Things Fall Apart Study Guide

Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart, a novel, follows the life of African man Okonkwo, who lives in the village of Umuofia. As a young man, Okonkwo seeks to distinguish himself, and through hard work becomes a leader in his village. When white men invade his village, Okonkwo wants to fight and drive them out. He soon realizes that the old values and customs he has lived by are disappearing, driving him to despair in this classic exploration of masculinity and the conflict between tradition and change.

One of the greatest warriors of Nigeria, Okonkwo, is a leader of the Umuofia clan. He is a highly respected man in his village; the only problem he has to face is his son, Nwoye, who, in his father's eyes, is an idle and negligent young man of twelve years old.

When Okonkwo retrieves two adolescents, a boy and a girl, from another tribe in return for a great evil against his village, the girl goes to another family while the boy is left in Okonkwo's care. As the the 15-year-old boy gets used to Okonkwo and his family, Okonkwo finds a perfect descendant in Ikemefuna, but because of Okonkwo's strict view of masculinity, Okonkwo can’t open his heart to the boy.

On the Week of Peace, Okonkwo breaks the "law" when he beats one of his wives, Ojiugo, because she was too negligent. This was the first case when he shocked his family and tribe.

Three years later, during a rare invasion of locusts, the Oracle makes a decision: Okonkwo's "adopted son" has to be sacrificed. A village elder tells Okonkwo not to take part in the murder since he is called "father" by Ikemefuna.

When the chosen clansmen take Ikemefuna out of the village and strike Ikemefuna, he runs towards Okonkwo for help. Since Okonkwo does not want to appear weak, he kills Ikemefuna with great cruelty. Nwoye, who had become great friends with Ikemefuna, grieves and is again afraid of Okonkwo, whom he could stand when Ikemefuna was around.

At the funeral of the old clansman, Ogbuefi Ezeudu, who warned Okonkwo about the murder of Ikemefuna, a tragedy happens: during the salvo Okonkwo’s firearm blows up and takes the life of Ezeudu’s son.

Because of village tradition, Okonkwo must atone for his accidental killing, so he and his family are exiled from the village for seven years. Once they leave for Mbanta, the native village of Okonkwo’s mother, Ezeudu’s family destroy everything that was related to the ex-leader of the clan in order to cleanse the village of the sin.

Okonkwo and his family rebuild everything in Mbanta, the land of his mother, and reconcile themselves to their new life. They start a farm and sell yams. Everything seems to be fine and peaceful until the second year of the exile when white missionaries arrive in Mbanta who try to Christianize the villagers. Nwoye also Christianizes.

Seven years have passed and Okonkwo returns to his village where the missionaries have already converted most of the local people. When the peaceful leader of the missionaries, Mr. Brown, is followed by the brutal Reverend James Smith, the method of the conversion changes: the Reverend uses violent methods. Enoch, one of the new converts, tries to provoke the heathen villagers: during a traditional ceremony he unmasks an egwugwu, killing it. In retribution, the egwugwu burn Enoch’s house and the new Christian church the next day.

The response of the District Commissioner comes soon: the leaders of the Umuofia clan are arrested and held for ransom. After their release the village decides to start organizing an uprising. Okonkwo, attends the meeting where the village will decide whether or not to go to war. During the meeting, five court messengers arrive and tell the villagers that the white man has ordered the meeting to end. Okonkwo becomes enraged and kills the lead man. When Okonkwo kills the man, the rest of the village looks on in amazement. Okonkwo realizes that the village will not go to war, even with the threat right in front of them.

Once he sees, to his astonishment, that the clan isn’t going to go to war with him, Okonkwo hangs himself. When the District Commissioner finds out about the ironic situation, he finds it interesting enough to include it into his book about Africa: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

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