Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

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Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Study Guide

On separate sheets of paper, answer the following questions for each group of chapters. Use complete sentences and thorough answers for full credit! Include page numbers.
Chapters 1 – 3 Due: ___________________

  1. Identify some of the traditions described. What are their purposes?

  2. Identify at least 3 proverbs. What is the meaning of each and when are they used in the story?

  3. What are the main characteristics of Okonkwo as he is depicted in these chapters? List as many as you can.

  4. What are the main characteristics of Unoka as he is depicted in these chapters? List as many as you can.

  5. How does Okonkwo feel about Unoka? How does he react to those feelings?

  6. What determines honor in the Ibo society? Cite evidence from the story.

  7. Identify some of the superstitions/beliefs seen in these chapters.

  8. What foreshadows Ikemefuna’s future? Cite 3 examples.

  9. How does the Oracle prevent Umuofia from warring with their neighbors?

  10. What seems to be the importance of the kola nut and palm wine? How do you know?

  11. What is Okonkwo’s attitude toward women?

  12. What is Okonkwo’s attitude toward his children?

  13. Give each chapter a title. Explain your choice of title.

Chapters 4 – 5 Due: ____________________

  1. What are Okonkwo’s virtues?

  2. What are Okonkwo’s faults?

  3. What does this proverb mean: “When a man says yes his chi says yes also”?

  4. Describe the relationship between Okonkwo and Ikemefuna.

  5. How does Nwoye feel about Ikemefuna? How can you connect this to a relationship in your own life?

  6. What is the crime that causes Okonkwo to be reprimanded? What does this tell you about the values of the Ibo culture?

  7. What evidence is there in this chapter that customs have changed over time? That customs differ among contemporary cultures?

  8. Why is Ani the most important deity?

  9. What is Okonkwo’s attitude toward feasts? Note that it is women who are chiefly responsible for decorating the houses. In many African cultures they are also the chief domestic architects, and the mud walls are shaped by them into pleasing patterns. Guns were brought into sub-Saharan Africa early on by Muslim merchantys, but would have been fairly unusual.

  10. Briefly summarize the story of Ekwefi. What kind of woman is she? Do you know anyone (personally or in history) like her?

  11. Why does Okonkwo criticize Ekwefi?

  12. What do you think is the significance of women having to sit with their legs together.

  13. What does Okonkwo’s thought that he “trembled with the desire to conquer and subdue. It was like the desire for woman” mean (42)?

  14. Give each chapter a title. Explain your choice of title.

Chapters 6 - 8 Due: ___________________

  1. Chapter 6 introduces a much-discussed aspect of Ibo belief. As in most pre-moderrn cultures, the majority of children died in early childhood. If a series of such deaths took place in a family, it was believed that the same wicked spirit was being born and dying over and over, spitefully grieving its parents. They tended to be apprehensive about new children until they seemed to be likely to survive, thus proving themselves not to be feared ogbanje.

  2. What roles does Chielo play in the village?

  3. What is the purpose of ther wrestling match?

  4. How has Nwoye begun to “act like a man”? What values does Okonkwo associate with manliness? How does Nwoye relate to these values?

  5. “Foo-foo” is pounded yam, the traditional staple of the Ibo diet. How does the village react to the coming of the locusts? Achebe is doubtless stressing the contrast with other cultures here, familiar to African readers from the Bible, in which locusts are invariably a terrible plague.

  6. Why is Okonkwo asked to NOT take part in the killing of Ikemefuna? Why do you suppose they have decided to kill the boy?

  7. Why do you think Achebe oes not translate the song that Ikemefuna remembers as he walks along? (A machete is a large knife – Spanish machete.) Why does Okonkwo act as he does?

  8. Comment on Ikemefuna’s cry, “My father, they have killed me” (61).

  9. How does Okonkwo’s action destroy his relationship with Nwoye?

  10. Find at least one metaphor in Chapter 7.

  11. Most traditional cultures have considered twins magical or cursed. Twins are in fact unusually common among the Ibo, and some subgroups value them highly. However, the people of Umiofia do not. Note how the introduction of this bit of knowledge is introduced on the heels of Ikemefuna’s death. Why now? Nwoye serves as a point-of-view character to criticize some of the more negative aspects of Umuofia culture. This incident will have a powerful influence on his reaction to changes in the culture later.

  12. How do Okonkwo’s actions after Ikemefuna’s death reveal how he feels?

  13. What is Okonkwo’s attitude toward his daughter Ezinma?

  14. Obierika states, “If I were you, I would have stayed at home. What you have done will not please the Earth. It is the kind of action for which the goddess wipes out whole families” (67). What does he mean? Think about the character of Obierika – what role might he play in the novel?

