Things fall apart study guide Essay

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things fall apart study guide

KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
SETTING
The novel is set during the late 1800s/early 1900s in a small village called Umuofia
situated in the southeastern part of Nigeria. The time period is important, as it was a
period in colonial history when the British were expanding their influence in Africa,
economically, culturally, and politically. Umuofia is an Igbo village with very well
defined traditions. It is a village that is respected by those around it as being powerful
and rich. Each person has a hut or obi that is located in the center of a compound. Each
of the wives has a separate obi with a shed for goats and an attached chicken coop. The
main occupation of the men is sowing and growing yams since yams are considered the most
important crop. The women grew less significant crops like coco-yams, beans and cassava.

When Okonkwo is banished from his village, he takes his family to his mother's native
village called Mbanta, where he is given two or three plots of land to farm, and a plot of
ground on which to build his compound. The next seven years of Okonkwo's life are spent in
the village of Mbanta. He then returns to Umuofia where the rest of the novel takes place.

CHARACTER LIST
Major Characters
Okonkwo :
The hardy and ambitious leader of the Igbo community. He is a farmer as well as a
wrestler, who has earned fame and brought honor to his village by overthrowing Amalinze in
a wrestling contest. Still only in his thirties, he has three wives and several children
who all live in their own homes in his village compound. Okonkwo has resolved to erase the
stigma left on him by his father's laziness and is very successful growing yams. He has
very strong economic and political ties to the village and is treated with admiration and
respect. Okonkwo is a man of action.

Obierika :
Okonkwo's close friend, he helps him with the crops during his period of exile, and keeps
him informed of the radical changes taking place in the village. He is a thoughtful man,
who questions the traditions of society. He is also Maduka and Ekuke's father.


Ekwefi:
Okonkwo's second wife, she is the mother of Ezinma, her only living child, whom she will
do anything for even if that means defying tradition.

Ezinma:
Ekwefi and Okonkwo's daughter, she is born after many miscarriages and is loved and
pampered by her mother. She has a special relationship with Chielo, the woman who acts as
the voice of Agbala, the Oracle. Okonkwo is fond of her and often wishes that ‘she were
a boy.'

Nwoye:
Okonkwo's son from his first wife. He is a sensitive young man who, much to his father's
dismay, joins the Christian missionaries.

Ikemefuna:
A boy who is bought as hostage from Mbaino, and who lives with Okonkwo for three years. He
is a clever and resourceful young man yet comes to an unfortunate end.

Chielo:
The priestess of Agbala, the Oracle of the Hills and Caves, who carries Ezinma on her back
to the caves, saying that Agbala wants to see her.

Uchendu :
Okonkwo's maternal uncle with whom he spends seven years of his exile, along with his family.
Mr. Brown:
The Christian missionary who first introduces the tenets of Christianity to the people to
take them away from their superstitious and age-old customs. He is a kind and
understanding man who is accommodating towards the Igbo.

Reverend James Smith:
Mr Brown's successor, he openly condemns Mr. Brown's policy of compromise and
accommodation and attempts to efface all aspects of Igbo culture.

District Commissioner :
The man behind the whole affair, who handcuffs the six leaders of the village and
imprisons them. At the end of the novel, he orders his men to take down the dead body of
Okonkwo from the tree, and bury it.

Minor Characters :
Unoka:
Okonkwo's father who during his entire lifetime never lifted his hand to till the earth,
and had passed his time playing the flute. Okonkwo always remembers his father's failure
and strove to be as different from him as possible.

Maduka :
Obierika's son who participates and wins the wrestling contest.
Ogbuefi Ezendu:
The oldest man in Umuofia who forewarns Okonkwo not to get too close to Ikemefuna, since
the Oracle had pronounced his death already and then tells him not to participate in his
death. He dies a venerated warrior with three titles to his name.

Enoch:
The overzealous Christian who tears off the mask of the egwugu, creating strife in the community.
Agbala :
The Oracle of the Hills and the Caves, she dispenses advice and overlooks all aspects of
life in the village of Umumofia. No one has ever beheld Agbala, except his priestess.

Ojiubo :
Okonkwo's third wife and mother of several of his children.

CONFLICT :
Protagonist :
The protagonist of the novel is Okonkwo. The novel describes Okonkwo's rise and fall in a
culture that is bound by tradition and superstitious. Okonkwo also has his faults, and it
is these faults that lead to his downfall. His impatience and quick temper make him break
the rules of the Week of Peace and eventually is ostracized from his village for his rash
behavior. His headstrong nature and impulsive attitude consequently bring about his own
death at the end of the novel.

Okonkwo is respected for having reached a position of wealth and status, without any
support from family. In fact, most of his ambition and desire stems from the rejection of
his father's lifestyle that is objectionable to him. Okonkwo refuses to bow down to the
tenets of the Christian missionaries, even when almost the entire village has. His
tenacity and tragic flaws that he cannot see make him a hero despite his unforgiving
nature and rigid adherence to tradition. Okonkwo thus instills a feeling of respect and
admiration in the hearts of the readers.

