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1. Title of work: Things Fall Apart
2. Author and date written: Chinua Achebe, 1959
3. Country of author: Nigeria
Unoka – Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, was considered lazy and a failure. He never worked and always took from others. Okonkwo considered him a complete embarrassment and vowed never to be like his father. He had to hate what Unoka once loved, and never borrow money or stop working.
Okonkwo - Okonkwo is a clan leader in Umuofia. He has a large family, yet is very stubborn and known for his violent personality. He became well known through all of the seven villages by throwing “The Cat” during a wrestling tournament.
Ekwefi - Ekwefi is Okonkwo's second wife. She had nine children, but each of which died at a very young age. Enzinma is her only surviving child. She is a dedicated mother and a proper wife.
Ezinma – Ezinma is open-minded and understanding. She is her father’s favorite child because of those reasons. He wishes that she would have been a boy, and keeps referring to that wish throughout the course of the novel.
Ikemefuna – Even though Ikemefuna is seen as the perfect son and clansman, he is still sentenced to death by the Oracle. He is a hard-working, caring character.
Nwoye – In the eyes of Okonkwo, his oldest son, Nwoye, is weak and lazy from an early age. He dislikes his father because he beats him so often to make him more masculine. After the death of Ikemefuna, Nwoye becomes very depressed and later converts to the Christian faith, which makes Okonkwo disown him.
Obierika – He is a close and loyal friend to Okonkwo. He is always there for him, even when he is banished for seven years, Obierika still comes to visit Okonkwo and his family in the motherland. He also takes care of the yam distribution and it’s payment because Okonkwo is unable to do so.
Chielo - Chielo is the oracle who speaks to the villages as the goddess Agbala. She is very fond of Ekwefi and Enzinma.
Ogbuefi Ezeudu – He is the oldest man in the tribe. He was very successful and he had won three out of the four titles that you can take in the tribe. When his funeral came, they had a great warrior celebration in remembrance of him.
Uchendu – Uchendu is Okonkwo’s uncle. He welcomes Okonkwo and his family with open arms when he goes to the motherland for his seven years of punishment.
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Mr. Brown - Mr. Brown is the first white missionary to travel to Umuofia. He is very set upon converting the clansmen. To do so, he and the Christians accept a plot of land in the “Evil Forest.” They later build a school and hospital that follows the rules of the Christian faith. He is very persuasive and dedicated to his cause.
Reverend James Smith – When Mr. Brown becomes unable to fulfill his duties at the church, Smith takes his place. He is the exact opposite of Mr. Brown. He is rigid in his beliefs and uncompromising towards non-believers. He is another white missionary.
The District Commissioner – He is racist and arrogant. He is one of the white governmental workers.
Enoch - Enoch is a strong convert to the Christian church. He is bold and rather daft. When he feels that he has proper authority to rip a ceremonial mask from a fellow clansman, his home is burned, and he and others such as Okonkwo are thrown into prison.
This story takes place in the late 1800’s- early 1900’s. The time frame is important to the setting of the novel because during those times, there were different moral and ethical values supported by different cultures that varied to great extents. Two examples of this may be the Christian faith in comparison to the African faith exhibited in the novel as well as the ability to marry many women at one time, which is now referred to as ‘adultery’.
Umuofia is where most of the novel takes place. Here, hard work is acknowledged by administering titles after certain honors. All men work very hard. Ceremonies that involve the entire town take place often, where ceremonial masks are worn to represent the presence of ancestors. This place puts a strange visual picture in the reader’s mind. The compounds on which each family lives seem to be huge, containing huts for every wife and her children as well as the man of the compound’s hut. It has many strange inhabitants such as the Oracle of the Hills. It seems kind of like a frightening place to be.
Mbanta is Okonkwo’s motherland where he is sent to live when he is banished for seven years. This setting is much more homier and makes the reader feel more at ease because nothing out of the ordinary is happening, (like it does in Umuofia.) Here the characters seem much friendlier and much more willing to accept flaws and provide help to any and all who need help. They take Okonkwo in even though they know his past and know about his less-than-perfect reputation.
