The image is a falcon turning and turning in a
widening spiral so far away from the falconer that the bird cannot hear its trainer. He gets so far away that the
line connecting him to the falconer cannot hold. The center snaps, and things fall apart. The result is chaos.
The center that cannot hold in the Igbo world is the traditional religion. As Igbo life falls apart, the Igbo
people are thrown into anarchy and chaos. The colonial era causes the African social order to disintegrate.
Chapter 23 Summary and Analysis
For the first time in many years Okonkwo feels happy. Things seem to be getting back to normal. The clan
that had turned false appears to be making amends. He speaks about violence, and his clansmen listen with
respect. It is like the good old days when a warrior was a warrior. The clansmen do not agree to drive away
the Christians, but they do agree to do something substantial. Nothing happens for two days after the
destruction of the church. Yet, the men of Umuofia are armed because they do not want to be caught unaware
like the men of Abame. The District Commissioner finally sends a sweet-talking messenger to the leaders of
Umuofia asking them to meet in his headquarters. That is not strange; he often invited them to hold such
discussions. The six leaders, including Okonkwo, arrive at the courthouse armed with machetes. The District
Commissioner receives them politely, and they put down their arms. He wants to hear the Igbos’ side of the
The interpreter leaves the courtroom and returns with 12 men. However, as one of the elders begins to tell the
story about Enoch, there is a brief scuffle. It happens so quickly, the Igbo leaders do not have time to defend
themselves. They are handcuffed and led into the guardroom. The commissioner explains that he will not
Chapter 23 Summary and Analysis 37
harm them, but they must cooperate. He says that the British have brought a peaceful colonial administration
so the Igbo people will be happy. However, they will not allow the Igbo to hurt one another. He indicates that
the leaders will be released from prison as soon as a fine of 200 hundred bags of cowries is collected. The
commissioner tells the court messengers to treat the men respectfully.
However, the leaders are not given food or water for two days, and they are not allowed to go outside to
urinate or defecate. At night the court messengers taunt the prisoners and knock their shaven heads together.
On the third day, the Igbo cannot withstand the hunger and insults. Okonkwo insists they should have killed
the white man. The court messengers go to Umuofia to tell the people that their leaders would not be released
until they paid a fine of 250 bags of cowries. They say the leaders will be hanged in Umuru unless the fine is
paid immediately.
Okonkwo’s compound seems deserted. Everyone is speaking in whispers. Ezinma goes to Obierika, but he is
not home. His wives think he has gone to a secret meeting. Ezinma is satisfied that something is being done.
The men of Umuofia meet in the marketplace and collect 250 bags of cowries to appease the white man. They
do not know that 50 bags will go to the court messengers, who had increased the fine.
Okonkwo is comfortable with the traditional way of living. He is happy that the clan is finally going to defend
itself, and he is glad to confront the District Commissioner. However, Okonkwo does not understand the
white man’s power. He does not realize that life has changed in Umuofia. He still believes that things will go
back to normal if the white man is killed. As Okonkwo lacks understanding of the white man, the colonial
government lacks understanding of Igbo beliefs, customs, and jurisprudence. The District Commissioner and
the kotma provide a fictional representation of the colonial administration in Nigeria in the early twentieth
century. The commissioner honestly believes that the powers of British Imperialism will be helpful to the Igbo
people. He believes the administration will rescue these “primitive” people and restrain them from hurting
one another. In addition to knowing nothing about Igbo life, he is unaware of the court messengers’ behavior.
Historically, this chapter represents the “pacification” of the people of Nigeria as it occurred between 1900
and 1920. The Igbo living east and west of the Niger River spoke different dialects and developed different
cultures and political systems. The decentralized Igbo were radically different from the Yoruba people in the
southwest and the Hausa people in the north. Yet, the British conquerors forced these diverse people into a
single nation through a “pacification” campaign. The British sought to “pacify” the Igbo by destroying their
traditional religion and their way of life, by destroying entire villages, and by instituting a corrupt native court
system that encouraged the Igbo of one area to oppress the Igbo of another area. The kotma in this chapter
provide an example of the corruption rampant among the native court system. The words “primitive” and
“pacification” are used with bitter irony at the end of the novel. The “pacification” and “civilization” of the
British result in full scale violence illustrated by the destruction of Abame. In contrast, the ritual wars of the
Igbo are relatively minor when a great warrior like Okonkwo claims five heads.
Chapter 24 Summary and Analysis
New Characters:
Egonwanne: a coward who moves the men of Umuofia to impotence
Okika: the first man to speak, one of those imprisoned
Onyeka: the man who salutes Umuofia first
Chapter 24 Summary and Analysis 38
The leaders are released by the District Commissioner, who speaks about the Queen of England, peace, and
the colonial government. The Igbo trudge home silently. Okonkwo’s friends and family see the marks on his
back where he has been whipped. Okonkwo swears vengeance on the white man’s court. If Umuofia does not
go to war, he will avenge himself. Okonkwo remembers the noblest war of the past, which was against Isike.
Okudo was alive then; he was not a fighter, but his song turned every man into a lion. Isike was slaughtered,
and Okonkwo believes, “Those were days when men were men.” (p. 141)
Okonkwo feels Egonwanne is the biggest coward in Umuofia because he moves the Igbo men to impotence.
Okonkwo is afraid he will say that the ancestors never fought a war of blame, and he vows to plan his own
revenge if the men listen to Egonwanne. As people crowd into the marketplace, Onyeka salutes Umuofia with
his booming voice. Then Okika, who is a great orator and one of those imprisoned, speaks. He explains that
his father used to say, “Whenever you see a toad jumping in broad daylight, then know that something is after
its life.” (p. 143) He says something is after the life of the Igbo people. The gods like Idemili, Ogwugwu, and
Agbala are weeping; the dead fathers are also weeping because of the shameful sacrilege and the
abominations they have suffered. He laments that some Igbos are not present. The white men have broken the
clan, and the Igbo have gone different ways. Some have joined the white man. If the people of Umuofia fight
the stranger, they will shed the blood of clansmen. Okika says their forefathers never killed their brothers, but
now loyal Igbo must turn on their clansmen. Okika says Eneke the bird was asked why he was always flying.
He replied, “Men have learnt to shoot without missing their mark and I have learnt to fly without perching on
a twig.” (p. 144) He says the Igbo must root out the evil of the white man, and Igbo brothers who side with
evil must be rooted out too.
Five court messengers arrive. Okonkwo springs to his feet and confronts the head messenger. The men of
Umuofia are mute like a giant background of silent trees and giant creepers. The messenger says the white
man has ordered the meeting to stop. Okonkwo draws his machete. The messenger crouches to avoid the
blow, but Okonkwo swings. The messenger is decapitated; his head lays on the ground next to his body. Then
the Igbo people come to life, and the meeting stops. Okonkwo looks at the dead man. He knows that Umuofia
will not go to war because the people let the other messengers escape. Umuofia has broken into confusion
instead of action. He senses terror in the tumult, and he hears the people say, “Why did he do it?” (p. 145)
Okonkwo wipes his machete on the sand and walks away.
Okonkwo intends to speak at the meeting but then chooses violent action over language, illustrating his
inability to use words in moments of tension. Again, Okonkwo appears to be an impetuous, violent, and angry
man paradoxically afraid of failure and doomed to failure in spite of his personal achievements and strong
convictions. The clan of Umuofia has undergone profound change; nevertheless, Okonkwo clings to an ever
weakening past. He resolves to reclaim the traditional power and authority usurped by the white man and
murders the court messenger in an individualist act of vengeance. His clansmen are stunned and wonder why
he did it. The people of Umuofia do not capture the other messengers because they are confused. The clan is
not thinking, speaking, or acting in solidarity as it would have in the past. Okonkwo recognizes the failure of
the clan to resist oppression and to respond to the rapid changes introduced by the British.
Okonkwo can be analyzed from various points of view in this chapter. The respect for the individual that
allows a man to earn titles and become successful in the traditional Igbo world is abused by Okonkwo. The
feminine elements of a balanced Igbo life are also denied by Okonkwo. Okonkwo violates the Week of Peace,
takes a shot at his wife, participates in the ritual murder of Ikemefuna, and accidentally kills Ezeudu’s son.
Likewise, the clan throws twins away in the forest, ostracizes their mothers, enslaves the osu, and
discriminates against unsuccessful men. The repressed feminine energies of Okonkwo gain force during
Okonkwo’s exile. In Part Two of the novel, Okonkwo is forced to take refuge within the feminine principle;
in Umuofia, twins are rescued, their abject mothers, the osu, and weak men are given dignity and new life
Chapter 24 Summary and Analysis 39
through Christianity. However, as Christianity gives voice to the disenfranchised, it simultaneously destroys
traditional life, divides the clan, and introduces a violent colonial government.
Okonkwo only understands the strengths of Igbo life. He relates to the masculine energies and does not
understand the feminine energies of the Igbo experience. Okonkwo defends himself and the traditional way of
life. He upholds the Igbo concepts of communalism, equal opportunity, strong kinship relationships, and the
traditional religion. However, he does not question the injustices of traditional life such as the Igbos’
treatment of twins, discrimination against the osu, and the marginalization of the weak and abnormal. The
traditional order fragments when the community is challenged by Christianity—the new faith that unmasks the
egwugwu and survives in the Evil Forest. The new religion weakens Igbo society; as a result, things fall apart,
and the clan cannot resist colonial injustice.
Okonkwo may be representative of the fundamental Igbo attitude of individualism and independence. He may
also be a microcosm for the traditional Igbo worldview. Okonkwo is a paradoxical protagonist. Although
Achebe has created an entirely fictional character and setting, the narrative recreates Igbo history. The
denouement happens so swiftly, the reader must reread the chapter to confirm that Okonkwo did in fact
decapitate the court messenger. The ending of the novel descends as quickly and forcibly as colonial rule
descended upon the Igbo people.
Chapter 25 Summary and Analysis
Some of the men of Umuofia are sitting in Okonkwo’s obi when the District Commissioner arrives. They tell
him that Okonkwo is not present. The commissioner becomes angry and he says he will lock them all up if
they do not produce Okonkwo. Obierika says they will take him to Okonkwo; perhaps the commissioner will
be able to help them. The commissioner is annoyed at the way the Igbo use superfluous words. The District
Commissioner is armed, and he warns Obierika that he and his men will be shot if he pulls any tricks.
The men lead the commissioner into a small bush behind Okonkwo’s compound. They come to the tree from
which Okonkwo’s body is hanging. Obierika explains that perhaps the commissioner’s men could take
Okonkwo down and bury him. The District Commissioner changes from a resolute administrator to a student
of “primitive” customs. He asks why the men cannot take Okonkwo down themselves. They explain it is
against Igbo custom because it is an abomination for a man to take his own life. Suicide is an offense against
the Earth, and any man who commits suicide cannot be buried by his clansmen because his body is evil. Only
strangers can bury him. Then the Igbo will make sacrifices to cleanse the desecrated land.
As Obierika gazes at his friend’s dangling body, he bitterly says that Okonkwo was one of the greatest men in
Umuofia. The white man drove him to kill himself, and now he will be buried like a dog. The District
Commissioner orders his men to cut down the body and take the corpse and all the people present to court.
The District Commissioner has had much experience, and he believes he is bringing civilization to Africa. The
commissioner plans to write a book about the Igbo people. He feels the story about Okonkwo, the man who
killed a court messenger and then hanged himself, will make interesting reading. He thinks he could almost
write a whole chapter on him. Then he reconsiders, perhaps the story only merits a paragraph. He has decided
to title his book “The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.” (p. 148)
Okonkwo is a paradox. He seems to represent traditional Igbo life, yet his self-destruction contradicts
everything the Igbo society represents. Okonkwo cannot resist the white man and the forces of European
Imperialism alone. Foreign Africans support the colonial order, and Igbo institutions are ineffective. The
traditional world has been destroyed, and Okonkwo does not want to live in a new world. Okonkwo may be a
Chapter 25 Summary and Analysis 40
tragic hero because as he stands for his convictions, his individualism results in disaster. He realizes that his
efforts to save the traditional world are futile. His suicide saves him imprisonment, cheats the whites of
revenge, and makes a mockery of the values of the clan. Is Okonkwo mad? What does he really stand for and
what is the significance of his destruction? Does Okonkwo represent the suicidal fragmentation of Igbo
society? Okonkwo’s life is ruled by fear of failure. Yet, Okonkwo fails. He is unable to understand his father
or son; he is unable to balance the male and female energies in the traditional world order, and he is unable to
adapt to the changes introduced by the white colonizer. Okonkwo’s suicide is shocking and ambiguous;
ironically, his death is as shameful as his father’s. His friend Obierika again provides invaluable insight and a
reliable picture of the collapse of traditional life. He understands that Christianity has put a knife on the things
that held the Igbo together. In his bitter epitaph for Okonkwo he addresses the District Commissioner saying,
“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 . . . ” (p. 147)
The District Commissioner provides an ironic foil to Okonkwo. He believes he is bringing peace and
civilization to the Igbo people, but in fact he has systematically destroyed many aspects of Igbo life. He
trivializes the tragedy of Okonkwo and the conflict between the European and Igbo cultures by planning to
summarize Okonkwo’s struggle in one paragraph in his book, “The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of
the Lower Niger.” The commissioner’s title alludes to the imposition of British authority through separate
conquests of individual Igbo communities. Perhaps “The Annihilation of the Socially Cohesive Ethnic
Groups of the Lower Niger” would be a better title for his book.
Finally, in his foreword to Charles Larson’s Emergence of African Fiction, Newton Stallknecht states,
“Achebe describes, often with shrewd anthropological insight, the moral disintegration of an ancestral order
and of an heroic leader brought into collision with European powers and ideas.” (x–xi) Yet, the reader must
understand the text as more than a basic ethnography. Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a novel; the text is a
fictional representation of the past; it is not history. Achebe attempts to present positive and negative aspects
of traditional Igbo life without idealizing or romanticizing the past. He succeeds in painting a portrait of the
ordered and civil Igbo society. Indeed, the story of Okonkwo affirms that Europe did not introduce civilization
to savages.
Things Fall Apart: Quizzes
Part One, Chapter 1 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Why is Okonkwo’s defeat of Amalinze the Cat such a great achievement?
2. Describe Okonkwo.
3. What does Unoka do with his money?
4. What is the harmattan?
5. Why does Unoka sing to the kites?
6. Why does Unoka enjoy playing music for the egwugwu, or the masqueraders who impersonate the ancestral
spirits of the village?
7. What is the meaning of the proverb “He who brings kola brings life”? (p. 5)
Things Fall Apart: Quizzes 41
8. Why is Okonkwo ashamed of his father, Unoka?
9. Compare Okonkwo with his father.
10. Why is Ikemefuna offered to the village of Umuofia?
1. The Cat, the greatest wrestler in the region, was unbeaten for seven years.
2. Okonkwo is huge with bushy eyebrows and a wide nose. He breathes heavily and seems to walk on springs
as if he is about to pounce on someone. He has no patience with unsuccessful men like his father.
3. Unoka buys gourds of palm wine and drinks with his neighbors.
4. The harmattan is a dry wind that blows across West Africa from the north.
5. Unoka loves to sing a welcome to the birds, or kites, who return to the village from their long journey
6. Unoka enjoys eating and drinking at the feasts.
7. The kola nut is a symbol of hospitality and friendship.
8. Okonkwo’s father has no titles; he is heavily in debt when he dies.
9. Okonkwo washes his hands of his father’s failures and becomes a leader in the community.
10. Ikemefuna is offered to Umuofia by the neighboring village of Mbaino as a compensation in order to
avoid war.
Chapter 2 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. How does Okonkwo display his fierce and warlike nature at important occasions in the village?
2. Give examples illustrating the Igbo people’s vague terror of darkness.
3. Why would the people of Umuofia be beaten in the war with Mbaino if they disobeyed the Oracles of the
Hills and Caves?
4. Why is Ikemefuna selected by the people of Mbaino to serve as the peace sacrifice for Umuofia?
5. Okonkwo is very strong and rarely feels tired. How would you describe Okonkwo’s three wives and
6. Why is Nwoye developing into a sad-faced youth?
7. Which one of Okonkwo’s wives is the most afraid of him and why?
8. Why does Okonkwo rule his household with a heavy hand?
Part One, Chapter 1 Questions and Answers 42
9. How is Unoka regarded by many members of the village?
10. Why is Okonkwo asked to become Ikemefuna’s guardian?
1. Okonkwo displays his warlike nature on occasions such as funerals by drinking his palm wine from the first
human head he captured in battle.
2. The Igbo people do not play in the open fields on dark and silent nights.
3. The people of Umuofia would be beaten in the war with Mbaino if they disobeyed the Oracles of the Hills
and Caves because their gods would not allow them to fight a war of blame.
4. The people of Mbaino select Ikemefuna as the peace sacrifice because his father participated in murdering
the woman from Umuofia in the marketplace.
5. Okonkwo’s wives and children are not as strong as Okonkwo.
6. Nwoye is developing into a sad-faced youth because he is constantly nagged and beaten by his father,
7. The third wife is the most afraid of Okonkwo because she is the youngest.
8. Okonkwo rules his household with a heavy hand because he wants his family to work hard and prosper. He
is also afraid of appearing weak like his father.
9. The villagers think Unoka is like a weak woman because he did not earn any titles.
10. Okonkwo is asked to become Ikemefuna’s guardian because he is a prosperous village leader.
Chapter 3 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Why is Unoka, who dies of swelling in the stomach, abandoned and left to die in the Evil Forest?
2. Why is Nwakibie considered a successful man in Igbo society?
3. Nwakibie says, “You will have what is good for you and I will have what is good for me. Let the kite perch
and let the eagle perch too. If one says no to the other, let his wing break.”
(p. 14) What is the meaning of Nwakibie’s words?
4. What is the meaning of the proverb “A toad does not run in the daytime for nothing”? (p. 15)
5. Why does Okonkwo laugh uneasily at the story of Obiako and the oracle?
6. What is the meaning of the proverb “The lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said he
would praise himself if no one else did”? (p. 16)
7. Why is sharecropping a slow way to build up a barn?
Chapter 2 Questions and Answers 43
8. Give two examples of how Okonkwo tries to save his yams during the drought.
9. Why is the poor harvest like a sad funeral for the Igbo people?
10. What does Okonkwo learn through the drought and poor harvest?
1. Unoka is left to rot in the Evil Forest because the swelling in his stomach is an abomination to the Earth
2. Nwakibie has earned all but one title in Umuofia. He owns three huge barns, and he has nine wives and 30
3. Nwakibie means that both he and Okonkwo are entitled to live well. If either of them denies the other
prosperity, he should suffer.
4. The proverb means that a person does not run away from something without a reason.
5. Okonkwo is much like Obiako because his father is also unsuccessful.
6. Okonkwo is like the lizard in the proverb. He is praising himself since no one else will.
7. Sharecropping is a slow way to build up a barn because the farmer only reaps a third of the harvest for
8. During the drought, Okonkwo tries to protect the yam seedlings from the sun by putting rings of sisal
around them. He also prays for rain.
9. The livelihood of the Igbo people is dependent upon the yam. A good harvest means prosperity and life; a
poor harvest is like death.
10. Okonkwo learns that he can survive any disaster.
Chapter 4 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. An old man refers to Okonkwo saying, “Looking at a king’s mouth, one would think he never sucked at
his mother’s breast.” (p. 19) What does he mean?
2. How does Okonkwo demonstrate his fondness for Ikemefuna?
3. Why does Nwoye’s mother claim that Ojiugo has asked her to feed her children?
4. Why is Okonkwo’s first wife always called “Nwoye’s mother”?
5. What does the kola nut symbolize, and why does Ezeani refuse to accept it from Okonkwo during the Week
of Peace?
