Things Fall Apart
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|Original cover art by Uche Okeke reproduced in a later edition.|
One of the greatest warriors of Nigeria, Okonkwo, is a leader of the Umuofia clan. He is a highly respected man in his village; the only problem he has to face is his son, Nwoye, who, in his father's eyes, is an idle and negligent young man of twelve years old.
When Okonkwo retrieves two adolescents, a boy and a girl, from another tribe in return for a great evil against his village, the girl goes to another family while the boy is left in Okonkwo's care. As the the 15-year-old boy gets used to Okonkwo and his family, Okonkwo finds a perfect descendant in Ikemefuna, but because of Okonkwo's strict view of masculinity, Okonkwo can’t open his heart to the boy.
On the Week of Peace, Okonkwo breaks the "law" when he beats one of his wives, Ojiugo, because she was too negligent. This was the first case when he shocked his family and tribe.
Three years later, during a rare invasion of locusts, the Oracle makes a decision: Okonkwo's "adopted son" has to be sacrificed. A village elder tells Okonkwo not to take part in the murder since he is called "father" by Ikemefuna.
When the chosen clansmen take Ikemefuna out of the village and strike Ikemefuna, he runs towards Okonkwo for help. Since Okonkwo does not want to appear weak, he kills Ikemefuna with great cruelty. Nwoye, who had become great friends with Ikemefuna, grieves and is again afraid of Okonkwo, whom he could stand when Ikemefuna was around.
At the funeral of the old clansman, Ogbuefi Ezeudu, who warned Okonkwo about the murder of Ikemefuna, a tragedy happens: during the salvo Okonkwo’s firearm blows up and takes the life of Ezeudu’s son.
Because of village tradition, Okonkwo must atone for his accidental killing, so he and his family are exiled from the village for seven years. Once they leave for Mbanta, the native village of Okonkwo’s mother, Ezeudu’s family destroy everything that was related to the ex-leader of the clan in order to cleanse the village of the sin.
Okonkwo and his family rebuild everything in Mbanta, the land of his mother, and reconcile themselves to their new life. They start a farm and sell yams. Everything seems to be fine and peaceful until the second year of the exile when white missionaries arrive in Mbanta who try to Christianize the villagers. Nwoye also Christianizes.
Seven years have passed and Okonkwo returns to his village where the missionaries have already converted most of the local people. When the peaceful leader of the missionaries, Mr. Brown, is followed by the brutal Reverend James Smith, the method of the conversion changes: the Reverend uses violent methods. Enoch, one of the new converts, tries to provoke the heathen villagers: during a traditional ceremony he unmasks an egwugwu, killing it. In retribution, the egwugwu burn Enoch’s house and the new Christian church the next day.
The response of the District Commissioner comes soon: the leaders of the Umuofia clan are arrested and held for ransom. After their release the village decides to start organizing an uprising. Okonkwo, attends the meeting where the village will decide whether or not to go to war. During the meeting, five court messengers arrive and tell the villagers that the white man has ordered the meeting to end. Okonkwo becomes enraged and kills the lead man. When Okonkwo kills the man, the rest of the village looks on in amazement. Okonkwo realizes that the village will not go to war, even with the threat right in front of them.
Once he sees, to his astonishment, that the clan isn’t going to go to war with him, Okonkwo hangs himself. When the District Commissioner finds out about the ironic situation, he finds it interesting enough to include it into his book about Africa: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.
Husband of three, father of eight, he is the most respected warrior and leader in his village. All his life he endeavors to get rid of the memory of his father, Unoka, who was an unmanly, idle, and lazy person.
Okonkwo is a conservative person who believes that the only thing a man has to do is to fight for his family and for his tribe. He can’t tolerate any other attitude, that’s why he worries about his 12-year-son, Nwoye, who seems to be similar to Okonkwo’s despised father.
He always wants to prove that he is a real man (not like his father) but he regularly makes big mistakes and even falls into sin as a result of excessive manliness and frustration.
He is not able to accept any change in life including the white converters and the Christianity. But when the clansmen compromise and choose peace instead of war against the white people, he is forced to realize that he has no future in the community because of his lack of ability to conform.
Okonkwo is a "classical" tragic hero: he is a superior person and his tragic flaw - the compilation of manliness with violence, arrogance, and impatience - brings about his destruction.
