4.1 THINGS FALL APART
(1958) Reading Guide
HUM 211 Fall 2007 Course Pack
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Things Fall Apart Reading Guide
Part I, Chs. 1-13 (pp. 3-88) |
Part II, Chs. 14-19 (pp. 91-118) |
Part III, Chs. 20-25 (pp. 121-148)
| Works Cited
References to page numbers below are from the edition used in
HUM 211 Cultures
& Literatures of Africa:
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. [First published 1958.]
Expanded edition with notes.1996. London: Heinemann, 2000.
Part I, Chs. 1-13 (pp. 3-88)
- Achebe takes the title for his novel from a line in a
classic Western modernist poem "The Second
Coming" (wr. 1919; pub. 1921), by William Butler
Yeats (1865-1939; Irish). Paul Brians explains the
background of Yeats poem: "Yeats
was attracted to the spiritual and occult world and
fashioned for himself an elaborate mythology to explain
human experience. 'The Second Coming,' written
after the catastrophe of World War I and with communism
and fascism rising, is a compelling glimpse of an inhuman
world about to be born. Yeats believed that history in
part moved in two thousand-year cycles. The Christian
era, which followed that of the ancient world, was about
to give way to an ominous period represented by the
rough, pitiless beast in the poem." Read "The
Second Coming" (below) and consider why Achebe might chose to take
the title of his novel from Yeats’ poem.
Consider how Achebes literary allusion to
Yeats poem might deepen or extendby comparison and/or
contrastthe meaning(s) of Achebes title and
Turning and turning in the
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation
is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words
When a vast image out of Spiritus
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands
of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all
Reel shadows of the indignant desert
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking
And what rough beast, its hour come at
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?
- Describe Okonkwo, the protagonist of Things
Fall Apart. Consider him as an Igbo heroic character: how does he
work to achieve greatness as defined by his culture? How does he compare to
Western heroes whom you are familiar with? What are Okonkwo’s strengths and weaknesses?
- Describe Unoka, Okonkwos father. What are
Okonkwos feelings toward Unoka, and why? How does
the (negative) example of his father shape Okonkwos
character and actions? What do the early descriptions of
Okonkwos success and Unokas failure tell us
about Igbo society? How does one succeed in this cultural
context? What do we learn from the system of the taking
of titles? Who seems to be excluded from opportunities to
gain such success?
- Describe the narrator of Things Fall Apart, the
"voice" telling us the story of Okonkwo,
Umuofia (Igbo for "people of the forest," per
Brians), and the Igbo world of the nine villages. How
would you describe this narrative voice, its point of
view, its values and perspectives? In the introductory
essay to our edition, Simon Gikandi calls the
novels storyteller a "witness"
(xiii)to what does Achebes narrator bear
- Consider the impact of Achebes use of "African
English." Describe who Achebes intended
audience(s) might be. What is the effect on you, as a
Western reader and outsider to Igbo culture? Consider how
Achebes language choices contribute to the novel.
For example: (a) Achebes use of Igbo words like egwugwu
and iyi-uwa, untranslated in the novel itself, but
briefly explained by the glossary on pp. liii-lv. (note
that many editions of Things Fall Apart have been
published without such translations; (b) his selection of Igbo character names like
Unoka ("Home is
supreme"), Nwoye (from nwa =
"child") and Okonkwo (from oko =
attributes of masculinity + nkwo = the third day
of the Igbo 4-day week, the day on which Okonkwo was
born); and (c) his integration of proverbs and folktales,
oral art forms characterizing key elements of Igbo thought
and speech. For example, "proverbs are the palm-oil
with which words are eaten." What does this mean?
Palm oil is rich yellow oil pressed from the fruit of
certain palm trees. The glossary explains it is used in
food preparation and cooking, and later became a major
cash crop exported to Europe (p. lv). Note ch. 3s
proverb about proverbs, and look for other proverbs as
you read. Ch. 9 offers the story of the mosquito, one of
several West African tales that explain why these insects
buzz irritatingly in people's ears. Can you think of any
similar folktales told in your culture? What is the moral
of the fable of the tortoise told in Ch. 11? What values do these
stories reflect? Note that some stories are womens
stories, and others are mens stories.