6. Why do Okonkwo’s enemies called him the little bird nza?
Chapter 3 Questions and Answers 44
7. In the past, a man who broke the sacred peace was dragged around the village until he died. Why was the
custom stopped?
8. In some clans, if a man dies during the Week of Peace, he is cast into the Evil Forest. He is not buried.
What is the result of this action?
9. Compare and contrast the planting season with the month of harvest.
10. What does Nwoye mean when he decides that Nnadi lives in the land of Ikemefuna’s favorite story?
1. The old man thinks it is incredible that Okonkwo, who has risen so suddenly from desperate poverty and
misfortune and is now one of the lords of the clan, should forget his own humble origins and treat less
successful men with disrespect.
2. When Okonkwo goes to feasts or meetings, he allows Ikemefuna to carry his stool and goatskin bag; this is
traditionally a son’s privilege.
3. Nwoye’s mother minimizes Ojiugo’s thoughtlessness and protects her.
4. Okonkwo’s first wife is always called “Nwoye’s mother” because she is honored as the mother of
Okonkwo’s heir, his first son.
5. The kola nut is a symbol of hospitality. Ezeani refuses to accept it because Okonkwo has offended Ani, the
Earth goddess, by beating his wife during the Week of Peace.
6. Okonkwo’s enemies called him the little bird nza because nza forgot who he was after a heavy meal and
challenged his chi. Likewise, Okonkwo challenged the gods by violating the Peace of Ani.
7. The custom of dragging a man around the village was stopped because it spoiled the peace it was meant to
8. The dead who are thrown into the Evil Forest without burial become evil spirits who roam the earth and
threaten the living.
9. The planting season and the month of harvest are periods of exact and hard work. The planting season is a
serious time; the harvest is a light-hearted time.
10. Nnadi is just a character in a song; he is part of Ikemefuna’s vivid imagination.
Chapter 5 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. What is Ani’s relationship with the ancestors?
2. Why are new yams offered to Ani and the ancestors at the festival?
3. Describe the New Yam Festival.
4. Does Ekwefi, Okonkwo’s second wife, really kill the banana tree?
Chapter 4 Questions and Answers 45
5. Nwoye’s mother often calls Ezinma “Ezigbo.” What does this name mean?
6. How does Okonkwo react when he hears the beating of the drums?
7. Why is Obiageli, Nwoye’s sister, crying?
8. Why does Ikemefuna look at the other children sternly when Obiageli tells the adults the story about
breaking her pot?
9. Why do Obiageli, Ezinma, and Nkechi serve their father food in this order?
10. Why can’t Ezinma carry her father’s chair to the wrestling match?
1. Ani is in close communion with the ancestors of the clan.
2. The people give honor and thanks to Ani and the ancestors by offering them new yams at the festival.
3. The New Yam Festival is a big event; the women scrub the walls of their houses and wash all the pots and
bowls thoroughly. Wives and children decorate themselves; relatives are invited to the feast; and huge
quantities of yam foo-foo and vegetable soup are prepared. The feast is held on the first day; the wrestling
matches are held on the second day.
4. Ekwefi does not kill the banana tree. She simply removes some of the leaves to wrap food.
5. “Ezigbo” means “the good one.”
6. The drums announcing the wrestling match fill Okonkwo with fire and the desire to conquer and subdue.
He moves his feet to the beat of the drums.
7. Obiageli, Nwoye’s sister, is crying because she broke her water pot.
8. Obiageli is acting sad in front of the adults. Ikemefuna does not want the other children to tattle on
9. The girls serve their father food in this order because Obiageli is the daughter of her father’s first wife;
Ezinma is the daughter of her father’s second wife; and Nkechi is the daughter of her father’s third wife.
10. Ezinma cannot carry her father’s chair to the wrestling match because this is a boy’s job. Men, women,
boys, and girls play specific roles in the Igbo society.
Chapter 6 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Using context clues, define the Igbo word ilo.
2. Why is the ancient silk-cotton tree considered sacred?
3. Why do the young boys of 15 and 16 wrestle first?
Chapter 5 Questions and Answers 46
4. Describe Chielo in ordinary life.
5. Give an example of Chielo’s fondness for Ezinma.
6. What does Ekwefi mean when she says Ezinma is probably going to stay?
7. What is the most exciting moment in a wrestling match?
8. How do you know that Okafo and Ikezue are equally matched wrestlers?
9. What role do the drums play in the wrestling match?
10. Using context clues define the word Amadiora.
1. The Igbo word ilo refers to a playground or a large open area where meetings and sports events take place.
2. The ancient silk-cotton tree is considered sacred because the spirits of good children who are waiting to be
born live there.
3. The young boys of 15 and 16 wrestle first in order to set the stage. They are actually practicing.
4. In ordinary life Chielo is a widow with two children. She is friendly with Ekwefi, and they share a common
shed in the market.
5. Chielo shows her fondness for Ezinma by sending her bean cakes.
6. When Ekwefi says Ezinma is probably going to stay, she means she is probably going to live.
7. The most exciting moment in a wrestling match is when a man is thrown.
8. Okafo and Ikezue are equally matched because in the previous year, neither one threw the other. Both
wrestlers have the same style, and they seem to know each other’s moves beforehand.
9. The drums announce the wrestling match early in the day. The drums beat a rhythm of excitement. Like the
crowd, the drums go mad when a wrestler is thrown. The drums are like the pulse of the nine villages.
10. Amadiora is the god of thunder and lightning.
Chapter 7 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Why is Ikemefuna compared to a yam tendril in the rainy season?
2. What are some of the difficult masculine tasks Nwoye enjoys doing?
3. Why would Nwoye pretend to be annoyed and grumble about women?
4. How does Okonkwo feel when he hears Nwoye grumbling about women?
Chapter 6 Questions and Answers 47
5. Even though Nwoye knows it is right to be masculine, he still prefers the stories that his mother tells. Why?
6. Explain the story of the bird eneke-nti-oba.
7. Why are the people of Umuofia so excited about the locusts?
8. Describe some of the chores the men and women do after the harvest.
9. What does Ikemefuna remember when the men speak in low tones?
10. Why do the women walk quickly when they hear abandoned infants crying in the forest?
1. Ikemefuna is like a yam tendril in the rainy season because he is full of the sap of new life.
2. Some of the difficult masculine tasks Nwoye enjoys doing around the homestead include splitting wood
and pounding food.
3. Nwoye grumbles about women in order to appear more masculine.
4. Okonkwo is happy when he hears Nwoye grumbling about women.
5. Nwoye prefers his mother’s stories because Okonkwo’s masculine stories are about violence and
bloodshed. Nwoye is a sensitive youth.
6. The bird eneke-nti-oba challenged the whole world to a
wrestling contest and was thrown by the Cat.
7. The locusts descend once in a generation and reappear every year for seven years. Then they disappear for
another lifetime. Everyone wants the locusts to camp in Umuofia for the night because they are good to eat.
8. After the harvest, Okonkwo, Nwoye, and Ikemefuna repair the walls of the compound while the women
collect firewood.
9. When Ikemefuna hears the men speaking in low tones, he remembers leaving his first home as a hostage.
10. The women walk quickly when they hear abandoned infants crying in the forest because, like Nwoye, they
are disconcerted by this Igbo custom.
Chapter 8 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. What does Okonkwo mean when he says a bowl of pounded yams can throw Nwoye in a wrestling match?
2. What does Okonkwo mean when he says, “Where are the young suckers that will grow when the old
banana tree dies?” (p. 46)
3. Why would Okonkwo have been happier if Ezinma had been a boy?
4. Okonkwo springs to his feet to visit his friend Obierika. What does this image reveal about Okonkwo?
Chapter 7 Questions and Answers 48
5. What is the meaning of the proverb “A child’s fingers are not scalded by a piece of hot yam which its
mother puts into its palm”. (p. 47)
6. Explain Okonkwo’s reaction to the deaths of Ogbuefi Ndulue and Ozoemena and the idea that they had
“one mind.” What does this reaction reveal about Okonkwo’s understanding of the feminine principle?
7. Why does Obierika think Maduka is too sharp?
8. What is the meaning of the proverb “When mother-cow is chewing grass its young ones watch its mouth”?
(p. 49)
9. Why does Akueke’s mother say that waist beads and fire are not friends?
10. What is Akueke’s bride-price, and how do the men arrive at the price?
1. Nwoye is not a powerful or skillful wrestler.
2. Okonkwo wonders who will follow in his footsteps. His children do not seem to resemble him.
3. Ezinma has the right spirit.
4. Okonkwo is a man of action.
5. The proverb means that a mother will never hurt her child. Likewise, Okonkwo believes the Earth goddess
will not punish him for obeying her.
6. Okonkwo feels that the simultaneous deaths of Ogbuefi Ndulue and Ozoemena are very strange. He cannot
believe that Ndulue and his wife had “one mind.” He thought Ndulue was a strong man. This reaction reveals
that Okonkwo does not understand the nature, function, and power of the feminine principle in Igbo
7. Maduka is always in a hurry; he often does not listen to the whole message.
8. The proverb means that children imitate their parents. Likewise, Maduka has been watching Obierika and
imitating him.
9. She fears that some day Akueke’s waist beads will catch on fire while she is cooking.
10. Akueke’s bride-price is finally settled at 20 bags of cowries. The men negotiate with the bundles of
Chapter 9 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Describe the story Okonkwo’s mother used to tell him that explained why mosquitoes buzz in people’s
2. Give two examples proving that the relationship between Ezinma and Ekwefi was a companionship of
Chapter 8 Questions and Answers 49
3. Why did Ekwefi stay with her people during her third pregnancy?
4. How was Ekwefi’s despair reflected in the names she gave her children?
5. Describe the medicine man famous for his knowledge of ogbanje children.
6. Why did the medicine man drag the corpse of the dead ogbanje child into the Evil Forest?
7. Why did Ekwefi grow bitter about her own chi?
8. Why did Ezinma take the medicine man and her family through the bush and back to the homestead in
order to find the iyi-uwa?
9. As Ezinma and Ekwefi are cooking yams, they discuss the fact that large quantities of vegetables cook
down to smaller quantities by telling the story of the snake-lizard. Why did the snake-lizard kill his mother
and himself?
10. Why does Okonkwo tell Ekwefi to watch the medicine pot carefully?
1. When Mosquito asked Ear to marry him, she fell on the floor laughing. Ear thought Mosquito looked like a
skeleton and insinuated that he would not live much longer. Mosquito was humiliated, so any time he passes
by, he tells Ear that he is still alive.
2. Ezinma does not call her mother Nne like other children. She calls her by her name. They share secrets like
eating eggs together.
3. The medicine man said Ekwefi would trick the wicked ogbanje and break the cycle of birth and death if she
stayed with her people during her pregnancy.
4. Ekwefi’s despair was reflected in the following names she gave her children: Onwumbiko “Death I
implore you;” Ozoemena “May it not happen again;” and Onwuma “Death may please himself.”
5. The medicine man was striking. He was very tall; he had a full beard and a bald head. He was light in
complexion, and his eyes were fiery.
6. The medicine man dragged the dead child into the Evil Forest because then the ogbanje would think twice
about entering its mother’s womb and coming to life again.
7. Ekwefi wishes her co-wives well, but she has grown bitter. She feels that it is her evil chi that denies her
good fortune. Ekwefi’s bitterness does not flow outward to others but inward into her own soul.
8. Ezinma was looking for the iyi-uwa herself as she took everyone on a journey through the bush and then
back to her own homestead.
9. The snake-lizard gave his mother seven baskets of raw vegetables to cook. When they yielded only three
baskets of cooked vegetables, he killed her. Then, he brought another seven baskets of raw vegetables and
cooked them himself; again they yielded three baskets of cooked vegetables. The snake-lizard then killed
himself. He may have been upset about the vegetables, or he may have realized he murdered his mother
Chapter 9 Questions and Answers 50
10. Okonkwo tells Ekwefi to watch the medicine pot carefully because if the medicine boils over, its power
will evaporate.
Chapter 10 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Why does Evil Forest address Uzowulu saying, “Uzowulu’s body, I salute you”? (p. 64)
2. Why does Evil Forest say, “Uzowulu’s body, do you know me?” (p. 64)
3. What is the law of Umuofia concerning the bride-price of a woman who runs away from her husband?
4. How does Evil Forest keep order when the crowd roars with laughter during the trial?
5. What role do Uzowulu’s neighbors play in the trial?
6. Why do Evil Forest and the other egwugwu run a few steps in the direction of the women?
7. What are some of the names Evil Forest gives himself?
8. What is the purpose of the metal gong, the drums, and the flute?
9. Why will Uzowulu listen to the decision of the egwugwu?
10. The egwugwu hear a land case after Uzowulu’s case. What is a land case?
1. Spirits always address humans as bodies.
2. Evil Forest asks Uzowulu if he recognizes him as one of the living. Uzowulu responds, “How can I know
you father? You are beyond our knowledge.” (p. 64) Evil Forest emphasizes the point that he is not one of the
3. The law of Umuofia says that if a woman runs away from her husband, the bride-price must be returned.
4. Evil Forest keeps order when the crowd roars with laughter during the trial by rising to his feet. A steady
cloud of smoke rises from his head.
5. The neighbors testify that Uzowulu beat his wife.
6. The women flee in terror, but they return to their places almost immediately. The egwugwu instill fear in
the women.
7. Evil Forest calls himself “Dry-meat-that-fills-the-mouth,” and “Fire-that-burns-without-faggots.” A
faggot is a dry stick. (p. 66)
8. The metal gong, the drums, and the flute all contribute to the excitement of the trial in the presence of the
egwugwu. The instruments announce different sections of the trial.
9. Uzowulu will listen to the decision of the egwugwu because they represent the ancestral spirits.
Chapter 10 Questions and Answers 51
10. A land case is a dispute over property.
Chapter 11 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Why don’t the birds want Tortoise to join them at the feast in the sky?
2. How does Tortoise convince the birds to allow him to join them at the feast?
3. How is Tortoise able to fly with the birds of the sky?
4. What are some of the hard things Tortoise’s wife takes out of the house to prepare for Tortoise’s fall?
5. Why does Ezinma cry when Chielo calls her “my daughter”?
6. Why does Ekwefi recoil from Chielo when she turns around?
7. Why does Ekwefi doubt the wisdom of her coming to the hills and caves?
8. How could a woman like Chielo carry a child the size of Ezinma for such a long distance?
9. How does Ekwefi know they have reached the ring of hills?
10. Who joins Ekwefi as she waits for Chielo and Ezinma?
1. The birds do not want Tortoise to join them at the feast in the sky because it is a time of famine. Tortoise is
cunning and ungrateful.
2. Tortoise convinces the birds to allow him to join them by explaining that he is a changed man. Tortoise has
a sweet tongue, and he is a great orator.
3. Tortoise is able to fly because the birds give him feathers to make wings.
4. Tortoise’s wife takes out hard things like hoes, machetes, spears, guns, and a cannon to prepare for
Tortoise’s fall.
5. Ezinma cries because Chielo’s voice is different and everything seems strange.
6. Ekwefi needs human companionship and sympathy. However, Chielo is possessed; she is a different
woman than she was in the marketplace.
7. Ekwefi doubts the wisdom of her coming to the hills and caves because she is powerless and she would not
dare enter the underground caves.
8. It would take a miracle for a woman like Chielo to carry a child the size of Ezinma for such a long distance.
On this night Chielo is not an ordinary woman; she is a priestess possessed by the spirit of Agbala.
9. As soon as Chielo steps into this ring, her voice doubles in strength and is thrown back on all sides.
Chapter 11 Questions and Answers 52
10. Okonkwo joins Ekwefi as she waits for the priestess and her daughter.
Chapter 12 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. How do the people of Umuike develop their market?
2. The story of the man and the goat shows that the Umuike market is often filled with thieves. What happens
in this story?
3. What do Okonkwo’s first and third wives contribute to the betrothal feast?
4. Why does Ekwefi join the betrothal feast later?
5. The members of Obierika’s extended family sit in a half-moon. When his in-laws arrive, they complete
thecircle. What is the significance of the seating arrangement?
6. Describe the difference in the attire of the married women and that of the girls who greet the in-laws.
7. What does the eldest man among the in-laws mean when he says, “This is not the first time my people have
come to marry your daughter”? (p. 83)
8. Why does Obierika’s family say their daughter will be a good wife and bear nine sons?
9. What kinds of men are respected and praised by Obierika’s in-laws?
10. How do you know that Okonkwo is a respected member of Obierika’s extended family?
1. The people of Umuike make a powerful medicine. It takes the form of an old woman who beckons the
neighboring clans to the market.
2. Once a man went to lead a goat by a thick rope to the Umuike market. Someone stole the goat and replaced
it with a heavy log of wood.
3. Nwoye’s mother and Ojiugo, Okonkwo’s youngest wife, take cocoyams, salt, smoked fish, plantains,
palm oil, and water to the betrothal feast.
4. Ekwefi is exhausted from the previous night.
5. The two families unite as one as they sit in a complete circle together.
6. The married women wear their best clothes, and the girls wear red and black waist beads and anklets of
7. The eldest man among the in-laws means that his mother came from Obierika’s family.
8. Obierika’s family says that their daughter will be a good wife and bear nine sons because the role of wife
and mother is extremely important for women in Igbo society. The nine sons represent the nine villages of
Umuofia and the nine founding fathers of the clan.
Chapter 12 Questions and Answers 53
9. The in-laws respect and praise men who are great farmers, orators, wrestlers, and warriors.
10. We know that Okonkwo is a respected member of Obierika’s extended family because the in-laws look in
his direction when they are praising the great men of the family. They also pay him a short courtesy visit
before they leave the feast.
Chapter 13 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. What is the role of the esoteric language of the ekwe, or the drum?
2. What is the name of the clan, and what villages are part of the clan?
3. What is the name of Okonkwo’s village?
4. How do the men express their anguish at Ezeudu’s death?
5. What does the one-handed spirit mean when he asks Ezeudu to come again the way he came before?
6. How does Okonkwo accidentally kill Ezeudu’s son during the farewell dance?
7. Why do Okonkwo and his family leave their homestead?
8. Where do Okonkwo and his family go?
9. Why does Obierika begin to wonder about the justice of the Earth goddess?
10. What do the elders mean when they say “If one finger brought oil it soiled the others”? (p. 88)
1. The esoteric language of the ekwe, or the drum, carries the news of Ezeudu’s death to all nine villages of
Umuofia and beyond.
2. The name of the clan is Umuofia. The clan includes all the members of the nine villages of Umuofia.
3. Okonkwo’s village is Iguedo.
4. The men dash around in a frenzy, cutting down trees and animals, jumping over walls, and dancing on the
5. Ezeudu is lacking nothing. He is rich, brave, and he lived a long life. The one-handed spirit asks Ezeudu to
come back to Earth this way again.
6. Okonkwo accidentally kills Ezeudu’s son when his gun goes off by mistake as the men are clashing their
7. Okonkwo and his family are banished from the village for seven years because Okonkwo accidentally kills
a clansman.
8. Okonkwo and his family flee to Okonkwo’s mother’s village.
Chapter 13 Questions and Answers 54
9. Obierika wonders about the justice of the Earth goddess because Okonkwo is banished for seven years for a
crime he committed by mistake. Obierika also wonders about the justice of abandoning twins in the forest.
10. The elders mean if one person in the clan commits a crime, they bring the wrath of the Earth goddess upon
all the members of the clan.
Part Two, Chapter 14 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Why does Okonkwo seek refuge in his motherland?