The novel began by rehashing the story of Okonkwo’s youth. It basically states the facts that Okonkwo didn’t grow up with the greatest father. He had a father that he was ashamed of. As he grew, he decided that he didn’t want to be a failure like his father. He became a great wrestler and overthrew another man who was supposedly unbeatable. This victory helped him become well known through all of his surrounding villages. Later on through his youth, he took three wives and worked very hard. Even though he had his own children, the Oracle asked him to take on a boy, Ikemefuna who he willingly took on. Ikemefuma was only to stay at Okonkwo’s compound until the Oracle decided what to do with him.
(Present time setting)
Okonkwo became enraged by Ekewfi and beat her during the Week of
Peace. He shot at her with his gun but missed. This disturbed the ancestors, but he was not punished, nor did it have an effect on the Week of Peace.
After three years of living with Okonkwo, Ikemefuna is ordered to death by the Oracle of the Hills and Caves. Even though he has a fond liking for him, he and his peers go out into the forest with Ikemefuna and kill him. They tricked him into going by telling him that they were going to take him to his real mother and sister. They then slaughter him in the woods.
As the novel goes on, we learn that Ekewfi had had nine children die at very young ages. They had to mutilate the babies and bury them in the forest to keep it from entering its mother’s womb again and causing another baby to die. They had to find the stone that the evil baby had buried to allow its self to re-enter the womb. When Enzinma tells them where it is hidden, it is destroyed.
(Back in the present time frame.)
Enzinma becomes very ill one evening and must be cared for very specially with strong medication, etc. Ekewfi is very fearful that her only daughter may die, but she doesn’t.
After that episode, The Oracle of the Hills and Caves went to Okonkwo’s compound during the middle of the night. She demanded to take Enzinma. After trying to avoid this from happening, Ekewfi ends up following the Oracle through a dense forest to another town, where she paused for only a moment and then had to chase her back to the caves by their own town. There she waited outside of the cave. Okonkwo later joined her during the night and waited for the Oracle and Enzinma to emerge. This took until the dawn. Enzinma was allowed to sleep late into the morning and then they all went to a ceremony during which a suitor for Okonkwo’s friend’s daughter served palm-wine.
Later on, Ezeudu died. He was a great man and they had a huge warrior’s funeral for him. During the ceremony, Okonkwo accidently shot a young man and he died. He was banished from Umuofia and sent to live on his mother’s land of Mbanta for seven years. When Okonkwo and his family arrived, they were treated with extreme kindness by his uncle, Uchendu. His was given kinsmen who helped him with his compound. He was also given a few plots of land on which to plant crops.
In Umoufia, Christian missionaries, had begun to build churches, hoping to convert the villagers into Christianity. They later visited Mbanta as well, hoping to convert the people of Mbanta. Many of the people disliked the missionaries and found their beliefs to be ludicrous. Yet, a few people were still interested.
Okonkwo's own son, Nwoye, started onto that path. When Okonkwo found out about that, he was enraged and disowned him.
He then threw a gigantic feast for the people who had helped him in Mbanta before going back to Umuofia.
*In Umoufia, One of the newly converted Christians, Enoch entered a
meeting of the tribe in which the masked clansmen impersonating ancestors were present, he had enough nerve to unmask one of them. All of the villagers were very angry, and the villagers made a decision to destroy the church, which they eventually accomplished.
The District Commissioner later imprisoned Okonkwo and five other men as well. They were unable to be released until their bail was paid, which it eventually was. When they were finally released, Okonkwo and the other men as well as most of the town attended a meeting. During the meeting, messengers from the commissioner are sent to stop the meeting from taking place. When Okonkwo’s temper again took the best of him, he beheaded one of the men. He felt so guilty that he hung himself.
When the commissioner and his men went to Okonkwo’s compound the next day to warrant his arrest, Ekwefi and his other wives showed them where he had hung himself. Because of the belief that bodies from a suicide are evil, the wives did not cut him down. When they asked the commissioner for his aid in the task, he refused. The story ended.