Okonkwo's best friend. He takes care of Okonkwo's yams after Okonkwo is exiled for seven years. He also questions some of the tribal morals and consequences. Chinua Achebe uses this character as a foil to Okonkwo because Obierka is a man that thinks instead of acts like Okonkwo
Okonkwo’s oldest son who is, similarly to his grandfather, a rather "feminine" boy and that’s why he is unacceptable to his father. He wants to meet his father’s requirements but can’t hide his personality and feelings. However, when Ikemefuna arrives and becomes Nwoye’s best friend, with the help of his "stepbrother", he is able to show some manliness to Okonkwo.
When Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna, Nwoye becomes alienated from his father and his values. He joins forces with the white converters, and although Okonkwo disowns him, he finds peace at last far way from his father.
Daughter of Okonkwo who has more "masculine" spirit than her brother, Nwoye. Okonkwo wishes Ezinma was a boy, and interestingly she is the only child who has won Okonkwo’s respect.
She shares an interesting relationship with her mother Ekwefi. The relationship is more like one of equals than of the typical mother-daughter seen in the tribe. This could be because Ekwefi has lost so many other children, Enzinma is her only child, and so she loves her less because she has reached the crowning achievment of a woman, motherhood, but more because she relishes the love and companionship that she finds with Ezinma.
Ezinma shows great love for her father. She constantly tries to help him, and after he is taken hostage by the white District Commissioner, she breaks the traditional 28 day stay with her husband to be's family in order to return home and wait for her father's return. And after Okonkwo gets back, she is the only one who can persuade him to eat.
Similar to Ezinma, he also confuses Okonkwo’s feelings and beliefs: though he is not a real child but a gift of another tribe, Okonkwo finds him a much better and suitable son than Nwoye. Though Ikemefuna calls Okonkwo "father", the strong leader shouldn’t show anything but masculine strength – so, in order to prove his manhood, he kills the innocent boy. The death of Ikemefuna is one of the most important incidents that will lead to the tragedy of Okonkwo.
One of the wives of Okonkwo whose only aim is to protect her only child, Ezinma – from Okonkwo and even from the gods.
The first leader of the missionaries: a gentle and kind man who tries to convert the villagers only verbally and through his hospital and school, and he never uses aggressive methods.
Reverend James Smith
He is the one who uses violence in order to convert the local people. He believes that the quality and zeal of the converts counts more than Mr. Brown's large quantity of followers.
Okonkwo, the greatest warrior of a Nigerian tribe, the Umuofia clan, lives in the little village called Iguedo. He is the most respected man in Iguedo: when he was a young man, he beat Amalinze the Cat, the undefeated warrior, in a wrestling match. Okonkwo wants to ignore his father, Unoka’s memory: he was an idle and shy flute player who hated everything what is important to Okonkwo: fighting, war, honor, manliness, and family. But it’s not easy to forget about his father because Okonkwo’s oldest son, Nwoye, is very similar to Unoka which makes Okonkwo angry and brutal towards him: he often beats up and nags at his 12-year-old son in order to change his "feminine" attitude.
The war threatens to break out between Umuofia and Mbaino, a neighboring village, because of an unsolved murder. In order to avoid the destruction, Umuofia sends Okonkwo, since Okonkwo has a great reputation everywhere, to Mbaino to offer an ultimatum: give Umuofia a virgin and a young boy, or go to war. Mbaino readily consents, not wanting to battle against the superior might of Umuofia.
Okonkwo is not just a great warrior but a successful farmer as well: he grows yam, the king crop. Unlike his father, he is a wealthy man in the village, owning an obi (house), a shrine, a barn, and three huts, one for each of his wives. Okonkwo believes only in hard work and the display of masculinity through anger and aggression, that’s why he despises his father who was never be able to succeed because of his laziness and shyness for blood.
Ikemefuna, who becomes a very popular boy in the family, starts calling Okonkwo "father". Although Okonkwo likes him, he doesn’t want to show his feelings since he hates sentimentality, because he believes that sentimentality is weak.
On the Week of Peace, Okonkwo breaks the "law" when he beats one of his wives, Ojiugo, because she was too negligent. He has to sacrifice two animals and pay fine (they use shells as currency) based on the decision of the priest. This is the first case when the great warrior sins.
Since Okonkwo is not involved in the Feast of the New Yam, because he is not a woman, he becomes full of pent up anger from unemployment. Finally, he finds an excuse to beat his second wife Ekwefi. When he finishes, he decides to go hunting. Ekwefi, still shaken from the beating, murmurs about a gun that never shot. Angry again, Okonkwo loses his head and he tries to shoot Ekwefi – without success.