2. What is the frozen water called “the nuts of the water of heaven”? (p. 92)
3. How does Okonkwo start his yam farm in Mbanta?
4. How does Okonkwo feel about the elders’ belief that if a man says “yes,” his chi will also affirm him?
5. Explain the significance of the isa-ifi ceremony.
6. How does Uchendu establish his authority when he addresses Okonkwo?
7. Why was the name “Nneka,” or “Mother is Supreme,” a common name among the Igbo people?
8. According to Uchendu, what is Okonkwo’s duty and responsibility during his time of exile?
9. What is the meaning of the song the Igbo people sing when a woman dies that says, “For whom is it well,
for whom is it well? There is no one for whom it is well.” (p. 95)
10. Why does Uchendu have nothing else to say to Okonkwo?
1. Okonkwo seeks refuge in his motherland because he accidentally killed a clansman; he is banished by Ani,
the Earth goddess.
2. The rain called “the nuts of the water of heaven” is hail. (p. 92)
3. Uchendu has five sons. Each son contributes 300 seed-yams to enable their cousin Okonkwo to plant a
4. Okonkwo feels that the elders’ belief is false; he is a man whose chi says “no” to greatness despite his
own efforts to succeed.
5. The isa-ifi ceremony is the final segment in an elaborate wedding rite and establishes the fidelity of the
bride. The bride-price has been paid, and all the daughters of the family are present.
6. Uchendu says he is an old man and he knows the world better than the younger people. He asks anyone
who knows more about the world to speak up.
7. The name “Nneka,” or “Mother is Supreme,” is a common name among the Igbo people because a
mother’s nurturing love is respected. (p. 94)
Part Two, Chapter 14 Questions and Answers 55
8. According to Uchendu, Okonkwo’s duty is to comfort his wives and children and return them to his
fatherland after seven years. Uchendu says if Okonkwo allows sorrow to weigh him down and kill him, his
family will die in exile. Okonkwo must accept his cousins as his kinsmen.
9. The song implies that it is not easy for anyone in life. It is difficult for anyone to lose his or her mother.
10. Uchendu implies there is no reason to discuss matters further; Okonkwo needs to reflect on what Uchendu
has said.
Chapter 15 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Why does Uchendu say that Obierika’s generation stays at home and even a man’s motherland is strange
to him?
2. What are the names of some of the clans Uchendu knows in the area?
3. What did the fearless men of Abame do when they met the white man?
4. Why did the Oracle say the white men were like locusts?
5. Why did the white man seem to speak through his nose?
6. Why did the white men wait for the market day to slaughter Abame?
7. Give an example proving that a great evil descended upon Abame just as the Oracle warned.
8. What is the significance of the story of Mother Kite, the bird?
9. Why does Obierika get a late start on his journey?
10. Why does Obierika bring Okonkwo the money?
1. The younger generation does not travel to distant clans. They are so afraid of their neighbors, they do not
even visit their mothers’ homes.
2. Some of the clans Uchendu knows in the area are Aninta, Umuazu, Ikeocha, Elumelu, and Abame.
3. The fearless men of Abame touched and killed the white man.
4. The Oracle said the white men were like locusts because the first one was a scout who was sent to explore
the terrain. Other white men would follow him.
5. The white man seemed to speak through his nose because his language and intonation were unfamiliar to
the Igbo people.
6. The white men waited for the big market day to slaughter the people of Abame because almost every
person in the clan was in the market.
Chapter 15 Questions and Answers 56
7. The sacred fish in the mysterious lake of Abame fled, and the lake turned the color of blood.
8. Mother Kite sent her daughter for food. The mother duck did not cry when she seized her duckling, but the
mother chicken did cry when she seized her chick. Mother Kite sent the duckling back but kept the chick.
9. Obierika means to set out before the cock crowed, but Nweke, one of the men accompanying him, is late.
Obierika says you should never make an early morning appointment with a man who has just married a new
10. Obierika brings Okonkwo the money because he thinks Okonkwo might need it. Obierika does not know
what might happen tomorrow. The clan may be invaded by green men who will shoot them.
Chapter 16 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. How do the leaders of Umuofia feel about the new religion?
2. What does Chielo, the priestess of Agbala, mean when she calls the converts “the excrement of the clan”?
(p. 101)
3. Why doesn’t Okonkwo want to speak to Obierika about Nwoye?
4. Why do the Igbo people laugh at the interpreter even though he is speaking Igbo?
5. What is an iron horse?
6. Why are the people excited by what the missionary says?
7. Why do the men of Umuofia laugh at the missionary?
8. Why does Okonkwo stay and listen to the missionary?
9. How does the interpreter explain that the true God has a son but no wife?
10. How does Nwoye feel when he hears the Christians’ hymn?
1. Christianity is a source of great sorrow to the leaders of Umuofia, but many believe the faith will not last.
2. When Chielo calls the converts “the excrement of the clan,” she means that they are the outcasts and the
lowest members of the clan. (p. 101)
3. Okonkwo does not want to speak to Obierika about Nwoye because he is so furious with his son. Obierika
learns the story from Nwoye’s mother.
4. The interpreter is from a different region, and he speaks a different dialect. Instead of referring to himself as
“myself,” he refers to himself as “my buttocks.” This makes everyone laugh. (p. 102)
5. An iron horse is a bicycle.
Chapter 16 Questions and Answers 57
6. The people are excited because the missionary says he is going to live with the Igbo people.
7. The men of Umuofia laugh at the missionary when he says that all the Igbo gods are harmless.
8. Okonkwo stays and listens to the missionary because he hopes the Igbo people will chase him out of town
or whip him.
9. The interpreter cannot explain why the Christian God has a son but no wife.
10. When he hears the Christians’ hymn, Nwoye feels relief pouring into his parched soul. The words of the
hymn are like the drops of frozen rain melting on the dry earth.
Chapter 17 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. What difficulty do the missionaries encounter when they try to speak to the leaders of the village?
2. Describe the Evil Forest.
3. Why is the Evil Forest a strange site for the missionary’s church?
4. Why does Nneka convert to Christianity?
5. Why do some converts suspend their new faith until after the seventh market week?
6. Where does the white missionary go when he leaves Mbanta?
7. Why does it seem like the Evil Forest is going to gobble up the church?
8. What does Mr. Kiaga refer to when he says, “Blessed is he who forsakes his father and his mother for my
sake. . . . Those that hear my words are my father and my mother”? (p. 108)
9. According to Okonkwo, what is Nwoye’s crime?
10. Why is Okonkwo called “Roaring Flame”?
1. The missionaries ask for the king of the village, but there is no king. Mbanta is ruled by men of high title,
the chief priests, and the elders.
2. Every clan and village has an Evil Forest where they bury those who die of diseases like leprosy and
smallpox. The Evil Forest is a dumping ground for the potent fetishes of great medicine men when they die.
3. It is a strange site for the church because it is an evil place, filled with sinister forces.
4. Nneka converts to Christianity because she gave birth to four sets of twins, and all the children have been
abandoned in the Evil Forest. She is pregnant again.
5. Some of the converts suspend their new faith until after the seventh market week because they are afraid the
gods and ancestors will wipe out the missionaries.
Chapter 17 Questions and Answers 58
6. The white missionary goes back to build his headquarters in Umuofia. He pays regular visits to the
congregation at Mbanta.
7. The church stands on a circular clearing. It looks like the open mouth of the Evil Forest is waiting to snap
its teeth together and destroy the church.
8. Mr. Kiaga is referring to a passage in the New Testament. Nwoye does not really understand what Mr.
Kiaga is saying, but he is happy to leave his father.
9. Okonkwo feels that Nwoye is abandoning the gods of his ancestors and acting like an effeminate old man.
10. Okonkwo is called “Roaring Flame” because he is fiery and powerful. He concludes that “Living fire
begets cold, impotent ash.” (p. 109) As he is living fire, Nwoye is cold ash.
Chapter 18 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Why do the villagers think the Evil Forest is a good home for the Christians?
2. Why would an Igbo who killed a Christian have to flee from the clan?
3. Why are the Igbo Christians upset about admitting the osu?
4. How does Mr. Kiaga react to the osu?
5. Why are some of the osu afraid to shave off their long hair?
6. How does Mr. Kiaga reason with the osu about shaving their dirty hair?
7. Why is the python revered?
8. Why do some villagers want to remain uninvolved in the conflict surrounding Okoli?
9. Okonkwo asks the clan to reason like men. What does he say he would do if a man came into his hut and
defecated on the floor?
10. When does Okonkwo grind his teeth and why?
1. The villagers feel that if a gang of efulefu decide to live in the Evil Forest, it is their own affair. The Evil
Forest is filled with sinister forces; therefore, it is a good home for such marginal people.
2. Anyone who kills a Christian will be banished because even though Christians are considered worthless,
they still belong to the clan.
3. The church is upset about admitting the osu because they are outcasts and slaves.
4. Mr. Kiaga says that all people are children of God; there is no slave before God. The church must receive
their osu brothers, and the osu need Christ. On judgment day, God will laugh at the Igbo who ostracize the
Chapter 18 Questions and Answers 59
5. Some of the osu are afraid to shave off their long hair because a razor is taboo to them; they are afraid they
will die.
6. Mr. Kiaga says he did not die after he built his church in the Evil Forest. He did not die because he took
care of twins. He calls the Igbos who speak falsehoods “heathens.” He says the word of God is true.
7. The python is revered because it comes from the god of water. No one has ever deliberately killed a python.
8. Some villagers feel they should put their fingers into their ears when a man blasphemes. It is not their
custom to fight for their gods.
9. Okonkwo says if a man came into his hut and defecated on the floor, he would not shut his eyes; he would
take a stick and break his head.
10. Okonkwo grinds his teeth in disgust during the meeting of the Mbanta elders because they decide not to
take violent action against the Christians.
Chapter 19 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Why does Okonkwo regret his exile so bitterly even though he prospers in his motherland?
2. What is the significance of the names Okonkwo gives the children who were born during his seven years in
3. Why doesn’t Obierika build Okonkwo’s obi or the walls of his compound in Umuofia?
4. Why can’t Okonkwo return to Umuofia before the rains stop?
5. Why does Obiageli call Ezinma “Salt” while they harvest the cassava?
6. Why do the women put the cassava in shallow wells?
7. Why does Uchendu throw one of the kola nuts on the ground?
8. Why do some of the family members whistle when the food is laid out?
9. What does Okonkwo mean when he says that “A child cannot pay for its mother’s milk”? (p. 117)
10. Why are the elders fearful for the young people?
1. Okonkwo regrets his exile even though he prospers in his motherland because he feels he would have
prospered even more in Umuofia.
2. He names his daughter Nneka or “Mother is Supreme” and his son Nwofia or “Begotten in the
Wilderness.” Although Okonkwo shows reverence to his kinsmen by naming a child in honor of mother or
the feminine principal, he still feels like his mother’s home is a wilderness for him.
Chapter 19 Questions and Answers 60
3. Obierika doesn’t build Okonkwo’s obi or the walls of his compound because a man either has to build
these things for himself or inherit them from his father.
4. Okonkwo has to wait until the rains stop because he has to pay the full penalty of seven years in exile.
5. Ezinma dislikes cold water dripping down her back. Obiageli calls Ezinma “Salt” because she is acting
like she might dissolve.
6. The women put the cassava in shallow wells so that it will ferment.
7. Uchendu throws one of the kola nuts on the ground to honor the ancestors.
8. The family is surprised at the huge feast Okonkwo prepares for them.
9. Okonkwo means that he cannot repay his kinsmen for sustaining his life.
10. The elders are fearful for the young people because they do not know the value of kinship or how to speak
with one voice. The clan is being divided by Christianity.
Part Three, Chapter 20 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. What is the significance of the saying “The clan was like a lizard; if it lost its tail it soon grew another”?
(p. 121)
2. How is Okonkwo able to grow yams in Umuofia when he is actually located in Mbanta?
3. What is a kotma?
4. How does Okonkwo want his sons to be raised?
5. Why does Okonkwo regret that Ezinma is a girl?
6. Why is Ezinma able to convince Obiageli, her half-sister, to marry in Umuofia?
7. What is the sacrament of Holy Communion called in Igbo?
8. Describe the city of Umuru and explain its significance.
9. The Igbo prisoners sing a song about the “kotma of the ashy buttocks.” How do the court messengers react
to being called “Ashy-Buttocks”? (pp. 123–124)
10. How does Okonkwo compare the people of Abame with the people of Umuofia?
1. The saying means that if a man left the clan, someone soon filled his place.
2. Every year Obierika distributes Okonkwo’s yams to sharecroppers.
Part Three, Chapter 20 Questions and Answers 61
3. A kotma is a “court man.” This is derived from the English term. It is also translated as “court
4. Okonkwo wants his sons to hold their heads high among the Igbo people. He wants his sons to be raised in
traditional Igbo culture.
5. Okonkwo regrets that Ezinma is a girl because she alone understands his every mood, and a bond of
sympathy has grown between them. She understands things perfectly. If Ezinma were a boy, Okonkwo could
teach her more, and their relationship would survive her marriage.
6. Ezinma wields strong influence over Obiageli. The two young women refuse every offer of marriage in
7. The sacrament of Holy Communion is called “Holy Feast” in Igbo. Ogbuefi Ugonna thinks of the feast in
terms of eating and drinking. He puts his drinking-horn into his goatskin bag for the occasion.
8. The city of Umuru is located on the Niger River. White men arrived there many years ago and built their
center of religion, trade, and government. The kotma, or court messengers, come from Umuru.
9. The court messengers do not like to be called “Ashy-Buttocks.” They beat the prisoners, but the song
spreads in Umuofia.
10. Okonkwo says the men of Umuofia would be cowards to compare themselves with the men of Abame.
The fathers of Abame never dared to stand before the ancestors of Umuofia.
Chapter 21 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. What arguments does Akunna use to convince Mr. Brown that lesser gods act as messengers to Chukwu?
2. Why does Mr. Brown disapprove of Enoch’s behavior?
3. What is Mr. Brown’s attitude toward the traditional Igbo religion?
4. Akunna explains that the Igbo know Chukwu as the great creator god because many children are named
Chukwuka. What does the name mean?
5. Why does Mr. Brown visit Okonkwo?
6. What is Nwoye’s new Christian name?
7. How does Okonkwo respond to Mr. Brown’s visit?
8. Why does Mr. Brown leave his mission?
9. Why does Okonkwo feel as though he has returned in the wrong year?
10. Describe Okonkwo’s homecoming.
Chapter 21 Questions and Answers 62
1. Akunna says that the lesser gods act as messengers to Chukwu just like Mr. Brown acts as a messenger of
his church and the District Commissioner acts as a messenger of the ruler in England.
2. Mr. Brown disapproves of Enoch’s action because he is overzealous and provokes the clan. Enoch is the
son of the snake cult’s priest. He killed and ate a sacred python.
3. Mr. Brown respects the traditional Igbo religion.
4. The name Chukwuka means “Chukwu is Supreme.”
5. Mr. Brown visits Okonkwo to tell him that he has just sent Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye, to a new training
college for teachers.
6. Nwoye’s new Christian name is Isaac.
7. Okonkwo has Mr. Brown driven out of his homestead. He threatens to have him carried out if he comes
8. Mr. Brown leaves his mission because he is in poor health. He is very sorry to leave the people.
9. Okonkwo cannot initiate his sons in the ozo society immediately. He has to wait two years for the next
round of initiation ceremonies.
10. Okonkwo’s homecoming is disappointing to him. It is a nonevent to the rest of the villagers. The Igbo
people are excited and concerned about the new religion, the new government, and the new economy. They
are not concerned about Okonkwo.
Chapter 22 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. In Umuofia they say “as a man danced so the drums were beaten for him.” (p. 131) How does this saying
relate to Reverend Smith?
2. Why is Reverend Smith filled with wrath when he hears that a woman in the congregation allows her
husband to mutilate her dead child?
3. Why do the villagers call Enoch “The Outsider who wept louder than the bereaved”? (p. 131)
4. What is the greatest crime a man can commit in Umuofia?
5. Why is Enoch disappointed to be hidden in the parsonage?
6. Why does Ajofia address Mr. Smith by saying, “The body of the white man, do you know me?” (p. 134)
7. Explain why Okeke is not on the best terms with Reverend Smith.
8. How does Reverend Smith feel about Okeke, his interpreter, as he stands by him confronting the angry
Chapter 22 Questions and Answers 63
9. Explain how Okeke interprets Mr. Smith’s words to the spirits and leaders of Umuofia.
10. Why is the spirit of the clan pacified by the action of the egwugwu?
1. The people said Reverend Smith dances a furious step; therefore, the drums go mad. They mean that
Reverend Smith is an overzealous pastor who provokes anger among the traditional Igbo.
2. Reverend Smith believes the people are putting the old wine of the Igbo faith into the new wineskins of the
Christian faith. One of his congregation has followed Igbo practices. A child was declared an ogbanje, who
plagued its mother by dying and entering her womb to be born again four times. Then, it was mutilated to
discourage it from returning.
3. Enoch’s devotion to the new faith seems much greater than Mr. Brown’s. Mr. Brown is moderate in his
behavior, whereas Enoch is a zealot.
4. The greatest crime a man can commit in Umuofia is to unmask an egwugwu in public or do anything that
might reduce its immortal prestige in the eyes of the uninitiated. This is exactly what Enoch did.
5. Enoch is disappointed to be hidden in the parsonage because he hopes a holy war is imminent. A few other
Christians agree.
6. This is the language in which spirits speak to mortal men.
7. Okeke condemns Enoch’s behavior at the meeting. He says Enoch should not be hidden in the parsonage
because he will only draw the wrath of the clan on the pastor. Mr. Smith rebukes him in strong language and
does not seek his advice after that.
8. Reverend Smith is deeply grateful to Okeke, his interpreter, for standing by him. He smiles with deep
9. Okeke does not translate Mr. Smith’s words exactly. Mr. Smith tells the egwugwu to leave the church.
Okeke translates these words wisely by indicating that Mr. Smith is happy to have the egwugwu discuss their
10. The spirit of the clan is momentarily satisfied because the egwugwu burn the church to the ground.
Chapter 23 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. How does the District Commissioner coax the Igbo leaders?
2. What code of law does the District Commissioner use to judge the six Igbo leaders?
3. Why aren’t the leaders of Umuofia suspicious when the District Commissioner invites them to the
4. What pretense does the District Commissioner use to bring his 12 men into the talks with the Igbo leaders?
Chapter 23 Questions and Answers 64
5. The District Commissioner tells his men to treat the leaders of Umuofia with respect. Describe how the
court messengers humiliate the leaders.
6. How does Okonkwo react to the way the court messengers treat him?
7. How is the story of the detained leaders elaborated by the villagers?
8. Why is Umuofia described like a startled animal with erect ears, sniffing the silent air, and not knowing
where to run after her leaders are imprisoned?
9. Why does Ezinma break her long visit to her future husband’s family?
10. Why do the court messengers increase the fine from 200 bags of cowries to 250 bags of cowries?
1. The District Commissioner invites the leaders to talk like friends to ensure that the situation will not happen
2. The District Commissioner will administer justice according to the British code of law and “native” court
3. The men are not suspicious because the District Commissioner often calls the Igbo leaders together for
4. The District Commissioner says he wants his 12 men to hear the grievances of the Igbo leaders and take
warning. He explains that many of his men come from distant places. Although they speak Igbo, they are
ignorant of the customs of Umuofia.
5. One of the court messengers shaves off all the hair on the six leaders’ heads while they are still handcuffed.
They insult and beat the leaders.
6. Okonkwo is choked with hate.
7. Some villagers say the families of the imprisoned leaders will be hanged. Others say soldiers are ready to
massacre the people of Umuofia.
8. Umuofia is described like a startled animal because it is a full moon, yet the children’s voices are not heard
on the playground. The women of Iguedo do not meet to learn their new dance, and young men who usually
go abroad in moonlight stay home.
