Chinua Achebe: "Things fall apart". Study Guide

Chapter 1
  1. How does Okonkwo gain his fame?
  2. What are his characteristics: physical and personality?
  3. Contrast Okonkwo with his father. What are his father's characteristics? Why is he considered a failure?
Chapter 2
  1. When the villages gather for a meeting they are addressed by a man whom the narrator describes as a "powerful orator", which is the reason why he was always chosen to speak at such occasions. What characteristics do you think a good orator should have? Why are those characteristics important? Why do societies need good orators? Or do they? Do you know of any good orators from history?
  2. What was the meeting about?
  3. The villagers decide to follow the "normal course of action". What is the normal course of action for a situation like this? What do you think of this type of action as a way to solve conflicts among villages, clans, or even countries. Think of at least two positive outcomes.
  4. How was the conflict finally solved?
  5. What did Okonkwo fear most? How is this reflected in his behavior?
  6. What is Okonkwo's attitude toward his son?
  7. The narrator says that Okonkwo's prosperity is visible? What defines him as a prosperous man?
  8. Read the paragraph at the bottom of page 2865 and try to visualize Okonkwo's compound. Make a drawing, it it's more helpful. What's your opinion of this type of a family arrangement? Can you think of any benefits?
Chapter 3
  1. What is the Oracle of Agbala, and why did people go to visit it?
  2. Describe the physical place and the ritual surrounding seeing the Oracle.
  3. What did Unoka want to find out from the Oracle? What advice did the oracle give him?
  4. What is a chi, and what kind of a chi did Unoka have?
  5. How did Unoka die and what was his burial like? How are diseased and dying people treated in the tribe?
  6. How does one pay respect when visiting someone's family? What are some typical gestures? What beneficial social function do you think such gestures might have?
  7. What privileges are govern to a man's first wife?
  1. Slippery as a fish.
  2. His fame had grown like bush-fire in harmattan wind.
  3. Proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten.
  4. The sun will shine on those who stand, before it shines on those who who kneel under them.
  5. If a child washes his hands, he could eat with kings.
  6. When the moon is shining the cripple becomes hungry for a walk.
  7. When a man is at peace with his gods and his ancestors, his harvest will be good or bad according to the strength of his arm.
  8. A man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness.
  9. It's like pouring grains of corn into bags full of holes.
  1. Don't whistle at night for fear of evil spirits.
  2. Don't call a snake by its name because it might hear. Call it "string"

Chapter 4

  1. What do the first two proverbs below say about the Ibo attitude toward pride?
  2. What is chi?
  3. How does Okonkwo treat Ikemefuna? What is his general attitude toward children?
  4. At one point Okonkwo says that affection toward children is a sign of weakness. How is such affection regarded in our society? What's your opinion?
  5. What was Okonkwo's crime during the Week of Peace and how was he punished? Was his crime beating his wife, or something else?
  6. You notice that the village has no jail to punish people who have committed a crime. What do you think of the way they deal with crime and punishment?
  7. Describe some of the rituals that take place during the Week of Peace.
  8. Many other cultures have a "day of peace and forgiveness" that is something like the Week of Peace. What do you think is the social benefit of this?
  9. Many in our culture say that a man who kills someone deserves to die. Others say that killing someone who has killed makes one no different than the killer. An old man in the village says that earlier times men who had broken the Week of Peace was dragged till he died. Why was this practice stopped?
Chapter 5
  1. Describe the Feast of the New Yam. How do the people prepare for it?
  2. Who is Ani and what is her role in Ibo culture?
  3. How did Ekwefi become Okonkwo's wife?
Chapter 6
  1. Describe the wrestling match. How does it compare to our sports events?
  2. Who is Chielo and what is her role in the village?
  1. Looking at a king's mouth, one would think he never sucked at his mother's breast.
  2. Those whose palm kernels were cracked by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble.
  3. When a man says yes, his chi says yes also.
  1. If your lower eyelid twitches you are going to cry. If the upper eyelid twitches it means you will see something.
  2. If someone calls you from outside, don't say "yes". Say "Is that me?" for fear it might be an evil spirit calling.

