“I believe in the complexity of the human story, and that there‟s no way you can tell that story in one way and say, „this is it.‟ Always there will be someone who can tell it differently depending on where they are standing … this is the way I think the world‟s stories should be told: from many different perspectives.”
“Although I did not set about it consciously in that solemn way, I now know that my first book, Things Fall Apart, was an act of atonement with my past, the ritual return and homage of a prodigal son.”
In an interview in the 1994-95 issue of The Paris Review, Chinua Achebe states that he became a writer in order to tell his story and the story of his people from his own viewpoint. He explains the danger of not having ones own stories through the following proverb: "until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter." Critics and Achebes own essays have portrayed Things Fall Apart as a response to the ideologies and discursive strategies of colonial texts.
Chinua Achebe is one of the most well-known contemporary writers from Africa. His first novel, Things Fall Apart, deals with the clash of cultures and the violent transitions in life and values brought about by the onset of British colonialism in Nigeria at the end of the nineteenth century. Published in 1958, just before Nigerian independence, the novel recounts the life of the village hero Okonkwo and describes the arrival of white missionaries in Nigeria and its impact on traditional Igbo society during the late 1800s.
He also fiercely resents the stereotype of Africa as an undifferentiated "primitive" land, the "heart of darkness," as Conrad calls it. Throughout the novel he shows how African cultures vary among themselves and how they change over time.
Balance of traditional masculine and feminine values Continual and inevitable change The dynamic between the individual and society Irony (situational)
Okonkwo: (Oh-kahn-kwoh) Protagonist – main character Clan leader in Umuofia Good warrior and farmer Doesn‟t want to be thought weak like his father so he over-compensates Nwoye: (Nuh-woh-yeh) Okonkwo‟s oldest son He is a sensitive boy (likes to listen to mother‟s stories) Okonkwo thinks he is weak like Unoka
Ekwefi: (Eh-kweh-fee) Okonkwo‟s second wife the mother of Ezinma, her only living child. Ezinma: (Eh-zeen-mah) Daughter of Ekwefi Okonkwo‟s favorite daughter Okonkow often wishes she had been a boy
Ojiugo: (Oh-jee-ooh-goh) Okonkwo‟s third and youngest wife Okonkwo beats her during the Week of Peace Obiageli: Daughter of Okonkwo‟s first wife Unoka: (Ooh-no-kah) Okonkwo‟s father Weak and irresponsible
Ikemefuna: (Ee-keh-meh-foo-nah) Given to Umuofia by another village Village has Okonkwo keep him Lives with Okonkwo‟s first wife He and Nwoye become very close Okonkwo actually kills him after Umuofia decides to have him executed
Obierika: (Oh-bee-air-ee-kah) Okonkwo‟s close friend Often a voice of reason Maduka: Obierika‟sson Wins a wrestling contest Okonkwo often wishes Nwoye were more like Maduka Nwakibie: Wealthy clansman in Umuofia Lends Okonkwo 800 seed yams to help Okonkwo get his start
Chielo: (Chee-eh-loh) Village widow; priestess of Agbala Has a close relationship with Ekwefi and Ezinma Calls Ezinma “my daughter” Agbala: Oracle of the Hills and Caves
Okagbue Uynawa: Medicine man Okonkwo consults him when Ezinma takes ill Okagbue Ezeudu: Oldest man in village; highly respected by clan; tells Okonkwo to have no part in Ikemefuna‟s death; dies in chapter 13
a. How does Okonkwo make a living? b. Why does Okonkwo dislike his father? c. How did Ikemefuna come into Okonkwo‟s village? d. What character traits does Okonkwo value most? e. Who is Nwoye?
1. Okonkwo‟s desire to be strong, wealthy, and respected comes from both his cultural experience and his feeling about his father. Which affects him more? Note passages from the novel. 2. What is ironic about Okonkwo‟s feelings for Ikemefuna, compared to his feelings for Nwoye?
3. What can you tell about Okonkwo‟s character from his participation in the death of Ikemefuna? Explain. 4. What feature of Okonkwo‟s character persuades Nwakibie to give him the seed yams? 5. The exposition of a novel provides the reader with important background information about the characters, their setting, and their problems. How is the scene in which Okonkwo visits his friends Obierika a vital part of the exposition?
6. Explain the most influential role that a woman holds in the Umuofian village. 7. When a man says yes his chi says yes also. Explain the concept of chi. What is the meaning of this traditional proverb? Do you think this proverb continues to offer wisdom or present truth? Why?
a. Why does Ekwefi become bitter about life? b. Who do the egwugwu represent? c. Why have Mgbafo‟s brothers taken back their sister from her husband? d. An ogbanje is a child who repeatedly dies and returns to its mother‟s womb. How can humans overcome this cycle, which the Ibo consider wicked?
e. What announcement does Chielo make, and where does she take Ezinma? f. What joyous ceremony takes place the day after Chielo‟s announcement? g. Who is killed at the funeral of Ezeudu?
1. How does the story of Okonkwo‟s relationship with Ekwefi and Ezinma develop his character in a direction not previously seen in the novel? 2. Ekwefi tells Ezinma the story of the tortoise and what happens when he tricks the birds at their feast. What might this story symbolize about Okonkwo? 3. Ekwefi defies the priestess by following her and Ezinma to the Oracle‟s cave. What traits that the Ibo associate with masculinity does this behavior reveal?