- Describe the setting (time, place, culture) of the
novel. Try to apply what you have learned from reading
the essay "Igbo Culture and History" (pp.
xix-xlix in our text). Attend to Achebes
presentation of the details of everyday village lifeways
in Umuofia, the values and beliefs of the Igbo people, and
the importance of ritual, ceremony, social hierarchy, and
personal achievement in Igbo culture. How is social life
organized?. What are the important celebrations? What is
the role of war, of religion, and of the arts? What is
the role of the individual in relation to the community
of Umuofia? Compare /contrast Igbo lifeways, customs,
perspectives, beliefs, and values to those of your own
- What do we learn from the kola ceremony of hospitality?
Paul Brians explains, "Kola is a mild stimulant,
comparable to tea or coffee, which is served on most
social occasions in this culture. It is also one
ingredient after which Coca-Cola is named. Note how the
ritual for sharing kola is described without being
explained [although in our edition, the Glossary, p. liv,
explains that kola nuts are "offered to guests on
special occasions"]." Palm-wine is a naturally
fermented product of the palm-wine tree, a sort of
natural beer. How is awareness of rank observed in the
drinking of the palm wine? Note how Achebe
introducesbut does not fully explain--Igbo customs,
rituals, and ceremonies in the novel. Think about why
Achebe chooses to do this, considering that he wrote for
an international non-African audience as well as his own
- Note the means of exchange--cowry shells threaded on
stringscommon in many African cultures. "The
villages' distance from the sea makes cowries
sufficiently rare to serve as money," according to Paul Brians; "cowries from as far away as Southeast
Asia have been found in sub-Saharan Africa."
- What effect does night have on the people in Ch. 2? What
do they fear? How do they deal with their fear of snakes
- What is the cause and nature of the conflict with Mbaino?
Review "Homicide," pp. xxxvii-xxxviii, and keep
this discussion in mind when you read Ch. 13, where a
serious incident has tragic consequences for Okonkwo,
though it would be treated as a accidental manslaughter
under our law.
- What are the important crops? What are the seasons? How
does sharecropping work? What are the male and female
designated crops, and why? What is the relationship of
women to agriculture? Review the discussion of Igbo
"Womens Associations" pp. xxviii-xxx. In
contrast to other (e.g. Biblical) representations of
locusts as a terrible plague, how does the village react
to the coming of the locusts in Ch. 7?
- Consider the dual roles in the human and spiritual worlds
played by the egwugwu and Chielo, the priestess of
Agbala. Review "Igbo Religion" (pp.
xxxii-xxxix), including the discussion of "Igbo
Oracles." Chielo, the priestess of Agbala is
introduced in Ch. 3. What does her power and status in Umuofia suggest about womens roles in Igbo culture
and religious beliefs? Later in the novel, note
Chielos roles in the village (e.g., in Ch. 6). What
are those roles? What does the Ch. 11 incident involving
the priestess of Agbala tell us about the values of the
culture? What side of Okonkwo is revealed by his behavior
during that long night?
- The chi or personal spirit is a recurring theme in
the novel, a spiritual belief important to understanding
the main character Okonkwo. Review the discussion of the
chi on p. xxxv. Interpret this proverb, spoken of Okonkwo: "When a man says yes his chi says yes
also." Trace further references in the novel to the
chi. What role does Okonkwos chi play in shaping
his destiny? Note, however, that "The Igbo people
did not believe that a mans chi controlled his
entire destiny" (Ohadike p. xxxv). Trace the other
factors at work in Okonkwos case.
- Compare Obierikaa man "who thinks about
things"--to Okonkwo. Consider Obierika as a kind of foil—a
parallel or contrasting character--to Okonkwo: Note
the instances when Okonkwo fails to heed the advice of
others, especially of Obierika: what are the
consequences? Three times in Part I, Okonkwo breaks Igbo taboos: what drives him to do so in each case, and what
are the consequences to Okonkwo, to his family, and to
- Family Life: Examine family life and living
arrangements in Okonkwos home. Describe
Okonkwos relationships to his wives and children,
especially to Ekwefi, Ezinma, and Nwoye. What differing
roles and functions do men and women have in Igbo society?