7. Major Themes
One theme of the book was ‘the stubbornness of religion.’ In the book, many of the town’s people were unable to accept the Christians because they were so dead set on their own beliefs. When one is raised believing one type of religious background at a very strict level, they often have difficulty believing that their whole life and all of their religious practice could have been a waste of time, and could have been false all along.
Another theme was that ‘things fall apart.’ Even the sturdiest of all things can fall apart and meet its demise because of the tiniest reason. In this case, the entire clan fell apart as a whole because a group of strangers shared their beliefs and changed the clan’s way of thinking and reasoning from the religious point of view.
A minor theme is that ‘working too hard can cause problems in life’. For example, Okonkwo pressured his son to work very hard and never made him feel like he was good enough, so he developed into a sad faced youth. If he would have had more time to be a youth and less time was spent harvesting and working like a dog, then he would have been much happier. I also think that some of Okonkwo’s stress and rage came on because he was too hard on himself. He always worked and never took time to just relax and be free. He was so worried that he wasn’t up to par in the social standings, that he drove himself to burn out.
The few major symbols that I noticed were ancestors, masculinity, yams, and palm-oil.
At every ceremony that the town had, there would be a group of men impersonating ancestors. I think that the ancestors symbolize a new, fresh beginning. They are there to improve the situation and to make things better.
Masculinity was also represented through out the course of the novel. In Umofia, the men and women were treated very differently. The men had many more rights and were allowed to accept honors and participate in all social activities where as women were allowed to have children and cook. The mena ll had to show their masculinity in order to keep a high reputation with the other men, the ancestors, and the town elders. This was a very sexist age and race.
The yams were labeled again and again over the entire course of the novel. They were present at all sorts of things, whether it be at a special occasion, or just for dinner. But yams were also the highest abundant crop in the Nigerian villages. I think that yams symbolize success and wealth. After a long day’s work, they ate yams. It showed that that day had been worth it and that it was a success. The yams were also successful for trading and selling, so that shows that they are good quality and easy to grow. It’s an all around successful crop. It brought wealth and the men who had the most wealth in their life had the most yams as well.
The palm wine can be symbolized as a sign for rest. At all of the relaxing ceremonies and near the end of each day, palm wine was used. It helps the clan to calm themselves from their hard work and to take time off to enjoy life and to rest with others who are also living through hard times.
9. Significant imagery:
One bit of imagery that really stuck out was when The Oracle of the Hills took Ezinma to the caves and Ekewfi followed them. The dense darkness and the silence of the night that enclosed Ekewfi was described in a manner that really expressed her fear. The reader becomes aware of the darkness that those clan members must experience, due to the absence of streetlights that we take for granted. We never experience that feeling of complete isolation in the dark because we rely on the power of lights all of the time. The adjectives that Achebe used to describe her fear did give us a taste of it, though.
10. Significance of title:
When Okonkwo returns to Umuofia from his banishment, he states that because of the new Christians and the emotional battles among the clan as well as among the missionaries, they had begun to fall apart. This title was appropriate for the work because the characters in the book fell apart so easily. It symbolizes that people are easily broken.
11. Author’s techniques:
Achebe used a sense of Igbo tradition. He used many terms and words that were from a language spoken in Nigeria. They were more effective to the reader than if he would have used English terms because they added a personal touch to the plot and required thoughtfulness on the reader’s part.
The use of flashbacks is also very explanatory. It gives a history and a reason for Okonkwo’s violent, and hard-working tendencies. As the author reveals the failures of Unoka, it shows the insecurities and the successions of Okonkwo’s adulthood and the lifelong hatred that he held for his father.
The majority of the book also involves the town and it’s people in the economic viewpoint. The use of the econometric standings shows the way the needs were met among the people as well as the ways that materialistic issues were successfully handled by the town.
There is also a sense of subtle irony in the story’s plot. Throughout the work, Okonkwo is very worried about the way that he appears to the people, and keeping the laws and his masculine tendencies. But, as the story reaches it’s peak, Okonkwo commits manslaughter which is considered a woman’s felony. He loses his strong reputation and in the end commits suicide, which is the worst thing that any clan member can do. He is now a disgrace and a failure; a man who turned down the wrong path in life, and dissolved all that he stood for.