4. When a child accidentally lets loose a cow, the child‟s parents uncomplainingly pay a heavy fine. What conclusion do you draw from this about the Ibo way of life? 5. Situational irony occurs when what happens is the opposite of what is expected or appropriate for a given situation or character. What is ironic about Okonkwo‟s crime and his banishment to Mbanta? 6. How does Okonkwo‟s best friend Obierika justify his participation in the burning of Okonkwo‟s compound?
Uchendu Okonkwo‟s uncle (on mother‟s side) Houses Okonkwo during Okonkwo‟s 7-year exile Mr. Kiaga Native convert who arrives in Mbanta Converts Nwoye and others
Mr. Brown First missionary to Umuofia Non-aggressive and shows respect toward Igbo beliefs Befriends tribal leaders, builds a school and hospital. Akunna Leader in Umuofia Discusses religion with Mr. Brown Inadvertently shows Mr. Brown that working with Igbo belief instead of against it will work best in Umuofia (not a frontal attack)
Reverend Smith Missionary who replaces Mr. Brown Sees the world as “black and white” More aggressive and does not respect any Igbo belief Represents the stereotypical white man in Africa Enoch fanatical Christian convert to the Christian Rips off the mask of an egwugwu during a ceremony to the earth goddess
The District Commissioner An authority in the colonial government Stereotypical racist colonialist; shows no respect to the African culture while assuming he fully understands it Desires to write a book about the African traditions
In Part One we were introduced to an intact and functioning culture. It may have had its faults, and it accommodated deviants like Okonkwo with some difficulty, but it still worked as an organic whole. It is in Part Two that things begin to fall apart. Okonkwos exile in Mbanta is not only a personal disaster, but it removes him from his home village at a crucial time so that he returns to a changed world which can no longer adapt to him.
Okonkwos relationship to the newcomers is exacerbated by the fact that he has a very great deal at stake in maintaining the old ways. All his hopes and dreams are rooted in the continuance of the traditional culture. The fact that he has not been able gradually to accustom himself to the new ways helps to explain his extreme reaction.
a. What is the relationship between Okonkwo and Uchendu? b. What point does Uchendu make in his speech to Okonkwo? c. Why did the whites kill the villagers of Abame? d. Something about his native culture troubles Nwoye deeply, and the Christian Church gives him comfort. What is bothering him?
e. Where do the Mbanta elders give land for the Christian Church? f. What convinces Mbantan converts that the church is powerful? g. Why are the Christians ostracized by the clan the week before Easter? h. How does Okonkwo show his thanks to Mbanta at the end of his seven year exile?
1. One of Okonkwo‟s nicknames is “Roaring Flame.” What do you think this metaphorical name means? How do you interpret Okonkwo‟s thought, “Living fire begets cold, impotent ash”? 2. How do the names Okonkwo choose for his children born in Mbanta reflect his feelings about his exile? 3. In the book, find an example of flashback that shows the relationship between white newcomers and African natives and an example in which this relationship is indicated through foreshadowing.
4. Mr. Kiaga decides that the church will accept the clan‟s outcasts. What philosophy does this reveal, and how does this explain the success of the Christian church in attracting African converts? 5. How does the fact that there is no punishment in Ibo law for intentionally killing a python reveal the theme of the relationship of an individual to the community? 6. Uchendu says, “An animal rubs its itching flank against a tree, a man asks his kinsman to scratch him.” Explain what this
a. Who are Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith? b. How does Chukwu differ from chi? c. What sacrilege did Enoch commit? d. What did the clansmen do that made the District Commissioner summon them to his headquarters? e. What did Okonkwo‟s family notice after he returned from the District Commissioner‟s headquarters?
f. How much did the District Commissioner fine the villagers? How much did the villagers pay? Why? g. Why could clan members not remove Okonkwo‟s body from the tree? 1. Okonkwo plans to make the villagers take notice when he returns to Umuofia. What does this attitude reveal about Okonkwo‟s character?
2. The white man came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. In your own words, restate Obierika‟s point and explain the significance this has to the idea that “things fall apart.” 3. Compare and contrast Mr. Smith and Mr. Brown. 4. How does Okonkwo know that the villagers will not fight the British?
5. Why do you suppose Okonkwo kills the messenger? 6. In the last paragraph of the novel, the point of view shifts although the narrative is still in third person. Whose point of view is shown in this paragraph, and what is the tone (attitude of the writer to his subject)? Why do you think Achebe makes the shift? 7. How is Things Fall Apart a tragedy for both a society and an individual?
Achebes purpose in telling the stories of festivals and weddings, the relationship of Ekwefi and her sickly, beloved daughter Ezinma, and her wild night with Chielo, the Priestess of Agbala is to make us realize just how full and complex was the life of the Igbo villages before contact with the British, and how much was lost by the falling apart of that village civilization.
But Achebe is even-handed in his stories of traditional Igbo life, and he includes troubling elements, such as the throwing away of twin infants into the evil forest, the sacrifice of Ikemefuna to atone for a murder he did not commit, and the story of Okonkwos exile for a murder committed not by him, but by his gun that exploded during a funeral, killing one of the sons of the dead man. In short, Christianity was able to gain a foothold among the Igbo precisely because there were already problems within the traditional culture. Christianity made especial inroads among alienated and unhappy people, such as Nwoye, Okonkwos son. http://novaonline.nvcc.edu/eli/eng252/achebestudy.htm
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