Paul Brians points out "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." What is Okonkwos attitude
toward women? In this polygamous culture, men may take
more than one wife and each household is enclosed in a
compound. Review the section on "Igbo Marriage
Customs," pp. xxx-xxxii. Each wife lives in a hut
with her children, and the husband visits each wife in
turn, though he has his own hut as well. Children are
often cared for more or less communallyanother
African proverb states, "It takes a village to raise
a child." Compare/contrast the advantages and
disadvantages of this social structure to our own family
arrangements in the U.S.
- What is the crime that causes Okonkwo's to be reprimanded
in Ch. 4? What does it tell you about the values of the
culture? Why, according to Ezeani, is wife beating
considered wrong even at times other than Peace Week?
- Briefly summarize the story of Ekwefi given in Ch. 5.
What kind of a woman is she? What do you think is the
significance of women having to sit with their legs
together? Ezinma is believed to be an ogbanje,
meaning those who "come and go" (see p. xxxvi).
Child mortality rates were high, the majority of children
dying 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 again,
spitefully grieving its parents. What is done to break
the cycle of birth and death (Ch. 9)? Why does Ekwefi
prize her daughter Ezinma so highly? What attitudes
toward children does it reflect? How does the Igbo belief
in ogbanje and the efforts to break the cycle of birth
and death contrast to the "enigma" of
"throwing away" of twins. Does Achebe seem to
validate the belief in ogbanje?
- Consider the case of Ikemefuna, "What is the purpose
of the taking of Ikemefuna? How does he come to stay in
Okonkwos home? What is Okonkwo's relationship with
Ikemefuna? Compare Okonkwos feelings to
Nwoyes affection for Ikemefuna? ? Why is Okonkwo
disappointed with his son Nwoye?" How has Nwoye
begun to "act like a man" (Ch. 7)? What values
does Okonkwo associate with manliness? How does Nwoye
relate to these values? What are the reasons and
circumstances of Ikemefunas death? Why does Okonkwo
act as he does, despite the advice of others not to
participate in the killing of Ikemefuna (Ch. 7)? How does Nwoye feel and (re)act? Compare Okonkwos attitude
toward Nwoye to Okonkwos attitude toward his
daughter Ezinma (presented in Ch. 8).
- Most traditional African cultures have considered twins
magical or cursed: see the discussion pp. xxxvi-xxxvii.
Twins are in fact unusually common among the Igbo, and
some subgroups value them highly. However, the people of Umuofia do not and "throw" twins
"away," though children are valued highly by
the Igbo. We learn this shortly after Ikemefuna's death is
recounted. What do Nwoye and Obierika think of these
aspects of Umuofia culture?
- Consider the marriage customs of the Igbo depicted in Things
Fall Apart. Paul Brians points out that Bride-price
or bridewealth is "the converse of dowry. Common in
many African cultures, it involves the bridegroom's
family paying substantial wealth in cash or goods for the
privilege of marrying a young woman. . . . 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. There is nothing uniquely African about
these attitudes." Review the discussion of
"Igbo Marriage Customs," pp. xxx-xxxii: what is
suggested about the value of women in such a system?
Compare Igbo marriage customs to ours in the U.S.: what
are the advantages and disadvantages of each system? In
Ch. 12, how is the importance of family emphasized in the
Uri ceremony, when the bridewealth is paid?
- How are white men first introduced into the story? Why
might Africans suppose that they have no toes? What sorts
of attitudes do the Africans express about white men?
- The egwugwu ceremony of the Igbo is dramatized in
Paul Brians believes that "the women clearly know on
some level that these mysterious beings are their men
folk in disguise, yet they are terrified of them when
they become egwugwu": why? Review "Social and
Political Structures," pp. xxii-xxx, including
"The Acquisition of Titles and the Council of
Chiefs" and "Secret Societies." Who are
the egwugwu and what are the functions of the ceremony?
Compare the Igbo system of judgment in domestic affairs
with that of the U.S.
- Notice that the song sung at the end of the chapter 12 is
a new one: "the latest song in the village." As
Paul Brians points out, Achebe may be reminding us that
even "traditional" Igbo culture is not frozen or
timeless, but dynamic and constantly changing .