9. Ezinma returns home when she hears that her father has been imprisoned and is going to be hanged.
10. The court messengers increase the fine from 200 bags of cowries to 250 bags of cowries so they can skim
50 bags off the top of the fine. The people do not know that 50 bags will go directly to the court messengers.
Chapter 24 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Why are the women and children afraid to welcome the leaders home?
Chapter 24 Questions and Answers 65
2. What are the long stripes on Okonkwo’s back?
3. Why does Okonkwo have trouble sleeping that night?
4. Why does Okonkwo refer to the war with Isike saying, “Those were days when men were men”? (p. 141)
5. What does Okonkwo mean when he says he would show Egonwanne his back and his head if he talks about
a war of blame?
6. Why does Okonkwo grind his teeth?
7. What does Okika mean when he says, “Whenever you see a toad jumping in broad daylight, then know that
something is after its life”? (p. 143)
8. Okika says Eneke the bird was asked why he is always flying. He replied “Men have learnt to shoot
without missing their mark and I have learnt to fly without perching on a twig.” (p. 144) What is the meaning
of the proverb, and how does it apply to the novel?
9. Why does Okonkwo decapitate the court messenger?
10. Why don’t the people of Umuofia support Okonkwo and capture the other four messengers?
1. The leaders walk silently with heavy and fearsome looks on their faces.
2. The long stripes on Okonkwo’s back are the marks left by the whip.
3. Okonkwo is excited about the meeting planned for the next day.
4. Okonkwo believes that men were brave in the past. The glorious war with Isike is an example.
5. Okonkwo means he would show Egonwanne his shaved head and the marks of the whip on his back.
6. Okonkwo grinds his teeth because he is so angry.
7. Okika means that something is after the life of the Igbo people.
8. The proverb means that Eneke the bird learned how to adapt and protect himself. Because men were not
missing their targets when they shot, he learned how to keep on flying and not perch on a twig. If he did perch
on a twig, he might be shot. Eneke the bird learned how to adapt. Perhaps Okika means the Igbo people must
learn to adapt like Eneke.
9. Okonkwo decapitates the court messenger because he is so angry. He wants to fight, and he will not listen
to the messenger who tries to stop the meeting of Umuofia.
10. The people of Umuofia are confused and frightened when Okonkwo decapitates the court messenger.
They do not know what to do.
Chapter 24 Questions and Answers 66
Chapter 25 Questions and Answers
Study Questions
1. Is Okonkwo’s suicide entirely unexpected?
2. Why does Obierika send for strangers from another village?
3. Why does Obierika ask the commissioner to bury Okonkwo’s body?
4. Why is suicide such an abomination among the Igbo?
5. Why is Obierika so angry at the District Commissioner?
6. Why does the District Commissioner think he is bringing civilization to the Igbo people?
7. How does the District Commissioner trivialize the great tragedy of Okonkwo?
8. Explain why the title of the District Commissioner’s book is ironic.
9. Why do you think Okonkwo hung himself?
10. Why does Achebe have Okonkwo hang himself “off stage”?
1. Okonkwo’s suicide happens very quickly offstage. The reader may not be aware of what is happening at
first. However, Okonkwo’s suicide has been foreshadowed throughout the novel. Refer to pages 17, 95, and
100 of the text.
2. Obierika sends for strangers to cut down and bury Okonkwo. The Igbo cannot bury Okonkwo because he
has committed suicide.
3. Obierika has sent for strangers from another village, but he is afraid it will be a long time before they arrive.
He asks the District Commissioner to bury Okonkwo instead.
4. Suicide is an offense against the Earth goddess.
5. Obierika is Okonkwo’s best friend. He says that Okonkwo was one of the greatest men in Umuofia. The
white man drove him to kill himself, and he will be buried like a dog.
6. The District Commissioner does not understand Igbo life or customs. By imposing the British worldview,
he feels he is helping the people.
7. The District Commissioner trivializes the great tragedy of Okonkwo by allotting his story only one
paragraph in his book about the Igbo.
8. The title of the District Commissioner’s book is “The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower
Niger.” The title is ironic because the British did not bring peace to the people; they brought violence and
Chapter 25 Questions and Answers 67
9. Perhaps Okonkwo hung himself because the Igbo people did not rise up in support of him. He could not
resist the white man alone. He did not want to be arrested and subjected to prison and humiliation again.
10. Classic tragic heroes deal with disaster “offstage.” Achebe may have Okonkwo hang himself “offstage”
because he wants the reader to understand Okonkwo as a classic tragic hero.
Things Fall Apart: Essential Passages
Essential Passages by Character: Okonkwo
Essential Passage 1: Chapter 1
Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on
solid personal achievements. As a young man of eighteen he had brought honor to his village
by throwing Amalinze the Cat. Amalinze was the great wrestler who for seven years was
unbeaten, from Umuofia to Mbaino. He was called the Cat because his back would never
touch the earth. It was this man that Okonkwo threw in a fight which the old men agreed was
one of the fiercest since the founder of their town engaged a spirit of the wild for seven days
and seven nights.
Okonkwo, the protagonist of the story, is a prominent member of the Igbo tribe in Nigeria in the 1890s, prior
to the widespread control of Great Britain, the colonial power of the time. He is a man of action rather than
reflection. His fame is centered on his strength, especially his physical strength. From an early age, he has
shown himself proficient in the art of wrestling, which is of great importance in the villages of Umuofia.
Defeating the most prominent wrestler in the area, Okonkwo gains a reputation as one of the finest men in the
area, and he has great hopes to prosper even more. In a culture where courage is exhibited through physical
prowess, Okonkwo has few peers. As long as action is required, Okonkwo can be counted on to lead the way.
This allows him to acquire titles, three wives, a successful farm, and a place among the leaders of the
Essential Passage 2: Chapter 14
Okonkwo and his family worked very hard to plant a new farm. But it was like beginning life
anew without the vigor and enthusiasm of youth, like learning to become left-handed in old
age. Work no longer had for him the pleasure it used to have, and when there was no work to
do he sat in a silent half-sleep.
His life had been ruled by a great passion—to become one of the lords of the clan. That had
been his life-spring. And he had all but achieved it. Then everything had been broken. He had
been cast out of his clan like a fish onto a dry, sandy beach, panting. Clearly his personal god
or chi was not made for great things. A man could not rise beyond the destiny of his chi. The
saying of the elders was not true—that if a man said yea his chi also affirmed. Here was a man
whose chi said nay despite his own affirmation.
Okonkwo accidentally killed the son of one of the clan members, when his gun explodes and a piece of the
metal pierces the youth’s heart. Because it was an accident, Okonkwo is punished to seven years’ exile to his
mother’s homeland. His home is destroyed, and Okonkwo and his family leave with only a few of his
possessions. In his new home, Okonkwo tries to start over from scratch. He begins a new farm, but he no
Things Fall Apart: Essential Passages 68
longer enjoys work as he used to. Before, he was working toward becoming one of the lords of the clan, and
he had come close to succeeding. He had accumulated two titles and many yams. However, now that he is in
exile, his plans have been dashed. Okonkwo begins to doubt the teachings and traditions of his
elders. Okonkwo does not believe that his chi will respond positively to his work and efforts. His faith in his
gods begins to slip.
Essential Passage 3: Chapter 25
Then they came to the tree from which Okonkwo’s body was dangling, and they stopped
“Perhaps your men can help us bring him down and bury him,” said Obierika.
“We have sent for strangers from another village to do it for us, but they may be a long time
The District Commissioner changed instantaneously. The resolute administrator in him gave
way to the student of primitive customs.
“Why can’t you take him down yourselves?” he asked.
“It is against our custom,” said one of the men. “It is an abomination for a man to take his
own life. It is an offense against the Earth, and a man who commits it will not be buried by
his clansmen. His body is evil, and only strangers may touch it. That is why we ask your
people to bring him down, because you are strangers.”
Okonkwo and his family have returned from their seven years’ exile to their own village to find much has
changed. The Christian missionaries have established a church, and many of the villagers have become
converts, rejecting the old traditions. Okonkwo in anger wants to destroy the white men and destroy their
church, but he and the others who joined him were arrested and held prisoner for several days. On their
release, Okonkwo realizes that the old ways of life are over. At his despair over the lost traditions, he commits
suicide, thus breaking one of the strongest of those old traditions, that which prohibited suicide. Because he
took his own life, his clansmen are not allowed to retrieve his body, and he is not allowed to be buried with
his family. His body is now considered evil, and only someone outside of the clan may touch it. Thus
Okonkwo’s friend Obierika asks the British District Commissioner if he will take it down for them. He gets
some of his men to do the task, since he does not want it later said that he lowered himself to such an
undignified task as removing dead bodies.
Analysis of Essential Passages
Okonkwo, of the Igbo (Ibo) tribe of Nigeria, is a tragic hero, destined to be destroyed both by the fall of his
civilization and his own fatal flaws. Struck down by his inability to control his traditional way of life or his
own anger, Okonkwo represents a season of change that struck many countries of the world as they adjusted
from centuries of their own culture to the control of colonial powers.
Okonkwo is a man of action. He takes pride in, and is given respect for, his “solid personal achievements.”
This pride (hubris) contributes to his downfall, as it triggers his anger when events retreat from his own
control. Wrestling, the physical control of an opponent, is typical of his need to present himself solely through
action and force. As a farmer, he readily accepts the unpredictability of the weather, thus affecting his crops,
but he cannot accept the unpredictability of human nature, whether it is his son or the British colonial
officials. Rage erupts when he is crossed.
Essential Passages by Character: Okonkwo 69
It is ironic that, despite his many brutal attacks on his wives and children out of rage, it is because of an
accidental death that Okonkwo is exiled from his tribe for seven years. This exemplifies yet another incident
that is beyond his control. Theoretically, his anger can be controlled by himself, yet the explosion of the
ancient gun was an act over which he had no power.
Not only in his own strength but in the strength of the tribal traditions does Okonkwo gain meaning. His
concern for their continuance, especially in the face of the invasion of white missionaries and colonial
officials, is the foundation of his strength. He would fight and die to maintain these traditions. However, his
anger repeatedly leads him to break the traditions of the clan. Beating his wife during the Week of Peace, for
example, is expressly forbidden by the religious culture of the clan. Yet Okonkwo’s anger places him beyond
the tradition he is trying to protect. In the end, through losing the fight to keep the traditions from destruction
by the colonial officials, Okonkwo breaks the strongest tradition of all: the injunction against suicide. He has
destroyed the very thing he was trying to save. In this, Okonkwo, as the tragic hero, fails in his quest, unable
to save his land from the destruction that he has brought. As with many tragic heroes, his fate is determined
from the very beginning, his tragic flaw clearly making itself known. Okonkwo’s deep-seated anger, based on
his disdain for the weakness of his father’s failure, has set him up for his own failure. His inability to control
himself made him unable to control the fate of his clan, ensuring that both will fall apart.
Essential Passages by Theme: Pride
Essential Passage 1: Chapter 1
When Unoka died he had taken no title at all and he was heavily in debt. Any wonder then
that his son Okonkwo was ashamed of him? Fortunately, among these people a man was
judged according to his worth and not according to the worth of his father. Okonkwo was
clearly cut out for great things. He was still young but he had won fame as the greatest
wrestler in the nine villages. He was a wealthy farmer and had two barns full of yams, and
had just married his third wife. To crown it all he had taken two titles and had shown
incredible prowess in two inter-tribal wars. And so although Okonkwo was still young, he
was already one of the greatest men of his time. Age was respected among his people, but
achievement was revered. As the elders said, if a child washed his hands he could eat with
kings. Okonkwo had clearly washed his hand and so he ate with kings and elders.
Okonkwo is a man of “solid achievements,” based on his physical strength and ability to grow and harvest an
abundance of yams (a sign of individual wealth among the Igbo). He had great reason to be proud of his
achievements, and even more so when contrasted with those of his father. Unoka was the exact opposite of his
son. He had taken no titles (which resulted in increased status in the clan); he was also heavily in debt. Unoka
was a laughing stock among the nine villages. Yet his son bore none of the weaknesses that debased his
father. Through Okonkwo’s hard work, he gained wealth, yet Unoka’s laziness brought shame to his son.
With a full barn and a full home, Okonkwo displayed himself as a man of property. He had not one barn but
two. He had just acquired his third wife. His skill in battle also brought him honor. Even though he was
young, he had become a leader in the community and seemed destined for greatness. It is through his
achievements, not through his age, that Okonkwo is revered among the Igbo people.
Essential Passage 2: Chapter 8
“Nwoye is old enough to impregnate a woman. At his age I was already fending for myself.
No, my friend, he is not too young. A chick that will grow into a cock can be spotted the very
day it hatches. I have done my best to make Nwoye grow into a man, but there is too much of
Essential Passages by Theme: Pride 70
his mother in him.”
“Too much of his grandfather,” Obierika thought, but he did not say it. The same thought
also came to Okonkwo’s mind. But he had long learned how to lay that ghost. Whenever the
thought of his father’s weakness and failure troubled him he expelled it by thinking about his
own strength and success. And so he did now. His mind went to his latest show of manliness.
Okonkwo takes great pride in his place in the clan. He is known for his strength and courage. Yet his oldest
son, Nwoye, is nothing like him. He is lazy, resisting the level of commitment to work that his father has. He
is weak, Okonkwo stating that “a bowl of pounded yams can throw him in a wrestling match.” Okonkwo sees
similar weakness in his other two boys. It is only in his daughter Ezinma that he can see some of those traits
which brought him so much renown. His friend, Obierika, tries to calm his fears, stating that the children are
still very young and still have much room to grow. Yet, as Okonkwo points out, Nwoye is old enough to
become a father and is lagging behind his father at that age. Okonkwo despairs that anything can come of
Nwoye, believing that there is “too much of his mother in him.” Obierika, however, sees a parallel between
Nwoye and Unoka, the boy’s grandfather. They both exhibit a strong strain of weakness. Okonkwo sees it
also, but when confronted with the failings of his father, he turns his eyes on himself and focuses on his own
achievements, believing himself incapable of the weakness found in his father and his son.
Essential Passage 3: Chapter 24
“The greatest obstacle in Umuofia,” Okonkwo thought bitterly, “is that coward, Egonwanne.
His sweet tongue can change fire into cold ash. When he speaks he moves our men to
impotence. If they had ignored his womanish wisdom five years ago, we would not have
come to this.” He ground his teeth. “Tomorrow he will tell them that our fathers never fought
a ‘war of blame.’ If they listen to him I shall leave them and plan my own revenge.”
Following seven years’ exile in his motherland, Okonkwo has returned to his home in Umuofia to find it in
chaos. The invasion of the white man, in the form of Christian missionaries and British colonial officials, has
begun the destruction of the Igbo traditions. The missionary whom they had come to respect has departed due
to ill health, replaced by another who has no sensitivity to the people with whom he is working. As a result,
the Christian church is destroyed. Okonkwo, along with several others, are arrested and imprisoned in the
white man’s jail, subjected to humiliation and punishment. On his release, Okonkwo is more determined than
ever to exact revenge. Yet the messenger of the clan, Egonwanne, seeks to placate both sides. Okonkwo sees
no hope, and no desire, for peace. Knowing that the message of conciliation will be presented to the clan to
avoid bloodshed, Okonkwo, in his pride, vows to go it alone and plan his own revenge.
Analysis of Essential Passages
As with most tragic heroes, pride (hubris) is the ultimate downfall of Okonkwo. Despite the great abilities and
opportunities that come his way, Okonkwo eventually throws them away through his insistence on placing
himself first, above his family, his clan, and the very traditions that he is fighting so hard to maintain and
From an early age, Okonkwo has shown strength, courage, and ability in facing physical challenges.
Represented by his victory in the wrestling match with an older man, Okonkwo’s great promise will lead him
to phenomenal success in his personal and communal life. His very physical appearance bespeaks of a future
destined for greatness. Going from sport to war, Okonkwo’s strength brings him to the forefront of the
struggle, making him a hero among his clan, gaining for him the titles and respect so important to the Igbo
life. Yet his very strengths will lead eventually to his downfall. His inability to control that strength is
Essential Passages by Theme: Pride 71
exhibited in his monumental rages and tyrannical abuse of his wives and children. It is the physical beatings
that will make him lose a good portion of the respect of his fellow tribe members.
Okonkwo, in his pride, finds himself sandwiched between two people who are nothing but failures in his
eyes—his father and his son. His father, Unoka, was lazy and improvident, having no titles and little respect
from his fellow clansmen. A great part of Okonkwo’s life is spent trying to distance himself from the failures
of his father, often through the outright bragging that he engages in concerning his own achievements.
His father’s negative traits are mirrored in Nwoye, Okonkwo’s oldest son. It is for this reason that Okonkwo
feels such a desire to belittle and beat the laziness out of his son. Nwoye’s failures are a sad reflection on his
father, giving the appearance of weakness in his ability to pass on his virtues to the next generation. Through
Unoka’s failures as a father and Okonkwo’s efforts not to repeat them, Okonkwo instead becomes a failure
as a father himself. Okonkwo thus develops a habit of bringing about the very thing he is endeavoring to
Similarly, Okonkwo’s eventual fall is the ultimate failure. Taking upon himself the sole responsibility to
maintain the Igbo traditions, Okonkwo instead places himself far beyond the ability to do so when he commits
suicide. This complete rejection of the most important of the traditions against self-murder shows that
Okonkwo’s ultimate concern is not tradition but his own pride in his achievements.
Things Fall Apart: Themes
Custom and Tradition
Okonkwo's struggle to live up to what he perceives as "traditional" standards of masculinity, and his failure
adapt to a changing world, help point out the importance of custom and tradition in the novel. The Ibo tribe
defines itself through the age-old traditions it practices in Things Fall Apart. While some habits mold tribe
members' daily lives, other customs are reserved for special ceremonies. For example, the head of a household
honors any male guest by praying over and sharing a kola nut with him, offering the guest the privilege of
breaking the nut. They dank palm-wine together, with the oldest person taking the first drink after the provider
has tasted it.
Ceremonial customs are more elaborate. The Feast of the New Yam provides an illustration. This Feast gives
the tribe an opportunity to thank Am, the earth goddess and source of all fertility. Preparations for the Feast
include thorough hut-cleaning and decorating, cooking, body painting, and head shaving. Relatives come from
great distances to partake in the feast and to drink palm-wine. Then, on the second day of the celebration, the
great wrestling match is held. The entire village meets in the village playground, or llo, for the drumming,
dancing, and wrestling. The festival continues through the night until the final round is won. Because the tribe
views winning a match as a great achievement, the winner earns the tribe's ongoing respect.
Tribal custom dictates every aspect of members' lives. The tribe determines a man's worth by the number of
titles he holds, the number of wives he acquires, and the number of yams he grows. The tribe acknowledges a
man's very being by the gods' approval of him. Without custom and tradition, the tribe does not exist.
Choices and Consequences
In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo makes a choice early in life to overcome his father's legacy. As a result,
Okonkwo gains the tribe's respect through his constant hard work. The tribe rewards him by recognizing his
achievements and honoring him as a great warrior. The tribe believes that Okonkwo's personal god, or chi, is
good (fate has blessed him). Nevertheless, they realize that Okonkwo has worked hard to achieve all that he
has (if a man says yes, his chi says yes). When he breaks the Week of Peace, however, the tribe believes that
Okonkwo has begun to feel too self-important and has challenged his chi. They fear the consequences his
Things Fall Apart: Themes 72
actions may bring.
The tribe decides to kill Ikemefuna. Even though Ezeudu warns Okonkwo not to be a part of the plan,
Okonkwo himself kills Ikemefuna. Okonkwo chooses to kill the boy rather than to appear weak.
