Study Guide to Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

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Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian novelist, poet, and critic. He is considered one of the most important African writers of the 20th century and is best known for his novels, including “Things Fall Apart,” which has been translated into more than 50 languages and is widely regarded as a classic of modern African literature.

Achebe was born in Nigeria in 1930 and was educated at the University of Ibadan. He worked as a journalist and a professor, and his writing often explored the themes of colonialism, tradition, and the effects of European culture on African societies. Achebe was a strong advocate for African literature and culture and played a key role in establishing African literature as a legitimate field of study. He passed away in 2013.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart is a novel by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. It tells the story of Okonkwo, a strong and powerful leader in the fictional African village of Umuofia. Okonkwo is known for his strength and bravery, but he also struggles with a deep-seated fear of weakness and failure. He is haunted by the memory of his father, who was seen as lazy and weak by the community. Okonkwo is determined to be the opposite of his father and to achieve great things.

Things Fall Apart 

Things Fall Apart is the first of three novels in Chinua Achebe’s critically acclaimed African Trilogy. Told through the fictional experiences of Okonkwo, a wealthy and fearless Igbo warrior of Umuofia in the late 1800s, Things Fall Apart explores one man’s futile resistance to the devaluing of his Igbo traditions by British political and religious forces and his despair as his community capitulates to the powerful new order.

However, Okonkwo’s world is turned upside down when European colonizers arrive in Umuofia. The villagers are forced to confront the impact of foreign influence on their culture and way of life. Okonkwo and his fellow villagers struggle to maintain their traditions and customs in the face of the colonizers’ attempts to convert them to Christianity and impose their own values and systems.

As the conflict between the villagers and the colonizers intensifies, Okonkwo becomes increasingly frustrated and bitter. He turns to violence and eventually leads a rebellion against the colonizers. However, the rebellion ultimately fails, and Okonkwo is killed.Things Fall Apart is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that offers a nuanced portrayal of African culture and the effects of colonization. It remains a classic of African literature and continues to be widely read and studied today. 

Despite its tragic ending, the novel also celebrates the resilience and strength of the Igbo community and the importance of preserving cultural heritage and identity. Achebe’s writing is deeply rooted in the traditions and customs of the Igbo people, and the novel offers a unique and powerful perspective on the impact of colonialism and the challenges of cultural change.

Major Themes in Things Fall Apart

The major themes of the novel are as follows.

  1. British Colonial Culture. The novel shows how the introduction of Western values and religion disrupts the delicate balance of Igbo society and leads to its eventual downfall.
  2. The Loss of Identity: The novel explores the impact of colonization on the individual. The Igbo people are forced to assimilate into Western culture and religion and give up their traditions and cultural identity. The novel shows how the loss of identity can lead to feelings of alienation and loss of self-worth.
  3. The Tragedy of Human Conflict: The novel explores conflict’s destructive effects on individuals and communities. The novel shows how conflicts within the Igbo community, such as the clash between the old and the new, and the conflict between the different clans, ultimately lead to the downfall of the society.
  4. The Power of Tradition: The novel explores the role of tradition in shaping the beliefs and values of the Igbo people. The novel shows how the Igbo people’s strong attachment to their traditions and customs helps to preserve their cultural identity, even in the face of overwhelming change.
  5. The Importance of Family and Community: The novel explores the central role of family and community in Igbo society. The novel shows how the strong bonds of family and community provide a sense of security and belonging and how the breakdown of these bonds can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Poetic Elements Used in Things Fall Apart

In Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, several poetic devices are used to enhance the story and add depth to the characters and themes. Some examples of these devices include:

  • Imagery: Achebe uses vivid and descriptive language to create mental images for the reader, often using sensory details to bring the story to life. For example, he writes: “The locusts sang their song of destruction, and the birds hovered over them to pick off the stragglers.”
  • Repetition: Achebe often repeats words and phrases throughout the novel to create a sense of empathy and to highlight important ideas. For example, he writes: “He had indeed killed a man, but he was not a common killer. He had killed a sacred python and was punished for that.”
  • Symbolism: Achebe uses the novel’s objects, events, and characters to represent broader ideas and themes. For example, the figure of Okonkwo represents the traditional values and customs of the Igbo people, while the arrival of the white missionaries represents the disruption of their way of life.
  • Allusion: Achebe often references other literature and history throughout the novel to add depth and meaning to his own story. For example, he references the Biblical story of the fall of man and compares it to the novel’s events.

Overall, Achebe’s use of poetic devices helps to create a rich and layered narrative that explores the complexities of Igbo culture and the effects of colonization on traditional societies.

Analysis of Major Characters

The major characters in the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe are:

  1. Okonkwo: The novel’s protagonist, Okonkwo, is a powerful and ambitious man from the Igbo tribe in Nigeria. He is known for his strength, bravery, and strict adherence to tradition.
  2. Obierika: Okonkwo’s close friend and confidant, Obierika, is a wise and thoughtful man who is a foil to Okonkwo’s more impulsive nature.
  3. Ikemefuna: A young boy brought to live with Okonkwo’s family after being given a peace offering by a neighboring village. Ikemefuna becomes a beloved member of the household, but his eventual sacrifice at the hands of the tribe weighs heavily on Okonkwo’s conscience.
  4. Unoka: Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, is a lazy and irresponsible man who dies in debt and shame. Okonkwo spends much of his life trying to distance himself from his father’s legacy.
  5. Nwoye: Okonkwo’s eldest son, Nwoye, is a sensitive and intelligent boy who rejects his father’s traditional ways and converts to Christianity.
  6. Nneka: Okonkwo’s second wife, Nneka, is a gentle and kind woman who supports her husband in all his endeavors.
  7. Ojiugo: Okonkwo’s first wife, Ojiugo, is a strong and capable woman who is not afraid to speak her mind.
  8. Ezinma: Okonkwo’s favorite child, Ezinma, is a clever and ambitious girl fiercely loyal to her father.
  9. Ekwefi: Okonkwo’s third wife, Ekwefi is a devoted mother who loves her daughter Ezinma more than anything in the world

Suggested Readings

“A Quiet House by the Sea” by Nisa Moazzam Gulzar

Imagery A Powerful Literary Tool

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