- Having shown us an engagement ceremony in Ch. 12, Achebe
depicts a funeral in Ch. 13. Paul Brians notes that we
seem to be "systematically introduced to the major
rituals of Igbo life. How does the one-handed egwugwu
praise the dead man?" What do we learn from the
depiction of the funeral ceremony? What tragic incident
forces Okonkwo into exile?
- Already in Part I of the story, internal rivalries and
disagreements have begun to erode the unity and integrity
of the village. What are these internal conflicts? What
part does the village leader Okonkwo play in the
dissension? How does Okonkwo jeopardize his own authority
within his community?
- Part I presents Igbo life and culture before the coming of
the white man and colonialism. In what way(s) can Things
Fall Apart be considered a "response" to
depictions of Africans in Western literature such as
Joseph Conrads Heart of Darkness--or other
images of Africa as portrayed in the Western media, film,
books, etc., that you are familiar with? How does
Achebes novel "correct" such European
depictions of Africa and Africans, and offer you an
Afrocentric (Africa-centered), rather than a Eurocentric
(or Western-centered), perspective? (See Achebe's "An
Image of Africa:
Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness")
- Even as Achebe works to educate his readers about African
culture and to combat demeaning stereotypes, he does not
present Igbo society as ideal or perfect. The portrait of
this culture on the eve of its "falling apart"
in Part I of Things Fall Apart is complex,
sometimes contradictory and critical. What aspects of
pre-colonial Igbo culture does Achebe seem to question or
criticize? How does Achebe use characters like Obierika,
Okonkwo, and Nwoye to offer such social criticism of Igbo society? How do the people of Umuofia react to change?
- Describe your initial reading experience and response(s)
to Things Fall Apart Part I as a cross-cultural
encounter: how are you responding to this exposure to
traditional Igbo culture and people? Why do you think you
are responding as you are? What seems most different
and/or foreign to you? What seems most similar and/or
familiar to you?
Band playing for Mmau Masquerade, Amuda village, featuring Isu Ochi instruments:
an udu (pot drum), two small membrane drums, a
small ogene (iron bell) and a whistle.
Chs. 14-19 (pp. 91-118)
- At the beginning of Part II, Okonkwo has fled his
"fatherland" Umuofia for committing a
"female" ochu, and he has taken his
family to his "motherland" Mbanta. Why? And why
does Okonkwo despair? How does his mothers brother
Uchendu respond to Okonkwo in his despair?
- In his speech to Okonkwo and other family members,
Uchendu cites a song (a dirge) sung when a woman dies
very like the closing lines of Oedipus Rex, the
great classical Greek tragedy. Many literary critics have
noted several similarities between Things Fall Apart
and classical tragedies like Oedipus and Hamlet
in the European tradition.
asked in one interview: "How do you respond to
critics reading Okonkwo as a hero in terms of Aristotle's
concept of tragedy?"
Achebe replied: "No. I don't think I was responding
to that particular format. This is not, of course, to say
that there is no relationship between these. If we are to
believe what we are hearing these days the Greeks did not
drop from the sky. They evolved in a certain place which
was very close to Africa ... I think a lot of what
Aristotle says makes sense" (Rowell 97; see also n. 15 in
description of Western tragedy and the tragic hero below,
based on Aristotle's definition, then consider these
questions: In what ways do you see the plot of Things
Fall Apart and the character of its protagonist
Okonkwo as adhering to the conventions of Western
tragedy and the tragic hero? In what ways do
they depart from the Aristotelian model?
Tragedy may be defined
as dramatic narrative in which serious and
important actions turn out disastrously for the
protagonist or tragic hero. The classical
Western tragic hero is the main character of
great importance to his state or culture and is
conventionally of noble birth and high social
station, the ruler or an important leader in his
society. The moral health of the state is
identified with, and dependent on, that of its
ruler, and so the tragic heros story is
also that of his state. Such heroes are mixed
characters, neither thoroughly good or thoroughly
evil, yet "better" or
"greater" than the rest of us are in
the sense that they are of higher than ordinary
moral worth and social significance. The plot of
tragedy traces the tragic fall of the
hero, when a disastrous change of fortune, or reversal,
catapults him (classical tragic heroes are often
male) from the heights of happiness to the depths
of misery. This fall usually comes as a
consequence of a tragic flaw in the
heros character and/or an error of
judgment, although the fall may also be a product
of the heros pre-ordained destiny or fate.