When Okonkwo is in exile, he ponders the tribe's view of his chi. He thinks that maybe they have been
wrong—that his chi was not made for great things. Okonkwo blames his exile on his chi. He refuses to accept
that his actions have led him to this point. He sees no connections among his breaking the Week of Peace, his
killing Ikemefuna, and his shooting Ezeudu's son In Okonkwo's eyes, his troubles result from ill fate and
Alienation and Loneliness
Okonkwo's exile isolates him from all he has ever known in Things Fall Apart. The good name he had built
for himself with his tribesmen is a thing of the past. He must start anew. The thought overwhelms him, and
Okonkwo feels nothing but despair. Visits from his good friend, Obierika, do little to cheer Okonkwo. News
of the white man's intrusion and the tribe's reactions to it disturb him. His distance from the village, and his
lack of connection to it, give him a sense of helplessness. Even worse, Okonkwo's son, Nwoye, joins the white
man's mission efforts.
Okonkwo's return to the village does nothing to lessen his feelings of alienation and loneliness. The tribe he
rejoins is not the same tribe he left. While he does not expect to be received as the respected warrior he once
was, he does think that his arrival will prompt an occasion to be remembered. When the clan takes no special
notice of his return, Okonkwo realizes that the white man has been too successful in his efforts to change the
tribe's ways. Okonkwo grieves the loss of his tribe and the life he once knew. He is not able to overcome his
sense of complete alienation.
In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo feels betrayed by his personal god, or chi, which has allowed him to produce
a son who is effeminate. Nwoye continually disappoints Okonkwo. As a child, Nwoye prefers his mother's
stories to masculine pursuits. As an adult, Nwoye joins the white missionaries.
Okonkwo also feels betrayed by his clan. He does not understand why his fellow tribesmen have not stood up
against the white intruders. When Okonkwo returns from exile, his clan has all but disintegrated. Many of the
tribe's leaders have joined the missionaries' efforts; tribal beliefs and customs are being ignored. Okonkwo
mourns the death of the strong tribe he once knew and despises the "woman-like" tribe that has taken its place.
Change and Transformation
The tribe to which Okonkwo returns has undergone a complete transformation during his absence in Things
Fall Apart. The warlike Ibo once looked to its elders for guidance, made sacrifices to gods for deliverance,
and solved conflicts though confrontation. Now the Ibo are "woman-like"; they discuss matters among
themselves and pray to a god they can not see. Rather than immediately declare war on the Christians when
Enoch unmasks the eg-wugwu, or ancestral spirit, the Ibo only destroy Enoch's compound. Okonkwo realizes
how completely the Christians have changed his tribe when the tribesmen allow the remaining court
messengers to escape after Okonkwo beheads one of them.
Good and Evil
Many of the tribesmen view the white man as evil in Things Fall Apart. Tribesmen did not turn their backs on
one another before the white man came. Tribesmen would never have thought to kill their own brothers before
the white man came. The arrival of the white man has forced the clan to act in ways that its ancestors deplore.
Such evil has never before invaded the clan.
Things Fall Apart: Themes 73
Culture Clash
The arrival of the white man and his culture heralds the death of the Ibo culture in Things Fall Apart. The
white man does not honor the tribe's customs and strives to convince tribesmen that the white man's ways are
better. Achieving some success, the white man encourages the tribesmen who join him, increasing the white
man's ranks. As a result, the tribe is split, pitting brother against brother and father against son. Tribal
practices diminish as the bond that ties tribesmen deteriorates. Death eventually comes to the weaker of the
clashing cultures.
Things Fall Apart: Style
Things Fall Apart chronicles the double tragedies of the deaths of Okonkwo, a revered warrior, and the Ibo,
the tribe to which Okonkwo belongs. In literature, tragedy often describes the downfall of a great individual
which is caused by a flaw in the person's character. Okonkwo's personal flaw is his unreasonable anger, and
his tragedy occurs when the tribe bans him for accidentally killing a young tribesman, and he returns to find a
tribe that has changed beyond recognition. The Ibo's public demise results from the destruction of one culture
by another, but their tragedy is caused by their turning away from their tribal gods.
Things Fall Apart is set in Umuofia, a tribal village in the country of Nigeria, in Africa. It is the late 1800s,
when English bureaucrats and missionaries are first arriving in the area. There is a long history of conflict
between European colonists and the Africans they try to convert and subjegate. But by placing the novel at the
beginning of this period Achebe can accentuate the clash of cultures that are just coming into contact. It also
sets up a greater contrast between the time Okonkwo leaves the tribe and the time he returns, when his village
is almost unrecognizable to him because of the changes brought by the English.
In Things Fall Apart, the Ibo thrive in Umuofia, practicing ancient rituals and customs. When the white man
arrives, however, he ignores the Ibo's values and tries to enforce his own beliefs, laws, and religious practices.
Some of the weaker tribesmen join the white man's ranks, leaving gaps in the clan's united front. First, the
deserters are impressed with the wealth the white man brings into Umuofia. Second, they find in the white
man's religion an acceptance and brotherhood that has never been afforded them due to their lower status in
the tribe. As men leave the tribe to become members of the white man's mission, the rift in the tribe widens.
Social and psychological conflict abounds as brothers turn their backs on one another, and fathers and sons
become strangers.
Achebe develops Things Fall Apart through a third-person narrative—using" "he" and "she" for
exposition—rather than having the characters tell it themselves. Often speaking in the past tense, he also
narrates the story with little use of character dialogue. The resulting story reads like an oral tale that has been
passed down through generations of storytellers.
While the characters in Things Fall Apart have little dialogue, the reader still has a clear image of them and is
able to understand their motives. Achebe accomplishes this through his combination of the English language
with Ibo vocabulary and proverbs. When the characters do talk, they share the rich proverbs that are "the
palm-oil with which words are eaten." Achebe uses the proverbs not only to illustrate his characters but also to
paint pictures of the society he is depicting, to reveal themes, and to develop conflict. Vivid images result,
giving the reader a clear representation of people and events.
Things Fall Apart: Style 74
Point of View
Critics praise Achebe for his adept shifts in point of view in Things Fall Apart. Achebe begins the story from
Okonkwo's point of view. Okonkwo's story helps the reader understand the Ibo's daily customs and rituals as
well as celebrations for the main events in life: birth, marriage, and death. As the story progresses, however, it
becomes more the clan's story than Okonkwo's personal story. The reader follows the clan's life, gradual
disintegration, and death. The novel becomes one of situation rather than character; the reader begins to feel a
certain sympathy for the tribe instead of the individual. The final shift occurs when Achebe ends the story
from the District Commissioner's viewpoint While some critics feel that Achebe's ending lectures, others
believe that it strengthens the conclusion for the reader. Some even view it as a form of functionalism, an
African tradition of cultural instruction.
Plot and Structure
Divided into three parts, Things Fall Apart comprises many substories. Yet Achebe holds the various stories
together through his use of proverbs, traditional oral tales, and leitmotif, or recurring images or phrases. Ibo
proverbs occur throughout the book, providing a unity to the surface progression of the story For example,
"when a man says yes, his chi says yes" is the proverb the tribe applies to Okonkwo's success, on the one
hand, but is also the proverb Okonkwo, himself, applies to his failure. Traditional oral tales always contain a
tale within the tale. Nwoye's mother is an expert at telling these tales—morals embedded in stories. The stories
Achebe tells throughout Things Fall Apart are themselves tales within the tale. Leitmotif is the association of
a repeated theme with a particular idea. Achebe connects masculinity with land, yams, titles, and wives. He
repeatedly associates this view of masculinity with a certain stagnancy in Umuofia. While a traditional
Western plot may not be evident in Things Fall Apart, a definite structure with an African flavor lends itself
to the overall unity of the story.
Achebe uses foil—a type of contrast—to strengthen his primary characters in Things Fall Apart, illuminating
their differences. The following pairs of characters serve as foils for each other: Okonkwo and Obierika,
Ikemefuna and Nwoye, and Mr. Brown and the Reverend Smith. Okonkwo rarely thinks; he is a man of
action. He follows the tribe's customs almost blindly and values its opinion of him over his own good sense.
Obierika, on the other hand, ponders the things that happen to Okonkwo and his tribe. Obierika often makes
his own decisions and wonders about the tribe's wisdom in some of its actions. Ikemefuna exemplifies the
rising young tribesman A masculine youth, full of energy and personality, Ikemefuna participates in the manly
activities expected of him. In contrast, Nwoye appears lazy and effeminate. He prefers listening to his
mother's stories over making plans for war. He detests the sight of blood and abhors violence of any kind. Mr
Brown speaks gently and restrains the overzealous members of his mission from overwhelming the clan. He
seeks to win the people over by offering education and sincere faith. The Reverend Smith is the
fire-and-bnmstone preacher who replaces Mr. Brown. He sees the world in black and white; either something
is evil, or it is good. He thrives on his converts' zeal and encourages them to do whatever it takes to gain
supporters for his cause.
Things Fall Apart: Historical Context
Tribal Society
Things Fall Apart was published in 1958 just prior to Nigerian independence, but it depicts pre-colonial
Africa. Achebe felt it was important to portray Nigerians as they really were—not just provide a shallow
description of them as other authors had. The story takes place in the typical tribal village of Umuofia, where
the inhabitants (whom Achebe calls the Ibo, but who are also known as the Igbo) practice rituals common to
their native traditions.
Things Fall Apart: Historical Context 75
The Ibo worshipped gods who protect, advise, and chastise them and who are represented by priests and
priestesses within the clan. For example, the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves grants knowledge and wisdom
to those who are brave enough to consult him. No one has ever seen the Oracle except his priestess, who is an
Ibo woman who has special powers of her own. Not only did the gods advise the Ibo on community matters,
but also they guided individuals. Each person had a personal god, or chi, (Jiat directed his or her actions. A
strong chi meant a strong person; people with weak chis were pitied. Each man kept a separate hut, or shrine,
where he stored the symbols of his personal god and his ancestral spirits.
A hunting and gathering society, the Ibo existed on vegetables, with yams as the primary crop. Yams were so
important to them that the Ibo celebrated each new year with the Feast of the New Yam. This festival thanked
Ani, the earth goddess and source of all fertility. The Ibo prepared for days for the festival, and the celebration
itself lasted for two days. Yams also played a part in determining a man's status in the tribe—the more yams a
man has, the higher his status. Trade with other villages was facilitated by small seashells called cowries
which were used as a form of currency.
Within the village, people were grouped according to families, with the eldest man in the family having the
most power. On matters affecting the whole village, an assembly of adult men debated courses of action, and
men could influence these assemblies by purchasing "titles" from the tribal elders. This system encouraged
hard work and the spread of wealth. People who transgressed against the laws and customs of the village had
to confront the egwugwu, an assembly of tribesmen masked as spirits, who would settle disputes and hand out
punishment. Individual villages also attained various degrees of political status. In the novel, other tribes
respect and fear Umuofia. They believe that Umuofia's magic is powerful and that the village's war-medicine,
or agadi-nwayi, is particularly potent. Neighboring clans always try to settle disputes peacefully with Umuofia
to avoid having to war with them.
Christianity and Colonization
While Christianity spread across North and South Africa as early as the late fifteenth century, Christianity
took its strongest hold when the majority of the missionaries arrived in the late 1800s. After centuries of
taking slaves out of Africa, Britain had outlawed the slave trade and now saw the continent as ripe for
colonization. Missionaries sent to convert the local population were often the first settlers. They believed they
could atone for the horrors of slavery by saving the souls of Africans.
At first, Africans were mistrustful of European Christians, and took advantage of the education the
missionaries provided without converting. Individuals who had no power under the current tribal order,
however, soon converted; in the novel, the missionaries who come to Umuofia convert only the weaker
tribesmen, or efulefu. Missionaries would convince these tribesmen that their tribe worshipped false gods and
that its false gods did not have the ability to punish them if they chose to join the mission. When the mission
and its converts accepted even the outcasts of the clan, the missionaries' ranks grew. Eventually, some of the
more important tribesmen would convert. As the mission expanded, the clan divided, discontent simmered,
and conflicts arose.
English Bureaucrats and Colonization
After the arrival of the British, when conflicts came up between villages the white government would
intervene instead of allowing villagers to settle them themselves. In the novel, a white District Commissioner
brings with him court messengers whose duty it is to bring in people who break the white man's law. The
messengers, called "Ashy-Buttocks" for the ash-colored shorts they wear, are hated for their high-handed
attitudes. These messengers and interpreters were often African Christian converts who looked down on
tribesmen who still followed traditional customs. If violence involved any white missionaries or bureaucrats,
British soldiers would often slaughter whole villages instead of seeking and punishing guilty individuals. The
British passed an ordinance in 1912 that legalized this practice, and during an uprising in 1915, British troops
killed more than forty natives in retaliation for one dead and one wounded British soldier.
Things Fall Apart: Historical Context 76
One of the most important results of Europe's colonization of Africa was the division of Africa into at least
fifty nation-states. Rather than being a part of a society determined by common language and livelihood,
Africans lived according to political boundaries. The divisions often split ethnic groups, leading to tension and
sometimes violence. The co-hesiveness of the traditional society was gone.
Nigerian Independence
British colonial rule in Nigeria lasted only fifty-seven years, from 1903 to 1960. Although Nigerians had long
called for self-rule, it was not until the end of World War II that England began heeding these calls. The
Richards Constitution of 1946 was the first attempt to grant some native rule by bringing the diverse peoples
of Nigeria under one representative government. The three regions (northern, southern and western) were
brought under the administration of one legislative council composed of twenty-eight Nigerians and seventeen
British officers. Regional councils, however, guaranteed some independence from the national council and
forged a link between local authorities, such as tribal chiefs, and the national government. There were three
major tribes (the Hausa, the Yoruba and the Igbo) and more than eight smaller ones living in Nigeria. This
diversity complicated the creation of a unified Nigeria. Between 1946 and 1960 the country went through
several different constitutions, each one attempting to balance power between the regional and the national
bodies of government.
On October 1, 1960, Nigeria attained full status as a sovereign state and a member of the British
Commonwealth. But under the Constitution of 1960 the Queen of England was still the head of state. She
remained the commander-in-chief of Nigeria's armed forces, and the Nigerian navy operated as part of
Britain's Royal Navy. Nigerians felt frustrated by the implication mat they were the subjects of a monarch
living over 4,000 miles away. In 1963, five years after the publication of Achebe's novel, a new constitution
would replace the British monarch with a Nigerian president as head of state in Nigeria.
Literary Traditions
Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart just before Nigeria received its independence. He intended the book for
audiences outside Africa; he wanted to paint a true picture of precolonial Africa for those people who had no
direct knowledge of traditional African societies. As a result of the Nigerians' acquisition of independence, the
Nigerian educational system sought to encourage a national pride through the study of Nigerian heritage. The
educational system required Achebe's book in high schools throughout the English-speaking countries in
Africa. The book was well received. Chinua Achebe has been recognized as "the most original African
novelist writing in English," according to Charles Larson in The Emergence of African Fiction. Critics
throughout the world have praised Things Fall Apart as the first African English language classic.
Things Fall Apart: Critical Overview
Things Fall Apart has experienced a huge success. Since it was published in 1958, the book has sold more
than two million copies in over thirty languages. Critics attribute its success not only to the book's message,
but also to Achebe's talents as a writer. Achebe believes that stories should serve a purpose; they should
deliver a meaningful message to the people who hear or read them. When Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart,
his intent was to explain the beginnings of the turmoil Africans have been experiencing over the past century.
He wanted to describe the integrity of precolonial Nigeria, detail the effects of colonialism on tribal societies,
and reveal the kinds of immoral treatment that people in modern society are often made to suffer. Critics agree
that he accomplished all of these purposes. They feel that he wntes honestly about tribal life and the colonial
legacy. They also believe that Achebe delivers another important message: man will always face change, and
he who can accommodate change will survive.
While some readers will view Okonkwo's deterioration and demise as a tragic result of his going against the
will of the gods, others see the new "world order" as inevitable. Okonkwo's acts do not bring the tribe to an
Things Fall Apart: Critical Overview 77
end; it is the tribe's lack of adaptability that destroys it. These opposing interpretations strengthen the impact
of the book. In The Growth of the African Novel, Eustace Palmer states that "while deploring the imperialists'
brutality and condescension, [Achebe] seems to suggest that change is inevitable and wise men ... reconcile
themselves to accommodating change. It is the diehards ... who resist and are destroyed in the process."
Achebe successfully communicates his message through skillful writing. From the time critics first read his
book, they have concurred that Achebe's craftsmanship earns him a place among the best writers in the world.
An example of his craftsmanship is Achebe's ability to convey the essence of traditional Nigeria while
borrowing from the conventions of the European novel. He was the first Nigerian writer to adapt African oral
tradition to novel form. In doing so, "he created a new novel that possesses its own autonomy and transcends
the limits set by both his African and European teachers," as Kofi Awoonor observes in The Breast of the
Earth. The borrowed European elements Achebe contrasts are communal life over the individual character
and the beauty and detail of traditional tribal life over brief references to background. His descriptions of
day-to-day life and special ceremonial customs provide a "powerful presentation of the beauty, strength, and
validity of traditional life and values," as Palmer observes.
Literary experts also point out Achebe's ability to combine language forms, maintain thematic unity, and
shape conflict in Things Fall Apart. His use of Ibo proverbs in conjunction with the English language places
the reader in Africa with the Ibo tribe. Adrian A. Roscoe explains in his book Mother Is Gold: A Study of West
African Literature, "Proverbs are cherished by Achebe's people as tribal heirlooms, the treasure boxes of their
cultural heritage." In addition, the combination of languages helps reiterate the theme of tradition versus
change. Roscoe goes on to say, "Through [proverbs] traditions are received and handed on; and when they
disappear or fall into disuse ... it is a sign that a particular tradition, or indeed a whole way of life, is passing
The death of the language then, a powerful cultural tradition, signifies the ultimate discord in the novel—the
fall of one culture to another. G. D. Kil-lam observes in The Novels of Chinua Achebe that "the conflict in the
novel, vested in Okonkwo, derives from the series of crushing blows which are levelled at traditional values
by an alien and more powerful culture causing, in the end, the traditional society to fall apart " Achebe's
mastery of content and his talent as a writer contribute to his worldwide success with this novel as well as his
other novels, articles, poems, and essays. As Killam concludes, his writing conveys that "the spirit of man and
the belief in the possibility of triumph endures."
Things Fall Apart: Character Analysis
Ikemefuna comes to live with Okonkwo's family as a peace offering from Ikemefuna's home tribe to the Ibo
for the killing of a Umuofian daughter From the beginning, Ikemefuna fills the void in Okonkwo's life that
Okonkwo's own son cannot.
Ikemefuna adjusts quickly to his new family and tribe and energetically participates in activities. He earns
everyone's love and respect because he is so lively and talented Only two years older than Nwoye, Ikemefuna
already knows much about the world and can do almost anything. He can identify birds, trap rodents, and
make flutes. He knows which trees make the best bows and tells delightful folk stories. Okonkwo appreciates
Ikemefuna for the example he sets for Nwoye.
Ikemefuna lives with Okonkwo for three years. The tribe then agrees to kill Ikemefuna because the Oracle of
the Hills and the Caves has requested it. Ikemefuna's death brings far-reaching consequences.
Things Fall Apart: Character Analysis 78
Okonkwo's son, Nwoye, disappoints him. Nwoye shows all the signs of his grandfather's sensitivity and
laziness, and Okonkwo fears that Nwoye will shame the reputable name Okonkwo has worked so hard to
achieve. Nwoye knows that he should enjoy the masculine rites of his fellow tribesmen, but he prefers his
mother's company and the stories she tells. He questions and is disturbed by many of the tribe's customs.
Okonkwo beats and nags Nwoye, making Nwoye more unhappy and further distancing him from the ways of
the clan.
When Ikemefuna comes to live with Okonkwo's family, Nwoye grows to admire his knowledge and to love
him like a real brother. Out of his respect for Ikemefuna, Nwoye begins to associate more with the men of the
family and tribe, and to act more like the man that his father wants him to become.