Antagonist :
The antagonists are the Christian missionaries who wish to invade the content villages of
Africa with their Western concepts and way of thinking and convert the people into
Christianity. The customs of African culture are scorned and degraded. Gradually, many
people are persuaded into converting themselves into Christianity, with a few exceptions,
including Okonkwo. It is the missionaries who are the final cause of the death of Okonkwo.
Their behavior toward the leader of the village is disrespectful and it is understandable
that Okonkwo had to retaliate in the only form he knows, by resistance to Christianity and
loyalty to his culture's traditions. The reader sees the heartlessness of the district
commissioner who is only concerned about the material he has accumulated for the book he
wishes to publish

Climax :
The climactic point in the novel arises when, Okonkwo, without his realizing it, shoots a
young member of his community and kills him. Though this was an accident, Okonkwo has to
abide with the law that deems he should be banished from his village for seven years. This
is an unfortunate situation, since until then Okonkwo has been steadily rising in wealth
as well as status in his community and very soon would have acquired more titles. The
calamity however results in his downfall. He now has to live in exile for seven long years
of his life in his mother's land.

Another parallel climax in the novel is when the missionaries inculcate the lives of the
villagers. Until then the people were governed only by the traditional Ibo culture and
were custom-bound, but the invasion of the missionaries changes the lives of the villagers
tremendously.

Outcome :
The outcome of the novel is Okonkwo's return to his village after his exile and his
self-destruction. He discovers that everything has changed when he is not given the kind
of welcome he had expected. Too much has happened since Okwonko's departure and the
villagers have other things to worry about. Okonkwo can no longer dream of becoming head
of the village because he has lost too many years in exile, and when he returns, all of
the customs, values and beliefs of the village have been destroyed.

With the invasion of the Christians, the villagers find themselves at a loss. With their
sweet words and strong beliefs, the missionaries manage to dissuade the villagers from
their own religion and customs. The Christians even begin living in the evil forest, in
order to prove to the villagers that all their beliefs about its evilness are baseless.
Twins and outcasts were allowed to enter into their church.

The missionaries also provide many good services to the villagers. They build a church, a
hospital, a school and also a court and trading store for the villagers. Yet ultimately
the core of their culture has been subjugated to Western ideology and the traditional
economy as well as social well being of the village is gone forever.


SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
The novel deals with the rise and fall of Okonkwo , a man from the village of Unuofia.
Okonkwo was not born a great man, but he achieved success by his hard work. His father was
a lazy man who preferred playing the flute to tending the soil. Okonkwo was opposed to his
father's way of life, and always feared failure. In order to prove his ability, he had
overthrown the greatest wrestler in nine villages, set himself up with three wives, two
barns filled with yams and a reputation for being a hard worker. The reader learns that he
was also one of the egwugwu--the masked spirits of the ancestors. His importance is proved
when he is sent as an emissary to Mbaino in order to negotiate for hostages, and he
returns successfully with a boy, Ikemefuna and a virgin.

Okonkwo has his faults, one of them being his impatience of less successful men and
secondly his pride over his own status. His stern exterior conceals a love for Ikemefuna,
who lives with him; an anxiety over his son Nwoye, who seems to take after his father; and
an adoration for his daughter Ezinma. His fiery temperament leads to beating his second
wife during the Week of Peace. He even shoots at her with his gun, but luckily he misses.
This shows his short temper and a tendency to act on impulse, a tendency that backfires on
him later on in the novel. The boy, Ikemefuna, is ordered to death by the Oracle of the
Hills and Caves. Though Okonkwo is upset, he shows his fearlessness and impartiality by
slaying the boy himself. His final fault against his tribe is when he unintentionally
shoots a boy and kills him; for this he is banished from the village for seven years and
has to live in his mother's village of Mbanta. This is a great disappointment for him
although he is consoled and encouraged by his uncle, Uchendu.

The reader now hears of the arrival of the Christian missionaries, who take over the
village of Mbanta, as well as Umuofia, set up a church and proceed to convert the
tribesmen to Christianity. At first, they face much resistence, but gradually many of the
tribesmen including Okonkwo's own son, Nwoye, are converted and follow the path of Christ.
After his period of exile, Okonkwo returns to Umuofia with his family and finds it totally
changed. The missionaries have done a lot for the village. Umuofia is prospering
economically, but Okonkwo is firm in his refusal to charge his religion. The missionary
Mr. Brown is overzealous in his methods. A Christian named Enoch enters a meeting of the
tribe in which the egwugwu is present, and he unmasks one of them. This causes great
anger, and the villagers make a decision to destroy the church, which they eventually do.
This action incites the wrath of the District Commissioner, who invites Okonkwo along with
five other men and overpowers and imprisons them. These elders are humiliated in the
prison. On their return, another meeting is held. The commissioner sends some men to stop
the proceedings, and Okonkwo, in a fit of fury, beheads one of them. The tribe is
disturbed and they let the other men escape. Finding no more support from his tribesmen,
Okonkwo hangs himself. His world has fallen apart.

His tribesmen even refuse to cut him down and bury him since taking one's own life is a
violation of the earth goddess, and his men would not bury such a man. His friend
Obierika's words describe the tragedy most powerfully "That man was one of the greatest
men in Umuofia. You drove him to kill himself; and now he will be buried like a dog."

Okonkwo's suicide is symbolic of the self-destruction of the tribe, for he was a symbol of
the power and pride that the tribe had and with its demise, the tribe's moral center and
structure gave way to a more dominant one. With his death, the old way of life is gone
forever.


THEMES
Major Themes
The major theme of the novel is that British colonization and the conversion to
Christianity of tribal peoples has destroyed an intricate and traditional age-old way of
life in Africa. The administrative apparatus that the British imposed on the cultures of
Africa were thought to be just as well as civilizing although in reality they had the
opposite effect of being cruel and inhumane practices that subjugated large native
populations to the British. In conjunction with the colonizing practices, Western
missionaries endeavored to move native peoples away from the superstitious practices that
they perceived as primitive and inhumane and convert them to Christianity.
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