The gods may have prophesized this fall, and the
heros tragic flaw, sometimes in the form of
a ruling passion (classically, hubris or
overweening pride and self-confidence), may cause
the hero to disregard divine law and/or try in
vain to escape his fate. The tragic hero may
experience a supreme moment of recognition
of the truth of his situation and/or of his
identity. The tragic hero is supposed to move us
to pity, because, since he is not an evil man,
his misfortune is greater than he deserves; but
his story may also move us to fear or terror,
because we recognize similar possibilities of
flaw in our fallible natures or of errors of
judgment in our own lesser lives. In the Poetics,
ancient Greek theorist Aristotle also asserts
that these feelings of pity and fear are purged
or purified through katharsis: tragic
representations of suffering and defeat leave an
audience feeling, not depressed, but relieved and
- What has happened to the Abame clan? Review "The
Igbo People Meet the Europeans: The Era of Informal
Empire," pp. xxxix-xliv. How do Uchendu and Okonkwo
account differently for the "foolishness" of
the Abame? Whose reaction seems wiser in responding to
new challenges to old ways of living? What does Uchendu
mean when he says, "There is no story that is
not true"? (ch. 15, p. 99)
- Why does his friend Obierika visit Okonkwo in exile the
first time? And the second time? What are Nwoyes
motives for converting to Christianity? Trace the stages
in the Africans reactions to the Christian
missionaries coming to Umuofia and Mbanta, and to the
missionaries evangelical efforts to convert the
Africans. What are the sources of misunderstanding
between the Igbo and the missionaries? What kinds of
Africans are attracted to the new religion and why? Why
does Nwoye convert to Christianity? How does Okonkwo
react to Nwoyes conversion?
- "The young church in Mbanta had a few crises early
in its life" (ch. 18; p. 110). What are these
crises? Why are the people of Mbanta largely content to
allow the Christians to remain in their midst at this
point--the end of Part II? Review "the Missionary
Factor," pp. xli-xliv. What are the differences
between the religion of the Mbanta people and that of the
- Uchendu and a speech by an elder of the umunna
(ch. 19; p. 118) give us insight into the changes that
they have seen in recent generations of their people.
What are these changes and why do they cause the elders
to fear for the younger generation and the future of the
clan? How might these changes prepare the way for the
white mans success in imposing his rule in Africa?
Chs. 20-25 (pp. 121-148)
- Why does Achebe choose to bring in the European colonial
presence only in the last third of the novel?
- How has Umuofia changed over the seven years while
Okonkwo has been in exile?
- What function do the kotma, or court messengers,
serve in the new society? Contrast the white mans
law and system of justice with that of traditional
Umuofia society. Review "The British Annexation of
Igboland: The Era of Formal Empire," pp. xliv-xlvii.
- Okonkwo says that they should fight the white men and
"drive them from the land."
Obierika responds sadly, "It is already too
late" (ch. 20; p. 124)--why? How has the white
man been "very clever," according
to Obierika? In what ways might Obierika be considered a
transitional figure between the old and the new Igbo societies?
- Compare the missionaries Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith. What do
we learn from Akunna and Mr. Browns discussion of
religion (ch. 21, pp. 126-128)? How does Enoch set off
"the great conflict between church and clan"
(ch. 22, p. 131), the consequences of which lead to
Okonkwos death? What sources of misunderstanding
seem to make the conflicts between the Europeans and the
- Why do many in Umuofia feel differently from Okonkwo
about the white mans "new dispensation"
(Ch. 21, p. 126)? In what ways do "religion and
education" go "hand in hand" (p. 128) in
strengthening the "white mans medicine"?
- When the egwugwu destroy Mr. Smiths church,
"for the moment the spirit of the clan was
pacified" (Ch. 22, p. 135). Consider the ironic
implications of this statement later when we learn the
title of the book that the District Commissioner intends
to write: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of
the Lower Niger (p. 148). [If you have read
of Darkness, note the parallels between this title
and Mr. Smiths vision of the "world as a
battlefield in which the children of light were locked in
mortal conflict with the sons of darkness" (p.
130)--to Mr. Kurtzs "eloquent" 17-page
pamphlet and its postscript in Heart of Darkness.]