After Ikemefuna's death, Nwoye feels an emptiness that cannot be filled by the clan's traditions. He is plagued
by old questions for which the clan has no answers.
Out of awe and respect, the Ibo tribe refers to Okonkwo as "Roaring Flame." Fiery of temper with a blazing
appearance, Okonkwo puts fear in the hearts of his clan members as well as his own family unit. Okonkwo's
huge build, topped by bushy eyebrows and a very broad nose, gives him the look of a tornado on the warpath.
His whole demeanor reeks of controlled fury; he even breathes heavily, like a dragon ready to explode. He
always appears to be wound for fierce action.
While Okonkwo's appearance portrays a man people fear, it belies the terror Okonkwo hides within himself.
For his entire life, Okonkwo has had to deal with having a father who is considered weak and lazy—"agabala"
in the tribe's terms. The tribe detests weak, effeminate men. Okonkwo is terrified to think that the tribe will
liken him to his father. He is even more afraid of recognizing in himself some semblance of weakness that he
sees in his father. Thus, he despises gentleness, idleness, and demonstrations of sensitivity. He will not allow
himself to show love, to enjoy the fruits of hard work, or to demonstrate concern for others, nor can he
tolerate these in other men. He rules his family unit with an iron fist and expects everyone to act on his
commands. He speaks curtly to those he considers less successful than himself and dismisses them as
unimportant. An extremely proud man, Okonkwo continually pushes to overcome the image his heredity
might have given him.
The tribe sees Okonkwo as powerful. They respect him for his many achievements. Not only has he overcome
his father's weaknesses, but also he has accomplished more than the average tribesman. As a young man, he
wrestles and beats one of the fiercest fighters in the land. Next, Okonkwo goes on to amass three wives and
two barns full of yams. Then, he acquires two titles and is considered the greatest warrior alive.
Other Characters
Mr. Brown
The first white missionary to come to Umuofia, Mr. Brown gains the clan's respect through his calm nature
and patience. He neither attacks the tribe's customs nor badgers them to join him. He restrains his overzealous
members from harsh tactics. He simply offers education to the Umuofians and their children. The mission is
flourishing when Mr. Brown has to leave for health reasons.
Nwoye 79
The District Commissioner
The District Commissioner arrives in Umuofia at the same tune as the missionaries. He and his court
messengers—called "Ashy-Buttocks" for the ash-colored shorts they wear—try clansmen for breaking the white
man's law. These white men are greatly hated for their arrogance and disrespect for tribal customs.
Ekwefi, forty-five years old, is Okonkwo's second wife. Although she fell in love with Okonkwo when he
won the famous wrestling match, she did not move in with him until she left her husband three years after the
contest. Ekwefi had been lovely in her youth, referred to as "Crystal of Beauty." The years have been hard on
her. She has become a courageous and strong-willed woman, overcoming disappointment and bitterness in her
life She has borne ten children, only one of whom has lived. She stands up to Okonkwo and lives for her
daughter, Ezinma.
Enoch is an overzealous member of Mr. Brown's mission. While Mr. Brown restrains Enoch from taking his
faith to extremes, Mr. Smith does not. Mr Smith not only condones Enoch's excessive actions, he encourages
them. Enoch instigates the battle between Umuofia and the church by unmasking an egwugwu, or ancestor
spirit, during a public ceremony. This is one of the greatest crimes a man could commit.
Ogbuefi Ezeudu
A noble warrior and the oldest man in all the village, Ogbuefi Ezeudu has achieved a rare three titles. He is
the one to tell Okonkwo that the tribe has decided to kill Ikemefuna. Ezeudu warns Okonkwo not to be a part
of Ikemefuna's death.
At Ezeudu's death, the clan gathers to bid a final sacred tribute to a man who has nearly attained the highest
tribal honor—lord of the land. When Okonkwo accidentally kills Ezeudu's son during the ceremony, the clan is
horrified. Okonkwo can think only of Ezeudu's warning.
Ekwefi lives for Ezinma, her only living child, her pride and joy. Okonkwo favors his daughter, who is not
only as beautiful as her mother once was, but who grows to understand her father and his moods as no one
else does. Father and daughter form a special bond. Okonkwo and Ekwefi treat Ezinma like she is their equal
rather than their child. They permit her privileges that other family and tribal children are not granted.
Okonkwo's only regret towards Ezinma is that she is not a boy.
Nwoye's mother
Okonkwo's first wife, Nwoye's mother is wise to the ways of the tribe. While she knows that her sons will
never be able to display such emotions, she tells her children wonderful stories that describe feelings like pity
and forgiveness. She attempts to keep peace in the family by lying to Okonkwo at times to help the other
wives avoid punishment. She tries to adhere to sacred tribal customs. She shows compassion at the message
that Ikemefuna is to return to his family. In her own way, Nwoye's mother displays the courage of a
Obienka is Okonkwo's best friend. Unlike Okonkwo, he is a thinking man. He questions the circumstances
that are sending his friend into exile, even while trying to console Okonkwo and taking care of Okonkwo's
preparation for departure. Obierika is the one who visits Okonkwo while Okonkwo is exiled He brings him
the first news of the missionaries' arrival, knowing that Okonkwo's son has joined them. At the end of the
seven-year exile, Obienka builds Okonkwo two huts and sends for him Finally, a sad and weary Obienka bids
a last tribute to his friend when he leads the diminishing clansmen through the rituals required to cleanse the
land Okonkwo has desecrated.
Other Characters 80
Ojiugo is Okonkwo's third and youngest wife. She evokes Okonkwo's anger through thoughtless acts and
prompts him to break the sacred Week of Peace. As a result, the pnest of the earth goddess punishes
Mr. Smith
See Reverend James Smith
Reverend James Smith
Mr. Smith replaces Mr. Brown when Mr. Brown has to leave the mission. The Reverend Smith leads the
overzealous with a passion. Where Mr. Brown was mild-mannered and quiet, Mr. Smith is angry and
flamboyant. He denounces the tribe's customs and bans from his church clan members who must be,
according to him, filled with the devil's spirit to want to continue tribal tradition.
Ogbuefi Ugonna
A worthy tribesman of two titles, Ogbuefi Ugonna is one of the first of the village men to receive the
sacrament of Holy Communion offered by the Christian missionaries.
Unoka is Okonkwo's father, the root of Okonkwo's fear and problems. Unoka represents all that the Ibo
abhor—gentleness, lack of ambition, and sensitivity to people and nature. He is a gifted musician who loves
fellowship, the change of the seasons, and children. Although Unoka is tall, his stooped posture bears the
weight of the tribe's scorn.
Unoka is happy only when he is playing his flute and drinking palm wine. Tribal customs frighten, sicken, and
bore him. He hates war and is nauseated by the sight of blood. He would rather make music than grow crops
As a result, his family is more often hungry than not, and he borrows constantly from fellow tribesmen to
maintain his household. He dies in disgrace, owing everyone and holding no titles.
Things Fall Apart: Essays and Criticism
Things Fall Apart: A Valuable Source of African Literature
As the most widely read work of African fiction, Things Fall Apart has played an instrumental role in
introducing African literature to readers throughout the world. In particular, Achebe's fiction has contributed
to world literature by retelling African history, as well as the history of European colonization, from an
Afro-centric perspective rather than a Euro-centric one. By shifting the narrative focus from the perspective of
the colonizer to the perspective of the colonized, Achebe's novels reveal and correct many of the biased
assumptions found in previous historical and literary descriptions of Africa. Specifically, they reaffirm the
value of African cultures by representing their rich and complex cultural traditions instead of stereotyping
them as irrational and primitive. As Achebe explains in his frequently quoted essay, "The Novelist as
Teacher," his novels seek to teach Africans that "their past—with all its imperfections—was not one night of
savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God's behalf delivered them." To say that Achebe affirms
African culture and history, however, is not to imply that he simply inverts European ethnocentrism by
romanticizing African culture as perfect or vilifying European cultures as entirely corrupt. Instead, Achebe
presents a remarkably balanced view of how all cultures encompass both good and bad dimensions.
In addition to re-interpreting African culture and history from an African perspective, Things Fall Apart is
also significant because of its mastery of literary conventions. In fact, many critics argue that it is the best
African novel ever written, and they specifically praise its sophisticated development of character, tragedy,
Things Fall Apart: Essays and Criticism 81
and irony. Okonkwo, in particular, is a complex character, and consequently there are many ways to interpret
his role in the novel. On one level, he can be interpreted psychologically in terms of the oedipal struggle that
he has with his father and the very different oedipal struggle that his son, Nwoye, has with him. As each son
rejects the example of his father, these three generations form a reactionary cycle that ironically repeats itself:
when Nwoye rejects Okonkwo's masculinity, he ironically returns to the more feminine disposition that
Okonkwo originally rejected in his father. Many of the major events of the novel, including both Okonkwo's
tragic drive to succeed and Nwoye's eventual conversion to Christianity, largely result from the
inter-generational struggle created when each son rejects his father.
Another way to analyze the psychological dimensions of Okonkwo's character is to examine how he
constructs his sense of gender by asserting a strong sense of masculinity and repressing any sense of
femininity Just as there is an external psychological conflict between Okonkwo and his father, there is also an
internal psychological conflict between the masculine and feminine sides within Okonkwo. While Okonkwo's
hyper-masculinity initially enables him to achieve success as a great wrestler and warrior, his refusal to
balance this masculine side with feminine virtues eventually contributes to his later destruction. At virtually
every turn in the novel, his excessive masculinity nudges him toward new troubles. Because of his contempt
for unmanliness, he rudely insults Osugo, destroys his relationship with his own son Nwoye, and lets himself
be pressured into sacrificing Ikemefuna in spite of Ezeudu's warning. Moreover, Okonkwo's lack of respect
for women is equally pervasive and problematic. He ignores the wisdom found in women's stories, he
frequently intimidates and beats his wives, and he can only relate to his daughter Ezinma because he thinks of
her as a boy. Consequently, Okonkwo is a man out of balance who has only developed one half of his full serf
because he only accepts the masculine side of his culture.
In addition to noting how gender influences Okonkwo's behavior within the story, many critics also note that
gender influences Achebe as an author. Feminist critics, in particular, have criticized Things Fall Apart both
for suggesting that men are representative of all Africans and for focusing too exclusively on masculine
activities and male characters. Though it is perhaps inevitable that Achebe would write his novel from a male
perspective, these critics raise interesting questions about how Achebe's male perspective might ignore and
misrepresent the experiences of African women. Nevertheless, despite Achebe's male bias, there are moments
in the novel when Achebe emphasizes female characters and valorizes (heir perspectives. It is the women who
pass on many of the cultural traditions through stories, and it is Okonkwo's daughter, Ezinma, not his son,
Nwoye, who understands Okonkwo in the end. Moreover, Okonkwo's wife, Ekwefi, shows more courage and
parental love in defending the life of her daughter, Ezinma, than Okonkwo does in participating in the
sacrifice of Ikemefuna Consequently, even though Achebe might emphasize male characters and perspectives,
he does not simply represent men as superior to women. In fact, there are many ways in which Achebe
critiques Okonkwo's inflated sense of masculinity.
Another way to interpret Okonkwo's character is to focus less on his internal personality and look instead at
how this personality is shaped by the various social and historical contexts in which he lives. From such a
perspective, Things Fall Apart does not explore oedipal conflicts or gender identity as much as it explores the
tension between pursuing individual desires and conforming to the community's values and customs. In many
ways, Okonkwo's tragic death results directly from his inability to balance these competing demands of
individuality and community. At first, Okonkwo seems an ideal representative of his community's values. He
earns honor and respect from his people by developing the physical strength, manly courage, and disciplined
will valued by his Igbo culture. As the novel progresses, however, Okonkwo's success gradually develops into
a dangerous sense of individualism that flagrantly disregards the community's rules and decisions. For
example, he beats his wife during the sacred Week of Peace, and he attempts to single-handedly attack the
British instead of waiting for and accepting the community's collective decision. In fact, many critics have
argued that this individualistic disregard for the community is Okonkwo's primary tragic flaw, though it is
perhaps difficult to separate this individualism from Okonkwo's other character flaws such as inflexibility,
hyper-masculinity, and an obsessive reaction against his father.
Things Fall Apart: A Valuable Source of African Literature 82
In an even broader context, Achebe adds yet another dimension to Okonkwo's tragedy by situating it within
the historical context of British colonial expansion. As the novel progresses, the initial focus on Okonkwo's
psychological struggles enlarges to include Okonkwo's political struggle against British colonialism By
situating the personal tragedy of Okonkwo's suicide within (his larger historical tragedy of colonial
domination, Things Fall Apart develops a double-tragedy. Moreover, this double-tragedy further complicates
the interpretation of Okonkwo's character because the external tragedy of colonial domination largely
provokes Okonkwo's internal aggression. Although both Okonkwo and his society are responsible for their
own destruction to some degree, there is also another sense in which they are destroyed by forces beyond their
control. While the reader might condemn Okonkwo's rash outburst of violence, the reader also sympathizes
with and perhaps even justifies the rage that Okonkwo feels while watching foreign invaders unjustly accuse
and dominate his people. Even though Okonkwo's final act of resistance is ineffective and perhaps even
misguided, it exemplifies how Africans and other colonized peoples have courageously resisted colonialism
instead of passively accepting it Consequently, Okonkwo's character is both tragically flawed and tragically
heroic, and instead of separating the intermixed heroism and destructiveness that defines Okonkwo throughout
the novel, Achebe's conclusion only emphasizes' how Okonkwo's strengths and weaknesses are interrelated
Thus, Achebe's conclusion brings together a masterful sense of character, tragedy, and irony.
In addition, Things Fall Apart is also important stylistically because it develops a hybrid aesthetic form that
creatively fuses European and African cultural forms. At the simplest level, Achebe does this through his use
of language. By introducing numerous African terms throughout the novel, he develops a hybrid language that
mixes Igbo and English words. While some of these words may be confusing at first, by the end of the novel
the reader learns to recogmze many basic Igbo words like chi (fate), obi (hut), and osu (outcast). At a more
complex level, however, Achebe also integrates African cultural traditions into the structure of the novel
through his use of proverbs and folktales. Many of the insights developed in the novel are presented either
through proverbs or through stones drawn from the rich oral traditions of Igbo culture. These stories, like the
story about Mosquito's marriage proposal to Ear and the story about Tortoise's attempt to trick the birds out of
their feast, function as stories-within-the-story, and they add additional layers of meaning to the main plot of
the novel.
In addition to its literary and political value, Things Fall Apart is also a novel rich in anthropological detail. In
many ways, it can be read as an anthropological description of the daily life and customs of the Igbo people
because Achebe blends his description of Okonkwo's tragedy with a richly detailed description of Igbo culture
before European colonization. Throughout the novel, Achebe describes numerous aspects of daily life in a
traditional Igbo community ranging from methods of farming and forms of entertainment to dietary practices,
clan titles, kinship structures, and marriage customs. In addition, he also describes a wide variety of Igbo
religious beliefs and ceremonies such as the Week of Peace, the Feast of the New Yam, the Ozo dance,
ogbanje spirit-children who keep dying and being reborn, the Evil Forest, and various gods and goddesses.
This comprehensive, detailed description of African customs not only helps the reader understand the daily
activities and religious beliefs of the Igbo people, but it also helps the reader begin to understand an Igbo
world view. Consequently, it represents not only how Igbo people live but also what they believe and how
they think and feel.
Finally, Achebe adds yet another dimension to Things Fall Apart by concluding the novel with a strong
critique of how western colonial histories have been written from biased, ethnocentric perspectives. While this
historical dimension of the novel may not be readily apparent at first, Achebe makes it unmistakably clear in
the concluding paragraph, which describes the District Commissioner's callous response to Okonkwo's
suicide. In addition to being generally apathetic to Okonkwo's death, the District Commissioner seems even
more inhuman because he takes interest in Okonkwo's suicide only because it will give him "new material"
for his book. After the reader has read Achebe's detailed and moving description of Okonkwo' s life, the
District Commissioner dismisses this story as only worth a "reasonable paragraph" because there is "so much
else to include, and one must be firm in cutting out the details." At this point, Achebe begins to turn the
Things Fall Apart: A Valuable Source of African Literature 83
reader's attention from the District Commissioner's lack of compassion to his historical ignorance, which
grossly underestimates the long and complex history leading up to Okonkwo's tragic death. Moreover, the
District Commissioner's decision to title his book The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger,
demonstrates both his inability to think of African people as anything other than primitive and his inability to
recognize how he has brought violence instead of peace to the Lower Niger. By ending the novel with the
District Commissioner's complete misinterpretation and miswriting of the scene of colonial conflict, Achebe
suggests that his novel is not simply about the colonial encounter between two cultures. At a deeper level, it is
also about how the story of that encounter is told. It is a story about the telling of history itself. By drawing
attention to the District Commissioner's erroneous sense of history, Achebe reminds the reader that western
descriptions of Africa have largely been written by men like the District Commissioner. Consequently, Things
Fall Apart seeks to correct such erroneous historical records by retelling African history from an African
perspective that intimately understands Okonkwo's pain and outrage, even if it does not completely condone
Okonkwo's violent actions.
Source: Robert Bennett, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1997. Bennett is a doctoral candidate at the
University of California, Santa Barbara.
Culture in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart
That Achebe sees the best of Igbo village life as offering something of the ideal is suggested by an interview
in 1988 with Raoul Granqvist [in Travelling: Chinua Achebe in Scandinavia. Swedish Writers in Africa,
Umea University, 1990]. Achebe, talking of the importance of ideals, refers to the example of village life
based on a land of equality. "This," he says,
is what the Igbo people chose, the small village entity that was completely self-governing...
The reason why they chose it [this system] was because they wanted to be in control of their
lives. So if the community says that we will have a meeting in the market place tomorrow,
everybody should go there, or could go there. And everybody could speak.
Since Achebe is not the first to write of Africa, he must dispel old images in order to create a true sense of his
people's dignity. Works such as Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness see Africans as primitives representing
Europeans at an earlier stage of civilization, or imaging all humanity's primal urges which civilization hides.
Firsthand European accounts of the colonial period, such as the district commissioner's Pacification of the
Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger in Things Fall Apart, reduce the African experience to an anthropological
study told from the white man's point of view. Achebe reveals that the Europeans' ideas of Africa are
mistaken. Perhaps the most important mistake of the British is their belief that all civilization progresses, as
theirs has, from the tribal stage through monarchy to parliamentary government....
The Igbos, on the other hand, have developed a democratic system of government. For great decisions the
ndichie, or elders, gather together all of Umuofia. The clan rules all, and the collective will of the clan can be
established only by the group. Further, as is appropriate in a democracy, each man is judged on his own
merits, "according to his worth," not those of his father, as would be appropriate in an aristocracy or an
Within this system the Igbos as a whole reveal themselves more tolerant of other cultures than the Europeans,
who merely see the Igbos as uncivilized. In other words, the Igbo are in some ways superior to those who
come to convert them. Uchendu, for example, is able to see that "what is good among one people is an
abomination with others," but the white men tell the Igbos that Igbo customs are bad and that their gods are
not true gods at all. Unlike the Europeans, the Igbos believe that it "is good that a man should worship the
gods and spirits of his fathers" even if these gods are not the Igbos' gods. While the European tradition allows
Culture in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart 84
men to fight their brothers over religion, the Igbo tradition forbids them to kill each other: it is an abomination
to kill a member of the clan. Further, the long history of Crusades and holy wars and of religious persecution
in Europe occurs because men can fight for gods, but it is not the Igbo "custom to fight for [their] gods."
Rather, heresy is a matter only between the man and the god.
