The Author & the novel
• Achebe is considered one of the earliest and best
novelists to have come out of modern Nigeria, in
fact one of the top English-speaking novelists of
his time anywhere.
• Achebe is interested in showing Ibo society in the
period of transition when rooted, traditional values
are put in conflict with an alien and more powerful
culture that will tear them apart
• Achebe paints a vivid picture of Ibo society both
before and after the arrival of white men, and
avoids the temptation to idealize either culture.
• Things Fall Apart is set in the 1890s and portrays the clash
between Nigeria’s white colonial government and the
traditional culture of the indigenous Igbo people.
• Achebe’s novel shatters the stereotypical European portraits of
native Africans. He is careful to portray the complex, advanced
social institutions and artistic traditions of Igbo culture prior
to its contact with Europeans.
• Achebe write the novel in English but the text is rich with
African words. This allows the reader a closer connection to
the people and their life
(Social institutions are groups of persons banded together for common
• Achebe primarily uses proverbs, songs and folk tales in this novel to
illustrate the Igbo tradition.
• Songs are sung by people in the village and they have something to
do with village traditions of wrestling, marriage, work, and even
• Many proverbs refer to animals in the bush to make a cultural point.
• Achebe also uses proverbs and sayings to describe his characters
• E.g. “…looking at a king’s mouth one would think he never sucked at
his mother’s breast” (Achebe 26).
Okonkwo as being proud as a king but also very self supporting and
having a quick rise to fame and fortune. The proverb makes his
character so much more vivid and alive than any other literary device.
• Folk tales illustrate the culture of the
characters in the novel.
• In chapter seven, Okonkwo is described as
telling stories to his sons.
• He told them stories of the land—
masculine stories of violence and
• Achebe's language in this novel is a mixture of English, Ibo
proverbs and un-translated words
• Proverbs are an important aspect of communication in Ibo
culture. They are short sayings that have their roots in folklore
and general observations of life, and are typically passed
down from generation to generation.
• They aid the Ibo in defending their thoughts and opinions, as
well as add a certain poetic quality to their speech.
• Help us gain a deeper understanding of the values and beliefs
of the Ibo people, which are quite different than our own.
• Who are the Igbo people? Where do they live? What is their
• Religion, the Igbo system of gods, spirits and humans
• Chi – personal god; can be controlled by humans
• Social structure and hierarchy of Igbo society
– Ti t l e d a n d u n t i t l e d c i t i z e n s
– Eg wu g wu
– Os u
• Polygamy and family structure (compound living within village
system) , matriarchal/patriarchal
• System of villages, shared governance, laws.
Communication methods (drum, messengers,
• Drums and ogene as metaphors for the
―heart‖ of the people –
“The drums were still beating, persistent and
unchanging. Their sound was no longer a
separate thing from the living village. It was like
the pulsation of its heart”
Okonkwo & Masculinity
• Okonkwo’s relationship with his late father shapes
much of his violent and ambitious demeanor.
• He wants to rise above his father’s legacy of
spendthrift, indolent behavior, which he views as weak
and therefore effeminate.
• the narrator mentions that the word for a man who
has not taken any of the expensive, prestige-indicating
titles is agbala, which also means ―woman.‖
• Okonkwo’s idea of manliness is not the clan’s. He associates
masculinity with aggression and feels that anger is the only emotion
that he should display.
• He frequently beats his wives, even threatening to kill them from
time to time. We are told that he does not think about things, and
we see him act rashly and impetuously.
• Obierika, unlike Okonkwo, ―was a man who thought about things.‖
• Whereas Obierika refuses to accompany the men on the trip to kill
Ikemefuna, Okonkwo not only volunteers to join the party that will
execute his surrogate son but also violently stabs him with his
machete simply because he is afraid of appearing weak.
• Okonkwo feels love for his daughter, Ezinma, and his
adopted son, Ikemefuma, but he cannot show it. The
only emotion Okonkwo feels a man must show is
anger, so he hides his affection for both children.
• Okonkwo breaks the Week of Peace by striking and
nearly killing his third and youngest wife, Ojiugo.
• Achebe describes that “in his anger he had forgotten
that it was the Week of Peace” (29). This conflict occurs
due to Okonkwo’s inability to control this
• Okonkwo’s anger toward his father, a man
who achieved little in his lifetime, dictates his
own search for identity.
• His actions show that he strives to be the
exact opposite of his father, Unoka, in every
• Where his father was kind and fun-loving,
Okonkwo is sullen and hard-working to a
Okonkwo: Villain, Victim or Tragic
• Becomes productive, wealthy, thrifty, brave,
violent, and adamantly opposed to music and
anything else that he perceives to be ―soft,‖
such as conversation and emotion. He is stoic
to a fault.
• Achieves great social and financial success
• Marries three women and fathers several
• Although he is a superior character, his tragic flaw—the
equation of manliness with rashness, anger, and violence—
brings about his own destruction.
• Okonkwo is gruff, at times, and usually unable to express his
• But we see he has an emotional, caring side which he tries to
• Okonkwo secretly follows Ekwefi into the forest in pursuit of
Ezinma, for example—and thus allows us to see the tender,
worried father beneath the seemingly indifferent exterior.
• Struggles in the shadow of his powerful, successful,
and demanding father.
• His interests are different from Okonkwo’s and
resemble more closely those of Unoka, his grandfather
• Ikemefuna, who becomes like an older brother and
teaches him a gentler form of successful masculinity
• he makes a show of scorning feminine things in order
to please his father, he misses his mother’s stories.
• With the murder of Ikemefuna, Nwoye retreats into
himself and finds himself forever changed.
• His reluctance to accept Okonkwo’s masculine values
turns into pure embitterment toward him and his ways.
When missionaries come to Mbanta, Nwoye’s hope
and faith are reawakened, and he eventually joins
forces with them.
• Although Okonkwo regrets having borne so
―effeminate‖ a son and disowns Nwoye, Nwoye
appears to have found peace at last in leaving the
oppressive atmosphere of his father’s tyranny.
• Ezinma, Okonkwo’s favorite daughter and the only child of Ekwefi, is
bold in the way that she approaches—and even sometimes
• Okonkwo remarks to himself multiple times that he wishes she had
been born a boy, since he considers her to have such a masculine
• Ezinma alone seems to win Okonkwo’s full attention, affection, and,
ironically, respect. She and he are allied spirits, which boosts her
confidence. She grows into a beautiful young woman who sensibly
agrees to put off marriage until her family returns from exile.
• In doing so, she shows an approach similar to that of Okonkwo: she
puts strategy ahead of emotion.