- How does the District Commissioner trick the six leaders
of Umuofia into jail? What is Okonkwos reaction?
Why does Okonkwo kill the messenger? Why does Okonkwo
afterwards commit suicide, "an offence against the
Earth" (Ch. 25, p. 147)? Why is Okonkwo isolated in
the end? Do you consider Okonkwo a tragic hero?
- The District Commissioner decides that "The story of
this man who had killed a messenger and hanged himself
would make interesting reading," if not for a whole
chapter, at least for "a reasonable paragraph"
(p. 148). How do you think the District Commissioner
would write Okonkwos story in this paragraph? In contrast, Achebe has made Okonkwos story the
subject of a whole novel: why?
Now that you've finished reading Things
Fall Apart . . .
How and why did things fall apart?
Identify what you interpret to be major theme(s) and/or messages of Things
Simon Gikandi suggests that the narrator's
and "Achebe's sympathies...are not with the heroic character (...Okonkwo),
but the witness or storyteller (Obierika) who refuses to endorse Okonkwo's
commitment to the central doctrines of his culture or the European
colonizer's arrogant use of power" (xiii). Do you agree?
Why or why not?
- Consider where and under
what circumstances Achebe learned to write in the
colonizers language--English--and use Western
literary genres like the realistic novel and tragedy. (See "Chinua
Achebe: A Biographical Note," "Chinua Achebe and the Invention
of African Literature," and "Conclusions," pp. vii-xvii
& xlviii-xlix, in our text.)
Bruce King comments in Introduction to Nigerian Literature:
"Achebe was the first Nigerian writer to successfully transmute the
conventions of the novel, a European art form, into African
literature. Achebe makes Western literary forms serve African
values. For example, King notes, in an Achebe novel "European
character study is subordinated to the portrayal of communal life;
European economy of form is replaced by an aesthetic appropriate to the
rhythms of traditional tribal life." Do you agree?
Read the quotation of literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin
below, and consider for what different purpose(s) Achebe has
"appropriated"* the white mans
education, language, and literary forms in order to make them his
"Language, for the individual
consciousness, lies on the borderline between oneself
and the other. The word in language is half someone
elses. It becomes "ones own"
only when the speaker populates it with his own
intention, his own accent, when he appropriates
the word, adapting it to his own semantic and
expressive intention. Prior to this moment of
appropriation, the word does not exist in a neutral
and impersonal language (it is not, after all, out of
a dictionary that the speaker gets his words!), but
rather it exists in other peoples mouths, in
other peoples contexts, serving other
peoples intentions: it is from there that one must
take the word, and make it one’s own."--Mikhail
"Discourse in the Novel" in The
Consider, too, critic Susan Gallagher's account below wherein
Achebe discusses why he chose not to write or translate Things
Fall Apart into "Union Igbo." What does Achebe use the
"weapon" of the English language to accomplish in Things
"In response to the now
infamous declaration of Kenyan writer
wa Thiong'o that
African writers should write in African languages,
Achebe commented [in a talk at West Chester Univ.]: 'The
British did not push language into my face while I
was growing up.' He chose to learn English
and eventually to write in English as a means of 'infiltrating
the ranks of the enemy and destroying him from
within.'....'It doesn't matter what
language you write in, as long as what you write is
good,' Achebe stated....Yet Achebe fully
recognizes that English is symbolically and
politically connected with the despoiler of
traditional culture with intolerance and bigotry. 'Language
is a weapon, and we use it,' he argued. 'There's no
point in fighting a language'" (qtd. in
"When someone asked if Things
Fall Apart had ever been translated into Igbo,
Achebe's mother tongue, he shook his head and
explained that Igbo exists in numerous dialects,
differing from village to village. Formal,
standardized, written Igbo -- like many other African
languages -- came into being as a result of the
Christian missionaries' desire to translate the Bible
into indigenous tongues. Unfortunately, when the
Christian Missionary Society tackled Igbo,...they
brought together six Igbo converts, each from a
different location, each speaking a different
dialect." The resulting 'Union Igbo' bore little
relationship to any of the six dialects--"a
strange hodge-podge with no linguistic elegance,
natural rhythm or oral authenticity"--yet the
missionaries authorized it as the official written
form of the Igbo languages. Achebe would not consent
to have his novel translated into this
"linguistic travesty" Union Igbo.