The Christian missionary in Mbanta objects to the Igbo gods on the belief that they tell the Igbos to kill each
other, and, in fact, the gods are invoked in the fighting of wars against another village— though not
indiscriminately, only when the war is just. At times the oracle forbids the Umuofians to go to war. The
Europeans in Things Fall Apart, however, kill far more in the name of religion than the Igbos: the British, for
example, wipe out the whole village of Abame in retaliation for the killing of one white man.
The Igbos do not fight each other because they are primitive. Achebe implies the existence of the conditions
in Nigeria which historically led to the need for war as a matter of survival. The land, consisting of rock
underlying an almost nonexistent topsoil, was very poor and thus would not support large numbers of people.
Planting soon depleted the soil, and so villagers were forced to move further and further afield to find land
which would yield a crop to support them. Okonkwo's father, the lazy Unoka, has little success planting yams
because he sows on "exhausted farms that take no labor to clear." Meanwhile, his neighbors, crossing "seven
rivers to make their farms," plant the "virgin forests." As the population of Nigeria increased, land and food
were insufficient to provide for everyone The novel seems to make the turning point in the alteration from
plenty to scarcity some time between the generation of Okonkwo's Uncle Uchendu and that of Okonkwo, for
Uchendu speaks of "the good days when a man had friends in distant clans." Although the state of constant
warfare was hardly desirable, at least it provided a means for survival....
The Christian missionary, then, is mistaken about the perversity of the Igbo religion: some wars are inevitable
if the clan is to survive, but war is not indiscriminate. Religion is a factor both in limiting war and in
supporting it when it is j'ust. In the latter case war might be seen as a deterrent to future crimes against
Umuofia. Neighboring clans try to avoid war with Umuofia because it is "feared" as a village "powerful in
war," and when someone in Mbaino kills a Umuofian woman, "[e]ven the enemy clan know that" the
threatened war is "just."
In fact, the Igbo have a highly developed system of religion which works as effectively as Christianity. The
Igbo religion and the Christian religion are equally irrational, but both operate along similar lines to support
morality. To the Christians it seems crazy to worship wooden idols, but to the Igbos it seems crazy to say that
God has a son when he has no wife. Both systems of religion look to only one supreme god, Chukwu for the
Umuofians. Both supreme gods have messengers on earth, Christ for the British and the wooden idols for the
Igbos. Both religions support humility; the Igbos speak to Chukwu through messengers because they do not
want to worry the master, but they deal with Chukwu directly if all else fails. Both gods are vengeful only
when disregarded. If a person disobeys Chukwu, the god is to be feared, but Chukwu "need not be feared by
those who do his will."
In addition to revealing that the original Igbo religion is not inferior to Christianity, Achebe makes it clear that
the demoralizing current state of political affairs in Africa is the result of European interference rather than
simply the natural outgrowth of the native culture. The Igbos have a well-established and effective system of
justice which the British replace with the system of district commissioners and court messengers. Disputes in
the tribe which cannot be resolved in other ways come before the egwugwu, the greatest masked spirits of the
clan, played by titled villagers. Hearing witnesses on both sides, for example, the tribunal comes to a decision
in the case of Uzowoli, who beat his wife, and his indignant in-laws, who took his wife and children away. In
this dispute the egwugwu try to assuage each side. They warn Uzowoli that it "is not bravery when a man
fights a woman" and tell him to take a pot of wine to his in-laws; they tell Odukwe to return Uzowoli's wife if
he comes with wine. The system helps to dispel hard feelings by refusing "to blame this man or to praise
that"; rather the egwugwu's duty is simply "to settle the dispute."
Culture in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart 85
Although the conditions in Nigeria require warlike men for the survival of the village, the Igbos have realized
the danger of such men to their own society. Warriors must be fierce to their enemies and gentle to their own
people, yet spirited men can bring discord to their own societies. The tribe has institutions to control the anger
of its own men. For instance, there is a Week of Peace sacred to the earth goddess. Moreover, as indicated
earlier, killing members of one's own clan is forbidden, and even inadvertent death such as Okonkwo's killing
of Ezeudu's son must be expiated. Recognizing the need for Okonkwo to distinguish between friends and
enemies, Ogbuefi Ezeudu calls on Okonkwo to tell him to have nothing to do with the killing of Ikemefuna
because the boy is too much like a family member: "He calls you his father."...
In addition to supplying a workable system of government and institutions supporting moderation and
morality, the Igbos have an economic system which redistributes wealth in a manner preventing any one
tribesman from becoming supreme. As Robert Wren asserts [in Achebe's World, 1981] ozo requires that every
ambitious man of wealth periodically distribute his excess. In order to take any of the titles of the clan, a man
has to give up a portion of his wealth to the clan. Okoye, in Things Fall Apart, is gathering all his resources in
preparation for the "very expensive" ceremony required to take the Idemili title, the third highest in the land.
As Achebe explains in Arrow of God, long ago there had been a fifth title among the Igbos of Umuaro— the
title of king:
But the conditions for its attainment had been so severe that no man had ever taken it, one of
the conditions being that the man aspiring to be king must first pay the debts of every man
and every woman in Umuaro.
Along with the representation of the viability of Igbo institutions in a world without Europeans, Achebe gives
a sense of the beauty of Igbo art, poetry and music by showing how it is interwoven with the most important
institutions of the clan and by creating a sense of the Igbo language through his own use of English. The
decorating of walls and bodies or the shaving of hair in "beautiful patterns" recurs in various ceremonies.
Music and dancing are a part of Igbo rituals which call for talent such as that of Obiozo Ezikolo, king of all
the drums. Stones become the means of inciting men to strength, of teaching about the gods, and of generally
passing on the culture....
In addition to portraying the dignity of Igbo village life, Achebe makes it clear that the Igbos did not need the
white man to carry them into the modern world. Within the Igbo system change and progress were possible.
When old customs were ineffective, they were gradually discarded. Formerly the punishment for breaking the
Week of Peace was not so mild as that meted out to Okonkwo, an offering to Ani. In the past "a man who
broke the peace was dragged on the ground through the village until he died. But after a while this custom was
stopped because it spoiled the peace which it was meant to preserve." Such changes were likely to be brought
about by men who, like Obierika, "thought about things," such as why a man should suffer for an inadvertent
offense or why twins should be thrown away.
Although Achebe has the Igbo culture meet certain standards, he does not idealize the past. Probably the most
troubling aspect of Igbo culture for modern democrats is the law that requires the killing of Ikemefuna for the
sins of his clan. Achebe's description of Ikemefuna makes him a sympathetic character, and it is difficult not
to side with Nwoye in rebelling against this act. Nevertheless, Igbo history does not seem so different from
that of the British who think they are civilizing the natives. A form of the principle of an eye for an eye is
involved in Mbaino's giving Mbanta a young virgin and a young man to replace the "daughter of Mbanta"
killed in Mbaino. It is the Old Testament principle cast in a more flexible and gentler mold, for the killing of
Ikemefuna is dependent on the Oracle and thus is not, like the Old Testament law, inevitable. Further, the
sacrifices of the virgin to replace the lost wife and of the young boy become a way to "avoid war and
bloodshed" while still protecting one's tribe from injustices against it. Achebe, then, seems to depict this
episode in terms which relate it to the development of the British, while also sympathizing with the impulses
to change in Obierika and with the revulsion of Nwoye against the sacrifice which to him is so like the
Culture in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart 86
abandonment of twins in the Evil Forest.The sacrifice of the virgin, of course, is also a reminder of the
sacrifices of young virgins in the classical literature which is so basic a part of the British heritage....
Although Achebe depicts the treachery and ignorance and intolerance of the British, he does not represent the
Europeans as wholly evil. Both the Igbo and the British cultures are for Achebe a mixture of types of human
beings. Okonkwo and Mr. Smith are warrior types who will not compromise when their own cultures are
threatened. Okonkwo favors fighting the Christians when in Abame one of them kills the sacred python, and
he favors war with the Christians in Umuofia. In the end he cuts down the court messengers who come to
disband the meeting in Umuofia. Likewise, the Reverend James Smith is against compromise: "He saw the
world as a battlefield in which the children of light were locked in mortal conflict with the sons of darkness."
Mr. Brown, on the other hand, is more like Akunna or Obierika. He and Akunna are willing to learn about the
other's beliefs even if they are not converted to them. He and Obierika are thoughtful defenders of their own
cultures. Mr. Brown recognizes the difficulty with a frontal attack on the Ig-bos' religion, and so he favors
compromise and accommodation. Obierika realizes that if Umuofia kills the Christians, the soldiers from
Umuru will annihilate the village.
Achebe's novel, then, depicts for both Africans and Americans the actual and potential sources of modern
Nigerian dignity. Things Fall Apart suggests that the perpetual human types recur in all cultures and that all
effective civilizations must learn to deal with those types. Revealing the Igbo ability in precolonial times to
incorporate the variety of humans in a well-functioning, culture, Achebe refers his Igbo society to a series of
standards which both Africans and Americans can seek as goals—a degree of redistribution of wealth, a
combining of male and female principles, compelling art and poetry and music, tolerance, democracy,
morality, a sound system of justice and, perhaps most important, the capacity for meaningful change. Lending
veracity to his depiction of Igbo history by remaining clearsighted about cultural weaknesses which need
correction, Achebe depicts a worthy precursor of a healthy and just modern civilization.
Source: Diana Akers Rhoads, "Culture in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart," in The African Studies Review,
Vol. 26, No. 2, September, 1993, pp. 61-72.
The Center Holds - The Resilience of Ibo Culture in Things
Fall Apart
Written about the past of Africa by a novelist who sees himself as a "teacher," Things Fall Apart encompasses
several worlds, several experiences, sometimes complex, all altered or mixed. Achebe is never a mere reporter
of public events. Talking of Things Fall Apart, he said: "I now know that my first book was an act of
atonement with my past, the ritual return and homage of a prodigal son." [Achebe in Morning Yet on Creation
Day, Heinemann, 1975]. The past that Chinua Achebe describes so beautifully in Things Fall Apart is a past
that Achebe himself had to rediscover. It is a past that was largely lost as a result of twentieth-century
Europeanization. This rediscovery of the suppressed past is an act of faith and religious revival. Achebe, like
the majority of African writers today, wants his writings to be functional, to serve as oral literature did in
traditional Africa, reflecting the totality of actual experience. As David Cook tells us:
Close study of a passage from Things Fall Apart out of context is particularly likely to lead to
pedantic fault-finding and to have little relation to the full impact the novel makes upon us
since . . the achievement of this work is essentially an epic achievement in which the whole is
greater than the parts and in which the parts cannot be appreciated properly when separated
from the whole. [African Literature. A Critical View, by David Cook, Longman, 1977 ]
The Center Holds - The Resilience of Ibo Culture in Things Fall Apart 87
John Mbiti similarly sees the holistic and communal nature of African culture in his statement: "I am because
we are and since we are therefore I am" [in African Religions and Philosophy, by John Mbiti, Anchor Books
Doubleday, 1970]. This communal sense makes it necessary to see Okonkwo as something other than just a
tragic hero in the usual Western sense—a lonely figure who passes moral judgment the group.
The "we" of Achebe's story is the Ibo society of Umuofia, which has no centralized authority or king. The
tribal setup is very different from most tribal societies in Africa, because of its respect for individualism and
its rejection of any inherited or hierarchical system of authority. The Ibo people's highly individualistic
society may have developed partly because of geography, for they lived in forest areas which were difficult to
penetrate, and each village lived separated from the next. These natural obstacles are described by another Ibo
writer, Elechi Amadi, in his novel The Concubine[Heinemann, 1982]:
Only the braves could go as far as Alyi. It was a whole day's journey from Omokachi. The
path went through forests and swamps and there is no knowing when and where headhunters
would strike. When there was any message to be relayed to Alyi two strong men ran the
In spite of its isolation, Umuofia society is proud, dignified, and stable. It is governed by a complicated
system of customs, traditions, and rituals extending from birth through marriage to death. It has its own legal,
educational, and religious system and conventions governing relations between men and women, adults and
children, and the various generations. The first part of the book allows us to see the customs, rituals, and
traditions of Umuofia (e.g., consultation of oracles, the Week of Peace, the New Yam Festival) and to see the
myths operating in the clan (e.g., Ogbanje, or a child that repeatedly dies and returns to the mother to be
reborn, the exposure of twins, and taboos about shedding the blood of one's clansmen).
In addition, we are shown a society that is competitive and materialistic. A man's prestige is in direct
proportion to the size of his barns and his compounds, to the number of titles he has taken. As Things Fall
Apart shows the first impact of European invasion upon the old Ibo society, Achebe presents, in a very fair
and objective way, the strengths and weaknesses of this society. Contrary to the views of the District
Commissioner who plans to write a book, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger, Achebe
presents an Ibo culture which is neither "primitive" nor "barbaric." Even though his ambition to prove that
"African peoples did not hear of culture for the first time from Europeans" might seem to cast doubt on his
objectivity, he does not romanticize the Ibo society, but reveals instead the bad side as well as the good. He
acts as the conscientious teacher he wants to be. Nothing is left aside.
To his credit, Achebe does not merely describe these traditions, values, and customs; he brings the ceremonial
to life, presenting events and conversations dramatically. In so doing, he presents convincingly a rich Ibo
culture which is not static, but clearly in a state of transition. Outwardly, Umuofia is a world of serenity,
harmony, and communal activity, but inwardly it is torn by the individual's personal doubts and fears. At
times, the reader is faced with contradictions. For example, although the child is valued more than any
material thing in Umuofian society, an innocent child named Ikemefuna is denied rife by traditional laws and
customs which demand his life m return for that of a Umuofian who was killed by his people. But Ibo society
is full of contradictions. It is a world in which the spiritual dimension is a part of daily life, but also a world in
which a man's success is measured by his material goods. It is a world which is at once communal and
individualistic, a world in which human relations are paramount, but in which old people and twins are left in
the forest to die. It is a male-dominated society, in which the chief goddess is female and in which proverbial
wisdom maintains "Mother is supreme." This sustained view of the duality of the traditional Ibo society
intensifies the wider tragedy and reveals the dilemma that shapes and destroys the life of Okonkwo....
In providing a context for interpreting Okonkwo's relationship with his society, the novel's use of proverbs
plays an important role. They reveal the clan's dependence upon traditional wisdom and help to present the
The Center Holds - The Resilience of Ibo Culture in Things Fall Apart 88
whole way of life. Many critics have demonstrated the power of proverbs in the work of Achebe in general
and in Things Fall Apart in particular. Bernth Lindfors sums up the role of the proverbs in Achebe's fictions
when he declares:
Proverbs can serve as keys to an understanding of his novels because he uses them not merely
to add a touch of local color but to sound and reiterate themes, to sharpen characterization, to
clarify conflict, and to focus on the values of the society he is portraying. [Folklore in
Nigerian Literature, by Bernth Lindfors, Africana Publishing, 1973 ]
Such an understanding of the subtleties of language by the reader is possible only through personal effort
linked with open-mindedness. It is, unfortunately, those elements which are lacking among many of the
characters in the novel and which have led also to cultural misunderstanding among its readers. Achebe is
using English, a worldwide language, to translate African experience. In other words, English, a tool in the
hands of all those who have learnt to master it, can be submitted to different kinds of use Critics of African
literature must keep this fact in mind and try to grasp all the riches of the Ibo language and rhetoric that
Achebe, as a son of the tribe, has tried to translate. With such an attitude, the critic will contribute to
consolidating and widening our experience, the human experience. Hasn't the reader grown into accepting, for
instance, that the natural world is penetrated by the supernatural, thanks to Achebe's ability to make us live
(with the characters) the various stages of their cultural life?
Things Fall Apart, the title of which is an allusion to W. B. Yeats's poem "The Second Coming," is a novel in
which Achebe is interested in analyzing the way things happen and in giving language to the Ibo experience.
He offers a larger view of history and of individual life:
No civilization can either remain static or evolve forever towards a more inclusive perfection.
It must both collapse from within and be overwhelmed from without, and what replaces it will
appear most opposite to itself, being built from all that it overlooked or undervalued. [In
Critical Perspectives on Achebe, edited by C. L. Innes and Bernth Lindfors, Three Continents
Press, 1978.]
The novel, therefore, celebrates stability in human affairs despite its apparent "anarchy" (to use a word from
Yeats's poem). Ibo culture, even while changing, is very much alive. Despite the tragic loss of Okonkwo, the
society of the Ibos, because of its flexibility, survives. Despite the loss, "the center holds."
Source: Ndiawar Sarr, "The Center Holds - The Resilience of Ibo Culture in Things Fall Apart," in Global
Perspectives on Teaching Literature, Shared Visions and Distinctive Visions, Sandra Ward Lott, Maureen S.
G. Hawkins, Norman McMillan, eds., National Council of Teachers of English, 1993, pp. 347-55.
Things Fall Apart: Suggested Essay Topics
Part One
Chapter 1
1. Compare and contrast Okonkwo with his father, Unoka. Give special attention to the reasons why
Okonkwo disdains his father and strives to succeed.
2. Discuss the significance of the three proverbs introduced in Chapter One. Thoroughly explain each proverb
and define its meaning in the context of the chapter. What is Chinua Achebe’s overall purpose in using Igbo
proverbs in the novel?
Things Fall Apart: Suggested Essay Topics 89
Chapter 2
1. In what ways is Okonkwo a respected leader in the village? Give three examples to support your points.
2. Describe the homestead of Okonkwo, his three wives, and eight children. What does the homestead reveal
about Igbo culture? Discuss three points and provide examples to support your ideas.
Chapter 3
1. The author introduces Chika and one of Nwakibie’s nine wives. He also mentions Okonkwo’s mother and
sisters. Based upon this information, describe at least three various roles women play in Igbo society. Use
examples to support your points.
2. Explain the Igbo concept of chi and show how this concept relates to Okonkwo’s desired success in life.
Chapter 4
1. Compare and contrast the way Okonkwo treats Osugo, his wives, and his sons. Is Okonkwo harsher to men,
women, or children? Support your points with examples.
2. Discuss the symbolic meaning of the Week of Peace for the Igbo people. How does Okonkwo’s anger
violate the Week of Peace?
Chapter 5
1. Okonkwo is angry because he is unable to work during the preparations for the New Yam Festival.
Compare and contrast Okonkwo’s behavior during the festival with his behavior during the Week of Peace.
2. Polygamy is defined as the practice of having more than one spouse at a time. The work and play of the
women and children in this chapter provide examples of a harmonious polygamous household. Describe this
household in terms of the relationships between Okonkwo’s wives and children.
Chapter 6
1. Describe Okonkwo’s reaction to the wrestling match. Why do you think he reacts this way?
2. Describe the relationships among Chielo, Ekwefi, and Ezinma. How do you know that Chielo is really no
ordinary person?
Chapter 7
1. Okonkwo is inwardly pleased with his son Nwoye. He attributes Nwoye’s development to Ikemefuna.
Why does Okonkwo want Nwoye to be a prosperous man and feed the ancestors with regular sacrifices?
2. Okonkwo loves Ikemefuna, and the boy calls him father. Yet, Okonkwo kills his adopted son in cold blood.
Why does Okonkwo kill Ikemefuna? Ezeudu is an elder and a leader in the community. Why didn’t
Okonkwo heed Ezeudu’s advice? Is Okonkwo making up his own rules, regulations, and customs? Prove
your points.
Chapter 8
1. Compare and contrast Okonkwo and his friend Obierika. Which one of the men is more balanced? Prove
your position with a good example.
2. Discuss the role of women in founding and maintaining a family in Igbo society. Explain the custom of the
Things Fall Apart: Suggested Essay Topics 90
Chapter 9
1. The concept of ogbanje is foreign to Western readers. Explain the concept, and show how Ekwefi’s sorrow
contributes to her love for Ezinma.
