Genre: Historical Fiction
Historical information about the period of publication or setting of the novel
Things Fall Apart is a novel written in 1958 and therefore, post colonialism. However, the setting of the novel takes place in pre-colonial Nigeria, close to the end of the 19th century beginning the 20th century. During pre-colonialism, many parts of Africa such as Nigeria were subjected to European conquerors, searching for land, resources (gold, timber) and slaves. Slavery had already been executed throughout many parts of Africa, however countries such as Nigeria still were undiscovered and consisted of little foreign influence. Within the book, key points that indicate the time period of the setting include: the missionaries trying to convert Okonkwo as well as many people from his tribe into Christianity, and the Europeans that sailed there at that time which were mentioned throughout the book, can be traced to the pre-colonailism of Nigeria especially the Umuofia tribe of the Igbo people of which Okonkwo was apart of. The Europeans were found trying to colinze the Nigerian people under Europenan control in order to posses their resources for their motherlands profits. As a result, this time period was also connected to the rise of Imperialism in Europe, since Europe depended on the resources from the areas they colonized in Africa for exporting goods throughout the world, of which Europe became the dominant country in Europe and the most powerful country for navigating the oceans.
Biographical information about the author Chinua Achebe was born in 1930, he was apart of the Igbo people and lived in the town of Ogidi in eastern nigeria similar to the setting of Things Fall Apart. Achebe was a well known writer and after publishing his novel, he joined the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation. Later on he continued to write novels such as No Longer at Ease as well as Arrow of God. Achebe also co-founded a publishing company with a renowned poet Christopher Okigbo, known as the Citadel Press, this company planned to publish African oriented children’s books. Later on Achebe also toured the US giving lectures at Universities. Achebe was known for inning many awards for his writing which include the Man Booker International Prize as well as the Dorothy and Lillian Gish prize and he also received many honorary degrees (from more than 30 universities around the world.) Achebe’s work was well known for defending the African culture, traditon and tribes from people that dehumanized them. He wrote and gave lectures of his African decent and his strong love of his country, Nigeria. Achebe was also paralyzed in the 1990’s because of a car accident in Nigeria; however, he did not give up and continued giving lectures to different Universities with the use of a wheelchair. He continued to give lectures at schools such as Bard College and Brown University. Unfortunately Achebe died on March 21, 2013 in Boston Massachusetts.
Plot Summary The novel begins with Okonkwo as the protagonist, they describe him as a dominant man in the tribe, known for being a strong wrestler and leader of the clan. He is the father of eight and the husband of 3 wives. His favorite daughter is Ezinma, and everything goes well for Okonkwo. Then Ikemefuna appears and Okonkwo is told to hold him as a peace settlement between his tribe and the tribe of Ikemefuna. However, as time apsses by Ikemefuna forms a strong relationship with Okonkwo and is even treated a s his son, then an oracle tells Okonkwo that Ikemefuna must die. Okonkwo does not stop this process even though he was advised to do so, and instead he participates in Ikemefuna’s death. This starts a series of unfortunate events in Okonkwo’s life, he accidentally kills Ezeudu’s son during Ezeudu’s funeral and this forces his family to be exiled. Ezinma refuses a marriage proposal and instead shares her family’s exile. When they return from their exile, Okonkwo finds a group of missionaries in his tribe. Christianity begins to spread and the construction of churches begins as well, Okonkwo fears change of the Umuofia traditions he was raised with and ends up killing one of the white men(one of the Europeans) , his tribe is in danger . As a result of fear of his failures, in anger of having to attend a colonial court and in fear of change Okonkwo suicides at the end of the novel.
Role in the Story
In the story, he became the new addition to Okonkwo’s family as a sacrifice from another village. He was a role model for Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye.
His role as a brother to Nwoye caused for a bond to form between the two. So, when Ikemfuna is killed by Okonkwo, it causes Nwoye to grow more distance from his father and represents the first signs of the family falling apart.
Father of Okonkwo
Unoka is the reason for Okonkwo’s masculine and strict character because he was a bad father and Okonkwo strived to be completely different from him in the future.
The eldest son of Okonkwo
Under the supervision of his merciless father, Nwoye is perceived as a disgrace to the family for possessing values similar to those of Unoka, which Okonkwo thought were effeminate. Nwoye becomes progressively more detached from Okonkwo’s beliefs of masculinity and soon separates from the family by converting to Christianity.