Chapter 7

  1. Why do you think Okonkwo is happy to hear Nwoye grumbling about women?
  2. What kind of stories does Okonkwo tell?
  3. What kind of stories does Nwoye's mother tell? Which stories does Nwoye prefer?
  4. How did the people of the village receive the coming of the locusts?
  5. Why does Ikemefuna have to die?
  6. Why does Okonkwo help to finish him off?
  7. What does this event tell you about the Ibo's faith in their Oracle?
  8. Can you think of a reason why Okonkwo might not have objected to the killing of Ikemefuna?
Chapter 8
  1. How specifically did Okonkwo react to Ikemefuna's death?
  2. Okonkwo says "But the law of the land must be obeyed." What do you think of that concept as it might apply to our laws? Must the law of the land be always obeyed? What would Tolstoy say to that?
  3. Describe the process of how Obierika's daughter's engagement takes place? What are the short sticks used for?
  4. What's your opinion of this sort of an arranged marriage?
  5. Toward the end of this chapter there is a discussion of customs. What are some of the customs discussed. What do they think of the customs of other cultures?
  6. At the end of this chapter the first reference to the white man is made. What is the reference?
  7. What is "the white skin" euphemism for, and why?
Chapter 9
  1. What is ogbanje?
  2. How is the premature death of a child explained?
  3. What is the ritual to prevent the return of the ogbanje?
  4. What is iyi-uwa?
  5. What's Okonkwo's way of curing Ezinma?
  1. He grew rapidly like a yam tendril.
  2. Eyes red and fierce like the eyes of a rat when it was caught by the tail and dashed against the floor.
  3. A chick that will grow into a cock can be spotted the very day it hatches.
  4. A child's fingers are not scalded by a piece of hot yam which its mother puts into its palm.
  5. When mother-cow is chewing grass its young ones watch its mouth.

Chapter 10

  1. Describe in some detail who the egwugwu are and what their function is in Ibo society. Do we have any equivalents in our society?
  2. What is the purpose of the meeting?
  3. How is the problem resolved? What do you think of this way of resolving the problem? How are such problems resolved in our society?
  4. This chapter deals with the Ibo way of resolving interpersonal and marriage conflicts. Although the Ibo have no written laws, they do have a way of resolving their problems. You should be aware that this is how problems are resolved even today in many non-Western societies around the world. And it seems to work. Why does it work for them, and why do you think it may not work for a Western society?
Chapter 11
  1. What do you think is the moral of the story that Ekwefi tells her daughter Ezinma?
  2. Chielo comes and tells Okonkwo that Agbala wants to see Ezinma. Why are the parents frightened? Why do you think they don't refuse to hand over Ezinma?
  3. The narrator says that Chielo was not a woman that night. Than what was she?
  4. How do you explain a female priestess in a male oriented society?
  5. In the last paragraph we find out how Ekwefi got married to Okonkwo. Do you think it's unusual?
Chapter 12
  1. This chapter is a description of a wedding ceremony. Who is invited? Compare to how invitation lists are made in our culture. What is the significance of who is in an invitation list?
  2. Who are the central figures in the ceremony?
  3. The dialogue at the bottom of page 2911 is something like a "toast". What does it say about what the Ibo consider important in marriage?
    Compound is "busy as an anthill".

Chapter 13

  1. Describe, roughly, the death rituals.
  2. How does the egwugwu praise the dead man?
  3. Read the next to last paragraph on page 2913 ("The land of the living...") and describe the relationship between the living and the dead.
  4. Okonkwo kills the dead man's son. But what is actually the crime for which he needs to be punished?
  5. Okonkwo has killed before this, including his adopted son. What makes this incident so serious, though it would be treated as an accident under our law?
  6. What is Okonkwo's punishment?
  7. Why does Okonkwo simply not refuse the punishment?
  8. How does this sort of punishment compare to the way we punish criminals? Would you accept or reject such a punishment for yourself? Why do you think our laws could not offer such a punishment?
  9. What happens to Okonkwo's compound? Why?
Chapter 14
  1. Describe how Okonkwo was received by his mother's clan.
  2. How does Uchendu comfort Okonkwo? What role does the mother play in these situations?
  3. How has Uchendu suffered?
  4. What is the meaning of the song at the end of this chapter? Can you think of an equivalent saying in our culture?
  1. If one finger brings oil, it spoils the others.
  2. A man cannot rise beyond the destiny of his chi.

