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Things Fall Apart
By Chinua Achebe

"Achebe's Things Fall Apart describes the tragic demise of an Ibo man named Okonkwo. Initially, Okonkwo rises from humble origins to become a powerful leader in Umuofia, a rural village in south-eastern Nigeria. As Okonkwo climbs the ladder to success, however, it becomes apparent that his strengths are also his weaknesses: his self-confidence becomes pride, his manliness develops into authoritarianism, and his physical strength eventually turns into uncontrolled rage. In a broader sense, Achebe sets this story about Okonkwo at the end of the nineteenth century, when Europeans first began colonizing this region of Nigeria on a large scale. By so doing, Achebe establishes a parallel between Okonkwo's personal tragedy and colonialism's tragic destruction of native African cultures."

Things Fall Apart Summary


Achebe depicts the Igbo as a people with great social institutions. Their culture is rich and impressively civilized, with traditions and laws that place great emphasis on justice and fairness. The people are ruled not by a king or chief but by a kind of simple democracy, in which all males gather and make decisions by consensus. Ironically, it is the Europeans, who often boast of bringing democratic institutions to the rest of the world, who try to suppress these clan meetings in Umuofia. The Igbo also boast a high degree of social mobility. Men are not judged by the wealth of their fathers, and Achebe emphasizes that high rank is attainable for all freeborn Igbo.

He does not shy from depicting the injustices of Igbo society. No more or less than Victorian England of the same era, the Igbo are deeply patriarchal. They also have a great fear of twins, who are abandoned immediately after birth to a death by exposure. Violence is not unknown to them, although warfare on a European scale is something of which they have no comprehension.

The novel attempts to repair some of the damage done by earlier European depictions of Africans. But this recuperation must necessarily come in the form of memory; by the time Achebe was born, the coming of the white man had already destroyed many aspects of indigenous culture.


Culture in Things Fall Apart

1. Already in Part I of the story, internal rivalries and disagreements have begun to erode the unity and integrity of the village. What are these internal conflicts? What part does the village leader Okonkwo play in the dissension? How does Okonkwo jeopardize his own authority within his community?
2.What has happened to the Abame clan? Review "The Igbo People Meet the Europeans: The Era of Informal Empire," pp. xxxix-xliv. How do Uchendu and Okonkwo account differently for the "foolishness" of the Abame? Whose reaction seems wiser in responding to new challenges to old ways of living? What does Uchendu mean when he says, "‘There is no story that is not true’"? (ch. 15, p. 99)
How does the District Commissioner trick the six leaders of Umuofia into jail? What is Okonkwo’s reaction? Why does Okonkwo kill the messenger? Why does Okonkwo afterwards commit suicide, "an offence against the Earth" (Ch. 25, p. 147)? Why is Okonkwo isolated in the end? Do you consider Okonkwo a tragic hero?

Review Questions for Things Fall Apart

Interview with Chinua Achebe on CNN



The title of this novel is an Allusion to the following poem. Do you think this reference is an appropriate addition to the meaning in the novel? Why? Why not?

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,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

For Criticisms on Things Fall Apart...


"We learn from failure, not from success!"
-Dracula, Bram Stoker