An acquaintance and comrade close to Okonkwo.
Obierika provides support to Okonkwo by sustaining his business to prevent financial downfall while he remains in exile, as well as when Okonkwo
Okonkwo is the clan leader and he is the father of 8 children and he also the husband of three wives. Okonkwo is very strict of the clan’s beliefs and traditions and fears the change that the Europeans bring such as the Christian churches, Okonkwo fears to be seen as someone who is weak and he also fears failures. At the end , he realizes that the Christian missionaries have changed his tribe so much that he feels he has failed and suicides.
Okonkwo’s favorite daughter and daughter of Ekwefi.
Ezinma acts as if she were a boy instead of a girl, having very dominant characteristics. She loves and defends her father even when they are exiled and tries to stand for her beliefs, which Okonkwo respects.
Setting The novel takes place in Iguedo and Mbanta. in lower Nigeria around in the 1890s and portrays the time period before and after European imperialism in Nigeria around 1905.
Significance of the opening scene The significance of the opening scene was to introduce Okonkwo’s character and to explain how he came to be that way. Okonkwo is first described to be very masculine, strict, and hardworking as a result of fear of becoming like his father. In the book, he recalled how when he was young, his father was called a fool and lazy. His father, Unoka, was never able to provide for his family and for that Okonkwo grew to hate him and aspired to be the opposite of his father. It also introduces the traditions and beliefs of society such as gender roles and masculinity.
Symbols or Motifs An important symbol in the story was yams. Yams was the main crop in Umofia and represented wealth and masculinity because of the hard work it took to grow the yams. Therefore, the more yams you had the more respected and rich you were. Another symbol througout the novel were folktales which represented feminity as they were usually told by women to their children. As seen when Okonkwo thought they were childish and became very worried when his son Nwoye were interested in it. He thought his son would become feminine like his father. Fire is also a symbol in the book as represents destruction. Fire was usually associated with Okonkwo who was called “Roaring Fire” in the community and whose personality was angry fiery. With this personality and mindset Okonkwo ended up destroying himself with his actions.
Significance of the ending / closing scene The significance of the closing scene with Okonkwo’s suicide is the death of the old tradition and values of the Ibo society. To the very end of the book, Okonkwo represented the old beliefs as he never changed his views and refused to adapt the new way. He was the only way who was stuck in the past and so with his death went the Ibo tradition.
Possible Themes – Topics of Discussion One of the major themes in the play was gender roles and what it meant to be a man or a woman. Throughout the book, Okonkwo believed that men did not show emotions with the exception of anger and bravery. In the community, men worked in the fields and women took care of the house and children and were seen as inferior as their work was not seen as strenuous as men. In addition, men superiority in the community is also demonstrated as men were allowed to have multiple wives and the women were seen as objects as they were bought and sold to and from men in marriage. and how the characters dealt with change, for example the change from the old traditions and religion of Umuofia to the new religion of the Europeans. Okonkwo feared the change and saw it as a disaster to the community because it took everything he valued. However, his son Nwoye easily adapted to the new change and even converted to Christianity.
“Even as a little boy he had resented his father’s failure and weakness, and even now he still remembered how he had suffered when a playmate had told him that his father was agbala. That was how Okonkwo first came to know that agbala was not only another name for a woman, it could also mean a man who had taken to title” (12).
This quotation shows how major gender roles were in the Ibo society as calling a man a woman is considered an insult. It demonstrates the inferiority of women to men as Okonkwo was ashamed to have a feminine father and aspired to be the opposite.
“ Yam stood for manliness, and he could feed his family on yams from one harvest to another was a very great man indeed. Okonkwo wanted his son to be a great farmer and a great man” (28).
This quotation reveals the significance of yams in the society as a mjor crop for survival and a sign of wealth and status.
“Even Okonkwo himself became very fond of the boy, inwardly of course…Sometimes when he went to big village meetings or communal ancestral feasts he allowed Ikemefuna to accompany him” (28)”
This quotation demonstrates how much Okonkwo valued tradition and manliness because even though he loved Ikemefuna and thought of him as part of his family, he still killed him the end because he did not want to look like a coward. It reveals how deep his fear is of becoming like his father.