  15. Give each chapter a title. Explain your choice of title.

  16. Bride-price is the converse of dowry. Common in many African cultures, it involveds the bridgroom’s family paying substantial wealth in cash or goods for the privilege or marrying a young woman. Do you think such a custom would tend to make women more valuable than a dowry system where the woman’s family must offer the gifts to the bridegroom’s family? How do you think such a system would affect the women themselves? Note again the emphasis on differing customs, this time as it applies to plam-wine tapping.

  17. Young women were considered marriageable in their mid-teens. Why do you think this attitude arose? It is worth noting that European women commonly married between 15 and 18 in earlier times. Therre is nothing uniquely African about these attitudes.

  18. How is the notion of white men first introduced into the story? What sorts of attitudes are associated with white men in these chapters? Why might the Ibo (and other Africans) suppose that they have no toes?

Chapters 9 - 10 Due: ___________________

  1. The story of the mosquito is one of several West African tales which explain why these insects buzz irritatingly in people’s ears. Why does Ekwefi prize her daughter Ezinma so highly?

  2. In this chapter the notion of the ogbanje is treated at length. What attitudes toward children does it reflect? Note how it balances against the “throwing away” of twins. Does Achebe seem to validate the belief in ogbanje?

  3. The egwugwu ceremony of the Ibo has been much studied. The women clearly know on some level that these mysterious beings are their men folk in disguise, yet they are terrified of them. What do you think their attitude toward the egwugwu is?

  4. What seems to be the main functions of the ceremony?

  5. How does Evil Forest refute the argument of Uzowulu that he beat his wife because she was unfaithful to him?

  6. How are problems like this affected by the fact that whle families are involved in marriage, unlike in American culture where a man and woman may wed quite independently of their families and even against their families’ wishes?

  7. What are the advantages and disadvantages or each system?

Chapters 11 - 13 Due: ___________________

  1. What is the moral of the fable of the tortoise?

  2. What values does the fable reflect?

  3. What does the incident involving the priestess of Agbala reflect about the values of the culture?

  4. Why does Okonkwo come to the shrine? How does Ekwefi feel about his presence?

  5. Notice the traditional attitudes of all small villagers toward large marketplaces like Umuike. How is the importance of family emphasized in the uri ceremony?

  6. Notice that the song sung at the end of Chapter 12 is a new one. Achebe often reminds us that the Ibo culture is not a frozen, timeless one, but a constantly changing and evolving one.

  7. Compare the uri ceremony to an engagement ceremony today (you may need to get help from an adult in your family for this question if you have not been to a ceremony recently).

  8. Why do you think a “cold shiver ran down Okonkwo’s back as he remembered the last time the old man” Ezeudu visited him (121)?

  9. Having shown an engagement ceremony, Achebe now depicts a funeral. We are being systematically introduced to the major rituals of Ibo life. How does the one-handed egwugwu praise the dead man?

  10. Okonkwo has killed people before this incident. What makes this killing so serious, though it would be treated as a mere accident under our law?

  11. How does Obierika react to the punishment? How does this reaction reinforce his role in the novel?

  12. A tragic flaw is a defect of character which brings about the downfall of the protagonist. What id Okonkwo’s tragic flaw?

  13. What is ironic about the fact that Okonkwo’s crime is considered a “female” crime?

  14. Explain the proverb: “As the elders said, if one finger brought oil it soiled the others” (125).

Chapters 14 - 15 Due: ___________________

  1. In Part One we were introduced to an intact and functioning culture. It may have had its faults (don’t all cultures?), 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. Okonkwo’s 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.

  2. What is the significance of comparing Okonkwo to a fish out of water?

  3. Note the value placed on premarital chastity in the engagement ceremony. In many African cultures virginity is not an absolute requirement for marriage but it is highly desirable and normally greatly enhances the value of the bride-price that may be paid. Thus families are prone to assert a good deal of authority over their unmarried daughters to prevent early love affairs. How does Okonkwo’s lack of understanding of the importance of women reflect on him?

  4. Why is a woman brought back to her kinsmen to be buried?

  5. Why does Okonkwo sit in a “silent half-sleep” (131)?

  6. How does the story of the destruction of Abame summarize the experience of colonization?

  7. What evidence is there in this chapter that the clans do not understand the white man’s way of life?

  8. Movie Native Americans call the train engine an “iron horse”, but here the term refers to a bicycle. Note that although the people of Abame acted rashly, they had a good deal of insight into the significance of the arrival of the whites. Note how the Africans treat the white man’s language as mere noise, a mirror of how colonizers treated African languages.

