…The First people who saw him ran away, but he stood beckoning to them. In the end the fearless ones went near and even touched him. The elders consulted their Oracle and it told them that the strange man would break their clan and spread destruction among them. (138)

Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart_Achebe, Chinua

Things Fall Apart

Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart_Achebe, Chinua
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Penguin Random House 2017

Okonkwo is a man among men.

Raised by a “weak” father, he is determined to undo the legacy of laziness his father left behind. Okonkwo works hard, has the best farm in the land, many wives and multiple children. He is, according to his village, a successful man. He is also one of the most feared men. His prowess on the battlefield is no less impressive. When he accidentally kills the son of a village elder, he is banished to the land of his mother for seven years. When he returns to his village, everything has changed. The colonialists have arrived and everything he knows about manhood and what it means to be a leader has changed. On one hand, he is angered and embarrassed by his village’s refusal to fight the colonial forces; on the other he is subject to the indignities of their rule on a daily basis. Ultimately he takes his own life.

Why This Text is Transformative?

How does who I am affect how I am viewed in the world in which I live?

Things Fall Apart is a novel about so many things. It’s not just a story of colonial occupation. Achebe weaves an intricate and nuanced tale of manhood, selfhood, and nationhood through Okonkwo’s experiences. It is impossible to come through this novel feeling like anything is “black and white”. Though the novel takes place in the 19th century, it has lessons that resonate today and beyond.

A Focused Selection

Study Questions

Day 1 – Chapters 4-8

Chapters 4- 8 outline the period where Okonkwo goes to Mbaina to negotiate peace. He brings Ikemefuna back and raises him like his own son, and is then complicit in the boy’s death. 

Day 1 – Chapters 4-8

Okonkwo goes to Mbaina to negotiate peace. One of Umuofia’s women was murdered at the Mbaina market, and in order to avoid war Umuofia has demanded one virgin and one young man. Knowing they cannot win against Umuofia, they agree, and Okonkwo returns home with the boy and young girl. The girl is given to the man whose wife was murdered. Okonkwo takes the boy who becomes like a son to him. When the village decides the boy must die as a consequence of the murder, Okonkwo is advised not to participate. But Okonkwo does participate. In fact, he deals the fatal blow.

Class 1 

Consider the ways in which Okonkwo defines manhood for himself and the other men. Do these definitions resonate in the 21st century? 

The elders tell Okonkwo not to participate in the death of Ikefuma but he does it anyway, mostly driven by ego. Have you done something that was ego-driven? Did you later regret it? 

Day 2 – Chapter  20-25

These chapters cover Part 3 of Things Fall Apart.   In part 2, Okonkwo has been banished due to a mishap with his gun which killed a son of the village. He and his family have had to retreat to his mother’s homeland for seven years. Okonkwo is sad and sullen about this turn in his life. While he is here, we see the coming of the missionaries which will eventually lead to Okonkwo’s undoing.

In part 3 Okonkwo returns to his village from exile and attempts to reclaim some semblance of his place, but between his exile and the encroachment of the missionaries, the task proves to be a daunting one. 

Class 2 

A large part of this novel is about change and adaptation. How difficult is change for you? Do you wish things could stay the same all the time? 

Okonkwo is a man who believes in tradition and tribal values. What then do we make of his eventual suicide? Do you think this was an act of defiance or weakness? 

Building Bridges

A Recommended Pairing

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman pairs well with Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. How does Wollstonecraft’s text provide us with a lens to understand Edna and Leonce’s marriage? How does Wollstonecraft’s discussion of virtue, reason, and education help to explain Edna’s sense of dissatisfaction with her life as well as the failures she meets with in her relationships? Do any of Wollstonecraft’s warnings about an uneducated mother resonate in Chopin’s depiction of Edna?

Supplemental Resources

Mary wollstonecraft statue

A Sculpture to Mary Wollstonecraft in Newington Green, London. It was sculpted by British artist Maggi Hambling. It was unveiled on November 10, 2020.By Grim23 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

What did Mary Wollstonecraft write about in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman?

Dangerous Minds Episode 4 - Mary Wollstonecraft

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