"Consequently, one of the world's great novels,
which has been translated into more than 30
languages, is unable to appear in the language of the
very culture that it celebrates and mourns. This
irony seems an apt symbol for the complex ways
Western Christianity has both blessed and marred the
cultures of Africa" (Gallagher ).
- Achebe has integrated traditional Igbo/African elements in
his novele.g., proverbs, parables, and stories from Igbo oral tradition and
culture--and, as noted earlier, created a kind of "African
English." What effect(s) does this cross-cultural combination of Western literary
forms and Igbo/African creative expression produce?
- Achebe rejects the Western notion of art for its own sake in essays he
has published (e.g. in the collections Morning Yet on Creation
Day and Hopes and Impediments). Instead Achebe embraces the
conception of art at the heart of African oral traditions and values:
"art is, and always was, at the service of man," Achebe has
written. "Our ancestors created their myths and told their
stories with a human purpose;" hence, "any good story, any good
novel, should have a message, should have a purpose." How,
then, would you interpret the human purpose(s) and message(s) of Things
- Consider how Achebe envisions his role as African
storyteller, drawing upon the statements Achebe has made on the value and
functions of literature and storytelling, as well as other sources
available to you. These statements guide us to understanding the authors intentions in writing a novel like Things
Fall Apart. Select some statements that seem
particularly relevant and helpful to understanding the
novel, and explain why.
Achebe, Chinua. Hopes and Impediments:
Selected Essays. 1988.
New York : Anchor-Doubleday, 1990.
[COCC Library: PR9387.9.A3 H6
Achebe, Chinua. "An Image
of Africa: Racism in Conrad's
Heart of Darkness."
The Massachusetts Review 18.4 (Winter 1977): 782-94.
Chinua. Hopes and Impediments: Selected
Essays.1988. New York: Anchor-Doubleday, 1990. 1-20.
Rpt. Heart of Darkness: An
Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Essays in Criticism. 3rd
ed. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: W. W. Norton, 1988. 251-262.
Rpt. Novels for Students,
Vol. 2. Rpt. Gale Literature Resource Center. 2003. Central
Oregon Community College, Bend, OR. 23 May 2003.
Cora's Online Reserve
Achebe, Chinua. Morning Yet on Creation Day: Essays.
London: Heinemann, 1975.
NOTE: Morning Yet on Creation Day is
currently out of print, but five of its important essays are
reprinted in Hopes and Impediments, which is still in print: “The Novelist as Teacher” (1965), “Language and
the Destiny of Man” (1972) “Named for Victoria, Queen of England” (1973),
“Thoughts on the African Novel” (1973), and “Colonialist Criticism”
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. [First published 1958.]
Expanded edition with notes. 1996. London: Heinemann, 2000.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination. Eds.
Michael Holquist and Caryl Emerson. Austin, TX: U of Texas P,
Richard. "Achebe's Sense of an Ending: History and Tragedy
in Things Fall Apart." Studies
in the Novel 29.3(Fall 1997): 396(16pp). Rpt. Infotrac 2000
Expanded Academic ASAP: Article A20503127; and EBSCOHost Academic
Search Elite (2004): Article No. 9712126215.
Brians, Paul (Dept. of English, Washington State University,
email@example.com). "Things Fall Apart
Study Guide." 2002. 11 August 2004 <http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~brians/anglophone/achebe.html>.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. [First
published: 1899, 3-part
serial, Blackwood's Magazine; 1902,
NOTE: Conrad's Heart of Darkness, esteemed a
classic of Western literature, is widely reprinted and frequently appears in
anthologies of English and Western world literature. Cora Agatucci's
study guide for Conrad's Heart of Darkness, referencing one anthology
in which the novel appears, may be accessed at:
Gallagher, Susan VanZanten. "Linguistic Power: Encounter with Chinua
Achebe." The Christian Century
12 March 1997, 260(2pp). Infotrac 2000 Expanded Academic ASAP: Article A19241297.
Charles H. "An Interview with Chinua Achebe." Callaloo
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Things Fall Apart Reading Guide
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15 October 2007
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Authors: Chinua Achebe
in His Own Words: Quotations, Interviews, Works
Things Fall Apart: Reading & Study Questions |
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