  9. Agree or disagree? The white men do not want to know anything about the Ibo culture because they think it is inherently inferior and not worth learning about.

  10. What stories had Okonkwo heard about white men?

  11. In the final exchange with Okonkwo, Obierika is good-naturedly refusing to accept Okonkwo’s thanks by joking with him. Why?

Chapters 16 - 19 Due: ___________________

  1. The British followed a policy in their colonizing efforts of designating local “leaders” to administer the lower levels of their empire. In Africa these were know as “warrant chiefs.” But the men they chose were often not the real leaders, and the British often assumed the existence of a centralized chieftainship where none existed. Thus the new power structures meshed badly with the old. Similarly, the missionaries have designated as their contact man an individual who lacks the status to make him respected by his people.

  2. Why do you think Nwoye has become a Christian? Note how Achebe inverts the traditional dialect humor of Europeans which satirizes the inability of native to speak proper English by having the missionary mangle Ibo.

  3. Why does the new religion appeal to Nwoye?

  4. What is the first act of the missionaries which evokes a positive response in some of the Ibo? Achebe focuses on the doctrine of the Trinity, the notoriously least logical and most paradoxical basic belief in Christianity. How does this belief undermine the missionaries’ attempts to discredit the traditional religion of the Ibo?

  5. What mutual misunderstandings are evident in this chapter between the missionaries and the people of the village?

  6. How does the granting to the missionaries of a plot in the Evil Forest backfire?

  7. What does the metaphor in the next to the last sentence of the chapter mean?

  8. How does the Ibo superstition about the birth of twins compel the first African woman to join the white man’s church?

  9. Why is Okonkwo terrified that his other children will join Nwoye in the white man’s church?

  10. The outcaste osu are introduced in Chapter 18. Why do you suppose Achebe has not mentioned them earlier? Their plight was indeed a difficult one, and is treated by Achebe elsewhere. In India the lowest castes were among the first to convert to faiths which challenged traditional Hinduism; something similar seems to happen here.

  11. Note how traditional Umuofian custom can welcome back an erring member once he has paid for his crime. In many cultures Okonkwo would be treated as a pariah, but this culture has ways of accommodating such a person without destroying him, and in fact encouraging him to give of his best. What does the final speaker say is the main threat posed by Christianity?

  12. Find a proverb in Chapter 19 explaining why men are superior to animals.

  13. What theme for this story is stated at the end of Chapter 19 by one of the elders in the clan?

Chapters 20 - 25 Due: ___________________

  1. Okonkwo’s 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. The missionaries have brought British colonial government with them. Missionaries were often viewed as agents of imperialism. There is a saying common to Native Americans and Africans alike: “Before the white man came, we had the land they had the Bible. Now we have the Bible and they have the land.”

  2. What clashes in values are created by the functioning of the British courts? Note the final phrase of Obierika’s last speech, alluding to the title of the novel.

  3. Who are the kotma and why are they corrupt?

  4. Why do some of the villagers – even those who are not converts to Christianity – welcome the British? The missionaries try to refute what they consider idolatry with the simplistic argument that the animist gods are only wooden idols; however, the villagers are perfectly aware that the idol is not the god in a literal sense, any more than the sculpture of Christ on the cross in a Christian church is God. This sort of oversimplification was a constant theme of Christian arguments against traditional faiths throughout the world as the British assumed that the natives were fools pursuing childish beliefs who needed only a little enlightenment to be converted. Mr. Brown, here, learns better. How?

  5. Why does Mr. Brown believe the clan children should attend school?

  6. The god Chukwu is identified in Chapter 21. In what way is he similar to Mr. Brown’s God? Why does Mr. Brown object to the way the people worship Chukwu? Note how Akunna shrewdly senses that the head of the Church is in England rather than in heaven. Note the recurrence of the phrase “falling apart” in the last sentence of Chapter 21.

  7. How is Reverend Smith different from Reverend Brown?

  8. What is the result of Rev. Smith’s black and white thinking? Why is this a turning point for the clan?

  9. What does the District Commissioner say is the motive of the British in colonizing the Africans?

  10. Why are the actions of the District Commissioner ironic?

  11. Why does Okonkwo kill the messenger?

  12. Once again (as foreshadowed) Okonkwo uses his machete rashly, bringing disaster upon himself. But could he be viewed as a defiant hero defending his people’s way of life? What do you think of his act?

  13. Why is it ironic that Obierika and the other clan members will not touch Okonkwo’s body?

  14. To what extent may Okonkwo’s death be viewed as a tragedy?

  15. What is the tragedy of the Ibo people which is implicit in the last paragraph of the novel?

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