2. Okonkwo shows a softer, more loving side in his relationship with Ezinma. Provide two examples from this
chapter illustrating Okonkwo’s care and concern.
Chapter 10
1. Explain the judicial function of the egwugwu and the relationship of the egwugwu to the living. Note the
relationship of the egwugwu to Igbo women.
2. How do you know that Okonkwo is one of the egwugwu? What qualifications does Okonkwo have to enter
the secret society? Support your points with examples.
Chapter 11
1. Explain how the story of Tortoise and the birds fits in with some of the other stories Achebe has told about
animals throughout the novel. Explain the purpose of these stories.
2. Explain the Oracle and Chielo’s relationship with her god. Explain why all the characters, Okonkwo,
Ekwefi, Ezinma, and Chielo, were powerless to alter the events of this dark night.
Chapter 12
1. Describe the role of women in Igbo society based on the information you have gathered in this chapter.
Discuss the role of women in the family, women in religion, and women in politics.
2. Explain how Achebe complicates the character of Okonkwo. Compare Okonkwo on the dark night he
waited for Ezinma at the cave of Agbala with Okonkwo on the day he accompanied his adopted son,
Ikemefuna, through the forest.
Chapter 13
1. Explain why Ezeudu is such an important and well-respected man in Umuofia. Discuss his family, his
finances, his political power, and his role in the community. Explain how Ezeudu interpreted the decrees of
the Earth goddess in terms of Okonkwo’s responsibility to his adopted son, Ikemefuna.
2. Obierika is a thoughtful, well-balanced Igbo. Explain how Obierika can question the justice of the Earth
goddess, support Okonkwo by storing his yams, and raze his friend’s homestead at the same time.
Part Two
Chapter 14
1. Uchendu attempts to convince Okonkwo that he is not
the greatest sufferer in the world. Provide three examples Uchendu uses to make his point.
2. Give a detailed analysis of the saying “Mother is Supreme,” as it relates to Okonkwo. (p. 94) Use three
examples to support your points.
Chapter 15
1. Give a detailed example explaining how Obierika is a good and loyal friend to Okonkwo.
2. Why does Uchendu tell the story of Mother Kite? Give three reasons to support your points.
Things Fall Apart: Suggested Essay Topics 91
Chapter 16
1. An efulefu is a man who sells his machete and wears only his sheath into battle. Is the efulefu a good
representation of the Igbo men and women who were first attracted to Christianity? Provide at least three
examples to support your point.
2. Explain how Christianity exacerbates the relationship between Nwoye and Okonkwo.
Chapter 17
1. Explain why Nwoye’s interest in Christianity may result in the annihilation of Okonkwo and his ancestors.
Provide two quotes to support your points.
2. As he stares into the fire, Okonkwo ponders Nwoye’s behavior. He wonders how a man like himself could
father a weak and useless son like Nwoye. What is Okonkwo’s analysis of the situation?
Chapter 18
1. Describe the osu and explain why the young church is upset about allowing the osu to join the
2. Some members of the traditional Igbo community want to persecute the Christians; others take a more
moderate stand. Explain the rationale behind the two different reactions to the Christians.
Chapter 19
1. What does the elder mean when he says the young people do not know how to speak with one voice?
Explain why the elders are fearful for the younger generation.
2. Has Okonkwo learned the supremacy of a mother’s love during his exile in Mbanta? Provide three
examples to support your point.
Part Three
Chapter 20
1. Identify the role and function of the court messengers and explain the native court system. Use the land
dispute between Aneto and Oduche to illustrate how the native court system worked.
2. At the end of this chapter, Obierika explains that the white man “. . . has put a knife on the things that held
us together and we have fallen apart.” (p. 125) Explain the meaning of Obierika’s words and provide three
examples to support your point.
Chapter 21
1. Okonkwo plans to return to Umuofia with a flourish. Discuss in detail three reasons why his return is not as
exciting as he planned.
2. Explain one basic way in which the Igbo traditional religion is similar to Christianity. Explain another
fundamental way in which the Igbo traditional religion is different from Christianity.
Chapter 22
1. Compare and contrast Mr. Brown with Reverend Smith; compare and contrast Reverend Smith with Enoch.
2. Describe Enoch’s crime and explain why it is such a serious offense.
Chapter 23
1. Describe Okonkwo’s reaction to the summons from the District Commissioner and his reaction to his
Things Fall Apart: Suggested Essay Topics 92
2. Compare and contrast the way the District Commissioner and the court messengers treat the Igbo leaders.
Chapter 24
1. Give three basic reasons why Okonkwo kills the court messenger. Use examples to support your points.
2. Give three basic reasons why the people of Umuofia do not rise up and support Okonkwo by capturing the
other four messengers. Use examples to support your points.
Chapter 25
1. Is Okonkwo a tragic hero, or is he a fool? Is Okonkwo selfish? How would you describe Okonkwo at the
end of the novel? Use three examples to support your point.
2. What does the title of the District Commissioner’s book tell you about his attitude toward the Igbo people?
How would a successful Igbo living in Umuofia at the time of Okonkwo’s death title the commissioner’s
book? How would an osu or an anguished mother of twins title the work? How would you title the
commissioner’s book?
Things Fall Apart: Sample Essay Outlines
Topic #1
Discuss the significance of Things Fall Apart as a social document and a novel dramatizing traditional Igbo
life and its first encounter with colonialism and Christianity at the turn of the twentieth century.
I. Thesis Statement: Things Fall Apart recreates the conflict between European and Igbo cultures at the turn
of the twentieth century by focusing on the cataclysmic changes introduced by the forces of colonialism and
II. Social and Economic Life of the Igbo
A. Social structure of the Igbo
B. Role of men and women
C. Role of marriage and the family
D. Significance of the yam
III. Traditional Politics
A. Umuofia and the political structure
B. Success and personal achievement
C. The title-taking system
D. The leadership role of elders
E. The judicial role of egwugwu
IV. Colonial Changes in Economic and Political Life
A. Significance of the palm-oil trade
B. The colonial administration
C. The District Commissioner
D. The native court
E. The role of court messengers
Things Fall Apart: Sample Essay Outlines 93
V. Traditional Igbo Religion
A. Chukwu, the Supreme Creator God
B. Ani, the Earth goddess
C. Agbala, and the Oracles
D. Ritual sacrifices
E. The feminine and masculine principles
F. Ogbanje children
G. The abandonment of twins
H. The role of the ancestors
I. Titles and reincarnation
J. Children and reincarnation
VI. Christianity and Changes in Social and Religious Life
A. The missionary factor
B. The first Igbo Christians: osu, mothers of twins, unsuccessful men
C. Zealots
D. Conflicts with traditional beliefs
E. Breakup of the Igbo clan
VII. The Author’s Recreation of History through Literary Techniques (Optional)
A. Characterization of Okonkwo
B. Use of proverbs
C. Use of stories within the text
D. Significance of the title in relationship to “The Second Coming”
VIII. Conclusion
A. The use of literature to record history
B. The author’s purpose and point of view
Topic #2
Prove that Okonkwo, a talented Igbo who strives to succeed in the traditional world, is a microcosm of Igbo
society because he is destroyed by internal and external forces.
I. Thesis Statement: Like Igbo society at the turn of the century, Okonkwo is destroyed by internal and
external forces. He is inflexible and unable to balance the masculine and feminine principles of traditional
Igbo life, and he resists the external forces of European Imperialism and Christianity.
II. Okonkwo
A. Desire to succeed
B. Fear of failure
C. Comparison with Unoka and Nwoye
III. Okonkwo’s Inability to Balance Feminine and Masculine Energies
A. Crimes against the Earth Goddess
1. Treatment of Ojiugo during the Week of Peace
2. Treatment of Ekwefi during the new Yam Festival
3. Participation in Ikemefuna’s ritual murder
4. Accidental killing of Ezeudu’s son
B. Exile
1. Superficial understanding of the concept “Mother is Supreme”
Things Fall Apart: Sample Essay Outlines 94
2. Determination to succeed through hard work
C. Alienation of Nwoye
IV. Conflict with European Imperialism and Christianity
A. Hatred of Christians
B. Conflict with Reverend Smith
C. Conflict with native court
D. Decapitation of court messenger
V. Tensions within Igbo Society
A. Title-taking system measuring success
B. Ritual sacrifice
C. Abandonment of twins
D. Treatment of osu
E. Banishment for involuntary manslaughter
VI. Impact of Christianity and European Imperialism
A. Marginalized Igbos become Christian
B. Native courts hold power
VII. Conclusion
A. Okonkwo is destroyed by self and external forces
B. Igbo society falls apart due to internal tensions and external forces
C. Okonkwo is a microcosm of Igbo society at the turn of the twentieth century
Topic #3
Prove that Okonkwo is a tragic hero. Explain how Okonkwo encompasses the pathos of a culture undergoing
cataclysmic change. How does Okonkwo’s story evoke both pity and fear? Analyze Okonkwo’s tragic flaw
and subsequent downfall.
I. Thesis Statement: Okonkwo achieves the stature of a tragic hero, evokes both pity and fear, and suffers a
downfall because of his fear of failure, his inflexibility in living traditional Igbo life, and his inability to adapt
to new ideas.
II. Heroic Stature
A. Physical strength and appearance
B. Personal achievements
C. Success: Material wealth, titles, prestige
D. Leadership in the clan
E. Drive to achieve immortality and take the highest titles in the land
III. Pity
A. Mediocre chi
B. Fear of failure
C. Contrast with Unoka and Nwoye
D. Inability to express love
E. Inability to balance the masculine and feminine energies in Igbo life
F. Accidental killing of Ezeudu’s son
G. Exile in Mbanta
Things Fall Apart: Sample Essay Outlines 95
IV. Disapproval
A. Harsh treatment of wives and children
B. Ritual murder of Ikemefuna
C. Alienation of Nwoye
D. Anger against the Christians
E. Anger against the white men
F. Violent decapitation of court messenger
V. Tragic Flaw
A. Inability to balance feminine and masculine energies
B. Inflexibility in living traditional Igbo life
C. Inability to adapt to new ideas
VI. Downfall
A. Destabilization of Okonkwo and Igbo institutions by colonial powers
B. Inability to unite the Igbo people against the white man
C. Inability to save Igbo life and culture from falling apart
D. Suicide
E. Burial
F. Reduction to paragraph in commissioner’s book
VII. Conclusion
A. Comparison of Okonkwo to Ikemefuna, sensitive musician and hunter
B. Comparison of Okonkwo to Ezeudu, the revered elder
C. Comparison of Okonkwo to Obierika, his balanced friend
Things Fall Apart: Compare and Contrast
1800s: Prior to colonization, common language and geography differentiated African societies. Six types of
societies existed: hunting and gathering societies, cattle-herding societies, forest dwellers, fishermen,
grain-raising societies, and city (urban) societies. The geographic area in which people lived determined their
Colonial Africa: Africa was divided into more than fifty nation-states, with no regard for maintaining groups
sharing common language and livelihood.
Today: Societies are no longer as clear-cut. People have more opportunities for education, better jobs, and
improved means of communication and transportation. They marry individuals from other societies. As a
result, the societies have become mixed, but ethnic conflicts still lead to violence.
1800s: While religion varied from society to society, most Africans shared some common beliefs and
practices. They believed in a supreme creator god or spirit. Other lesser gods revealed themselves as, and
worked through, community ancestors.
Colonial Africa: Missionaries arrived and introduced Christianity Many tribesmen converted to the new
Today: While more than an estimated 25% of Africa is Christian, traditional African religion is still practiced,
as is Islam. Islam is a monotheistic religion related to the Jewish and Christian traditions.
Things Fall Apart: Compare and Contrast 96
1800s: Prior to colonization, Africans had their own identities and cultures and were not concerned with
participating in the modern world.
Colonial Africa: After colonization, African children were taught European history and literature so that they
might compete in the modern world, while their own heritage was ignored.
Today: Africans continue to seek the independence they began to achieve in the 1950s and 1960s There is,
however, a renewed interest in cultural heritage, and traditional customs are being taught to African children.
Things Fall Apart: Topics for Further Study
How does the displacement from one's culture affect a person psychologically? Explain possible reactions a
person might have and the steps someone might take to help him or her adjust. School integration is being
attempted across America. How successful has it been? Cite specific examples, such as court cases, to support
your answer.
Integration is being attempted in a high school in Capetown, South Africa. At the beginning of each school
day, white students and students from one of the black societies are required to attend a formal assembly.
Students are also required to wear school uniforms. What might the students infer from these requirements?
Support your answer by discussing the purpose of assemblies and uniforms in our society and researching
cultural aspects of one of the black societies in Capetown.
Compare and contrast American and African colonization by discussing the events and their effects.
Investigate women's roles in tribal society. Find and discuss specific examples from Things Fall Apart.
Women in tribal societies were often forced to undergo female circumcision. Investigate the purpose of this
ritual. What are the medical implications of this procedure?
Language is an important means of communication as well as a prominent culture marker. What does a
person's language tell us about him or her? What effects could loss of one's language—through physical
disability or societal disallowance—have on a person?
Missionaries went to Umuofia to convert the Ibo to Christianity. Should anyone try to change another's
religious beliefs? Take a stand from either a Christian's point of view or from an opposite point of view.
Prepare a logical argument for presentation in a debate.
What is the purpose of multicultural education in our country? Describe some of the efforts that are being
undertaken by schools around the country. What have been your own experiences? Discuss the methods being
used to implement these programs and their success.
Things Fall Apart: What Do I Read Next?
One of Chinua Achebe's more recent novels, Anthills of the Savannah, was published in 1988 by Anchor
Books. It tells the story of three childhood friends who become leaders in their West African country and who
are destroyed by their ambition.
Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays is a nonfiction work by Achebe also published in 1988. The
collection of political essays and speeches shows the depth of Achebe's thoughts about his homeland and its
Things Fall Apart: Topics for Further Study 97
After reading Things Fall Apart, a person feels compelled to read Achebe's sequel, No Longer at Ease, which
first came out in 1960. The story of Okonkwo's family continues with Okonkwo's grandson, Obi, as the main
character. Obi has been raised a Christian and has been educated at a university in England.
Ben Okri's The Famished Road won England's prestigious Booker Prize in 1991. The novel is set in a West
African ghetto during British colonial rule and tells of the spirit-child Azaro, who has broken a pact with the
spirit world.
In 1990, Barbara K. Walker collected eleven tales from folklore in The Dancing Palm Tree and Other
Nigerian Folktales.
Migrations of the Heart (1983) is Marita Golden's autobiography that relates her marriage to a Nigerian
native. It recounts how she felt as an African American woman making her first trip to Africa and her troubles
fitting into the traditional role of a Nigerian wife.
Things Fall Apart: Bibliography and Further Reading
Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1996.
Chinua.Achebe, Morning Yet on Creation Day. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1996.
Kofi Awoonor, The Breast of the Earth, Doubleday, 1975.
C. L. Innes and Bernth Lindfors, eds. Critical Perspectives on Chinua Achebe. London: Heinemann, 1979.
Elizabeth Isichei, A History of the Igbo People. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1976.
G. D. Killam, The Novels of Chinua Achebe, Africana Publishing, 1969.
Charles Larson, "Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart: The Archetypal African Novel" and "Characters and
Modes of Characterization: Chinua Achebe, James Ngugi, and Peter Abrahams," in The Emergence of African
Fiction, revised edition, Indiana University Press, 1972, pp. 27-65, 147-66.
Bernth Lindfors, ed. Approaches to Teaching Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. New York: Modern Language
Association of America, 1991.
Don C. Ohadike, Anioma: A Social History of the Western Igbo People. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1994.
Don C. Ohadike, “Igbo Culture and History” in Chinua Achebe. Things Fall Apart. Portsmouth, NH:
Heinemann, 1996. (xix-xlix)
Eustace Palmer, The Growth of the African Novel, Heinemann, 1979.
Adrian A. Roscoe, Mother Is Gold: A Study of West African Literature, Cambridge University Press, 1971.
Victor C Uchendu, The Igbo of Southeast Nigeria. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965.
Robert Wren, Achebe’s World: The Historical and Cultural Context of the Novels of Chinua Achebe.
Harlow, England: Longman Studies in African Literature, 1981.
Things Fall Apart: What Do I Read Next? 98
For Further Study
Chinua Achebe, "The Novelist as Teacher," in Hope and Impediments: Selected Essays, Anchor Books, 1988,
pp. 40-46.
Achebe's own explanation of the social significance of his fiction.
Edna Aizenberg, "The Third World Novel as Counterhistory: Things Fall Apart and Asturias's Men of Maize,"
in Approaches to Teaching Achebe's "Things Fall Apart," edited by Bernth Lindfors, Modern Language
Association of America, 1991, pp. 85-90.
An analysis of how Things Fall Apart revises biased colonial histories.
Ernest N. Emenyonu, "Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart; A Classic Study in Colonial Diplomatic
Tactlessness," in Chinua Achebe: A Celebration, edited by Kirsten Holst Petersen and Anna Rutherford,
Heinemann, 1990, pp. 83-88.
An analysis of the political significance of Things Fall Apart as a critique of colonialism.
Abiola Irele, "The Tragic Conflict in the Novels of Chinua Achebe," in Critical Perspectives on Chinua
Achebe, edited by C. L. Innes and Bernth Lindfors, Three Continents Press, 1978, pp. 10-21.
An analysis of Achebe's use of tragedy.
Solomon O. Iyasere, "Narrative Techniques in Things Fall Apart," in Critical Perspectives on Chinua Achebe,
edited by C. L. Innes and Bernth Lindfors, Three Continents Press, 1978, pp. 92-110.
A general introduction to the themes and narrative structure of Things Fall Apart.
Abdul JanMohamed, "Sophisticated Primitivism: The Syncretism of Oral and Literate Modes in Achebe's
Things Fall Apart," Ariel: A Review of International English Literature, Vol. 15, No. 4, 1984, pp. 19-39.
An analysis of how Achebe synthesizes African oral cultural traditions with English literary conventions.
Biodun Jeyifo, "Okonkwo and His Mother: Things Fall Apart and Issues of Gender in the Constitution of
African Postcolonial Discourse," in Callaloo: A Journal of African-American and African Arts and Letters,
Vol. 16, No. 4, 1993, pp. 847-58.
An analysis of the role of gender in Things Fall Apart.
Bernth Lindfors, "The Palm-Oil with Which Achebe's Words are Eaten," in African Literature Today, Vol. 1,
1968, pp. 3-18.
An analysis of Achebe's use of traditional proverbs in Things Fall Apart.
Alastair Niven, "Chinua Achebe and the Possibility of Modern Tragedy," in Chinua Achebe: A Celebration,
edited by Kirsten Holst Petersen and Anna Rutherford, Heinemann, 1990, pp. 41-50.
An analysis of Achebe's use of tragedy.
Emmanuel Obiechina, "Narrative Proverbs in the African Novel," Research in African Literatures, Vol. 24,
No. 41993, pp. 123-40.
An analysis of Achebe's use of African oral cultural traditions such as proverbs and storytelling.
Ato Quayson, "Realism, Criticism, and the Disguises of Both: A Reading of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall
Apart with an Evaluation of the Criticism Relating to It," in Research in African Literatures, Vol. 25, No. 4,
1994, pp. 117-36.
Argues that most critics have emphasized the realistic dimensions of Things Fall Apart without adequately
discussing how the novel has its own biased perspective.
Things Fall Apart: Bibliography and Further Reading 99
Joseph Swann, "From Things Fall Apart to Anthills of the Savannah: The Changing Face of History in Chinua
Achebe's Novels," in Crisis and Creativity in the New Literatures in English, edited by Geoffrey V. Davis and
Hena Maes-Jelinek, Rodopi, 1990, pp 191-203.
An analysis of how Achebe's approach to history changes in each of his novels.

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