Chapter 15

  1. Uchendu, Okonkwo's uncle, says that the world has changed much, people have changed. How have things changed, according to him?
  2. What happened in the village of Abame?
  3. What is the "iron horse"?
  4. What did the Oracle have to say about the man on the iron horse?
  5. Why do you think is the real cause of the man's death? Could it have been avoided?
  6. What is the villagers' attitude toward foreigners and toward new technology?
  7. What's Uchendu's comment on this incident?
  8. What's Okonkwo's comment?
Chapter 16
  1. How have things changed in Umuofia since Obierika's last visit to Okonkwo?
  2. What is "efulefu"?
  3. What does Chielo, the priestess of Agbala think of the converts?
  4. What has Nwoye done to get Okonkwo real mad?
  5. How did the missionaries try to convince to locals to convert? What is the mutual misunderstanding between the missionaries and the locals?
  6. Why does it not make sense to Okonkwo that God should have a son?
  7. Do you think this is a good way to try to convert people to Christianity?
  8. What attracts Nwoye to this new religion?
Chapter 17
  1. Why do the elders decide to give the missionaries a plot of land in the Evil Forest? How did this backfire?
  2. Who is their first female convert, and why does she decide to convert? What's her husband's reaction?
  3. What's Okonkwo's reaction when he finds out that Nwoye has converted?
  4. Mr. Kiaga consoles Nwoye with these two biblical quotations: "Blessed is he who forsakes his father and his mother for my sake," and "Those that hear my words are my father and my mother." Why do you think this might be viewed as an abomination by the Ibo society of the time?
Chapter 18
  1. What's the debate concerning outcasts joining the church all about?
  2. How is this new religion more democratic than the religion of the clan?
  3. Describe the debate related to what to do with the man who has purposely killed the royal python. What's Okonkwo's solution?
  4. Consider the following statement by one of the elders. It deals with the question of blasphemy:
    "It is not our custom to fight for our gods," said one of them. "Let us not presume to do so now. If a man kills the python in the secrecy of his hut, the matter lies between him and the god. We did not see it. If we put ourselves between the god and his victim we may receive blows intended for the offender. When a man blasphemes, what do we do? Do we go and stop his mouth? No. We put our fingers into our ears to stop us from hearing. That is a wise action."
    How does this compare to how Western religions have dealt with blasphemy? (Inquisition, Crusades, etc.)
  1. Never kill a man who says nothing.
  2. There is no story that is not true.
  3. Never make an early appointment with a man who has just married a new wife.

Chapter 19

  1. Traditional Umuofia custom can welcome an erring member once he has paid for his crime. What's your opinion of such a custom? How does our society treat released prisoners?
  2. Why does Okonkwo organize a big feast? Who is invited?
  3. What does Uchendu's prayer at the top of page 2931 tell you about what his society values the most?
  4. In the last paragraph on page 2931 an elder explains why it is important for clansmen to get together. Why is it important to do so? Do you think it's important for large group of relatives in our culture to get together once in a while? Compare the bond of kinship in Ibo society and in ours.
Chapter 20
  1. How have things changed in Umuofia since Okonkwo left?
  2. Who were the court messengers, and what was the clan's attitude toward them?
  3. What crimes had the prisoner's committed, and how were they treated in the prisons?
  4. Why do you think the people think that the District Commissioner judged cases in ignorance?
  5. Okonkwo wants to fight the white men. Obierika says it's too late. Why is it too late, according to Obierika?
  6. Okonkwo learns that a man has been hanged for killing another man over land dispute. Is that a good solution?
  7. Explain Obierika's comment regarding the white man: "He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart." How has the white man done this, and what things held the clan together?
  1. I cannot live by the bank of a river and wash my hands with spittle.
  2. He that has health and children will also have wealth.
  3. An animal rubs its itching flank against a tree, a man asks his kinsman to scratch him.
  4. A child cannot pay for his mother's milk.

Chapter 21

  1. Not everyone in Umuofia was against the new changes. What changes did they like?
  2. What is Mr. Brown like as a priest?
  3. What is the debate between Mr. Brown and Akunna all about?
  4. Mr. Brown comes to the conclusion that a "frontal attack" on the native religion would not work. What did he decide to do instead? Which system do you think works better and why? What is a good way to attract converts?
  5. According to the last paragraph of this chapter, why is Okonkwo deeply grieved?
Chapter 22
  1. How is Reverend James Smith's way of dealing with the Africans different from Mr. Brown's way.
  2. Who is Enoch, and what did he do to get the clan mad?
  3. Provide a good definition of "desecration". Look it up in a good dictionary, if you have to. Few years ago there was an attempt to amend the US constitution to include an amendment against desecration of the US flag. What's your opinion on this? There have been reports that soldiers in Guantanamo base, where "enemy combatants" are imprisoned, have been desecrating the Koran as a way to get prisoners to talk. What's your opinion on this tactic? Do you think there is a place for desecration in trying to get one's point across?
  4. How do the egwugwu respond to Enoch's desecration?
Chapter 23
  1. How does the District Commissioner deal with the problem?
  2. How do the court messengers humiliate the clan leaders? What do you think of the idea of humiliation to get a prisoner to cooperate?
  1. As a man dances, so are the drums beaten for him.

Chapter 24

  1. How has Okonkwo's mood changed since his release from prison? What's his solution to dealing with the white man?
  2. What is the village meeting about?
  3. What's Okonkwo's crime?
Chapter 25
  1. How does Okonkwo die? Why do you think he dies this way? Is this a proper way to die for a man of Umuofia?
  2. What's the title of the District Commissioner's book? What does the title indicate about his attitude toward the natives?
  1. Whenever you see a toad jumping in broad daylight, then know that something is after its life.