Things Fall Apart Discussion Questions
We are going to discuss Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart. I understand that reading Achebe’s Things Fall Apart could be a different reading experience, especially the beginning part about the Ibo community’s rituals and traditions. However, the novel is quite well written, and you will see Achebe’s powerful depiction of Okonkwo when you read the last several chapters of the novel.
Please give yourself enough time to read the assigned reading this Thursday (Ch. 1-6, pp. 910-29).
Chinua Achebe (1930-2013), a Nigerian writer, was raised in an Igbo (Ibo) town in Southeastern Nigeria. When Achebe was born in 1930, the country was still occupied by British colonizers (Nigeria was under British colonial rule from 1884 to 1960). Achebe’s father was a teacher and converted to Christianity. He spoke English and worked as an interpreter. Influenced by his father, Achebe attended St. Philips’ Central School in 1936 and Sunday school every week. He attended the University of Ibadan and worked for Nigerian Broadcasting Service in Lagos in 1954. Achebe lived in the U.S. in the 1970s and taught at Bard College in New York for 18 years. He passed away in 2013.Please watch a video clip on Achebe (up to 5 minutes)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHF_w0gkyiILinks to an external site.
British Colonialism and Postcolonial Literature
Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958) is considered a postcolonial literary work. The term post-colonial, according to Bill Ashcroft, addresses “all aspects of the colonial process from the beginning of colonial contact to the end of the colonial process.” The novel, set in the Igbo (Ibo) land (later called Nigeria) before the arrival of British colonizers, centers on the protagonist Okonkwo and portrays the traditional life and customs of Igbo people (around the 1880s), and unfolds the influences of British missionaries and the colonial government on the native’s way of life and the clan’s own governing system.
Things Fall Apart is considered the most widely read novel in modern African literature, and it has been translated into several languages.
Things Fall Apart was written in English (the British colonizer’s language, not in the native language), and some African critics pointed out that the novel is “not African enough.” Achebe argued that he wrote the novel from the native’s perspective for the English-speaking reader. Achebe is considered a writer who “embodies the cultures of the colonized and of the colonizer.”
Things Fall Apart was published in 1958 when Nigeria became politically independent from England. However, Nigeria has been economically controlled by the British government since its formal independence, which in many ways indicates the neo-colonial state of the country.
Please do not feel overwhelmed by many characters’ names. The main characters in the novel are as follows:
Okonkwo – the protagonist of the novel
Unoka – Okonkwo’s father
Nwoye – Okonkwo’s oldest son
Ekwefi – Okonkwo’s second wife
Ezinma – Ekwefi’s daughter
Ikemefuna- a 15-year-old boy from Mbaino given to Umuofia as compensation for murder
Chielo- the Priestess of Agbala (the Oracle); a widow with two children
Obierika – Okonkwo’s friend
Uchendu- Okonkwo’s uncle living in MbantaDiscussion Question #1 for Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958, Ch. 1-6, 910-929)
1. Who is Unoka and what does Okonkwo think of him? Unoka was a great musician, but Okonkwo describes him as a “failure” (912). Why? What is Okonkwo’s fear and ambition in his life? Achebe writes, “Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper” (914). Is Okonkwo a violent man, or does he act like an angry man to be looked strong and tough? How would you describe Okonkwo? Why does Okonkwo worry about Nwoye, and what does he try to teach him? What is Okonkwo’s notion of “what it means to be a man?”
2. How do the clans of Umuofia and Mbaino resolve the tension involving the murder of a woman from Umuofia? Who is Ikemefuna, and why does he stay with Okonkwo? Okonkwo comes to like Ikemefuna, but he “never showed any emotion openly, unless it is the emotion of anger” (920). Why do you think Okonkwo equates anger with strength and affection with weakness? Later at a meeting, Okonkwo says, “This meeting is for men” (919). What does he mean by that? What do you make of Okonkwo’s attitude here? Is Okonkwo’s way of dealing with a less successful man respected by the people in Umuofia? How would you describe Okonkwo’s understanding of manliness and manly strength and emotion? Does Okonkwo’s idea of manliness represent the clan’s view of what it means to be a man?
3. Why do the Ibo people observe the Week of Peace, and what error (or “crime”) does Okonkwo commit during the Week of Peace? Is Okonkwo aware of the consequence of breaking the peace before the clans plant any new crops? Is he disrespectful to the clan’s custom and the earth goddess, or is he unable to control his anger? What punishment does he get from Ezeani, the priest of the earth goddess (Ani)? What do you think of the way the community treats people who violated the custom? Why does Okonkwo feel uncomfortable sitting for days waiting for the New Yam Festival? Is he harsh on himself, or is he impatient? Why do you think Okonkwo acts and reacts violently?
Things Fall Apart Discussion Questions