Later that day, Ekwefi and her daughter, Ezinma, begin to cook dinner with the other wives. Ezinma asks many questions and helps her mother and Nwoye's mother. When dinner is done, the daughters present their mother's food, one at a time, to Okonkwo. As Ezinma gives him her dish, she asks about the wrestling tournament and offers to carry Okonkwo's chair. Okonkwo replies that that is a boy's job, though inside he is very proud of her. Not wanting to seem too affectionate toward Ezinma, he criticizes her.
At the wrestling contest, an essential part of the culture, Ekwefi meets with Chielo, the priestess of the Oracle. They are talking about Ezinma’s future, since all of Ekwefi's past children have been ogbanje, or evil children who die and then re-enter their mother's womb to cause them pain. Chielo refers to Ezinma as "my child".
Ikemefuna has been the member of the family for three years. He makes an impression on Nwoye who has become a quite masculine character which makes Okonkwo satisfied. Okonkwo often tells stories about wars to the boys. During these stories, however, Nwoye wishes again for his mother's stories, but does not voice this thought.
An invasion of locusts begins, an event that everyone celebrates in Umuofia. That night, everybody starts to collect them, because though there had not been an invasion of locusts for many years, everyone knows instinctually that they are good for eating. Ogbuefi Ezeudu visits Okonkwo in order to inform him about the Oracle’s decision: Ikemefuna must be sacrificed. Okonkwo is shocked but he hides his feelings. Ezeudu warns Okonkwo that he should not take part in the murder since he is called "father" by Ikemefuna.
When the chosen clansmen take Ikemefuna out of the village to commit the sacrifice and strike him once, he runs away to Okonkwo for help. Since the strong leader of the clan does not want to be seen as weak, Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna with great cruelty. Once he realized what he has done, everything falls apart inside him.
Okonkwo hides in his hat, he doesn’t eat and sleep for two days. Ezinma tries to look after him and they talk with each other everyday. With all of Ezinma's help, Okonkwo can't help but wish that she were a boy. Frustrated with himself, Okonkwo reprimands himself for not being able to put up with the death of one boy, and visits his friend Obierka. There, Obierka states that he would not have killed his son.
Later another man arrives and tells them that a great man has died and his wife died after hearing the news. They will put off the burial of the man until his wife is buried.
Obierka invites Okonkwo to be present when he and another man deal with his daughter's bride price. Once there, Achebe walks the reader through the ritual of dealing for a bride price: what the men do, what the women do, etc.
For the first night in three days, Okonkwo sleeps. In the middle of the night, Ekwefi knocks at his door and tells him that Ezinma is dying. Ekwefi remembers the trials she went through, and still goes through, for Ezinma, from having a live child to sneaking her eggs, a delicacy. Okonkwo prepares a medicine and tries to heal the child.
A trial begins in the village. The leaders of the justice are the egwugwus: masked men who represent the ancestral spirits of the clan. Although it’s forbidden to talk about it, everybody knows that one of the egwugwus is Okonkwo. This particular trial is about a man who beat his wife, who was taken away by her brothers. The trial ends with the egwugwus stating that if the husband gave the brothers the necessary wine, they would have to give back his wife. The brothers agree to do so, and threaten the man that if he ever beat her again, they would cut off his genitals.
Ezinma is recovered from her sickness and she and her mother are telling stories. Chielo appears and says that the god Agbala would like to see her. However, Okonkwo and Ekwefi are afraid of the meeting, but they cannot refuse a god’s will. Chielo walks with Ezinma to the Oracle’s cave. Despite Chielo's strict warning, the parents follow them and Ekwefi is ready to step into the sacred cave if anything happens with her precious daughter, even if it meant challenging a god.
Fortunately, nothing happens with the girl: Chielo takes Ezinma back to Okonkwo’s hut. Okonkwo does not let anyone know that he was extremely worried about his daughter, and had made several trips to the cave before Ekwefi, who was following Chielo, had even reached the cave.
Obierka holds uri, a betrothal ceremony for Obierika’s daughter. The ceremony is an enormous celebration, every woman helps in the cooking of the gigantic meal. Everyone attends the ceremony. Everything goes well, and the entire village is happy.
At the funeral of the old clansman, Ogbuefi Ezeudu, who warned Okonkwo about not killing Ikemefuna, a tragedy happens: during the salvo Okonkwo’s firearm blows up and takes the life of Ezeudu’s son.
Okonkwo must atone for this act, so he and his family are exiled from the village for seven years. Once they leave Iguedo for Mbanta, the native village of Okonkwo’s mother, clansmen destroy everything that was related to the ex-leader of the clan in order to cleanse the village of the sin.
The exiled family is received warmly by the relatives of Okonkwo’s mother. With the help of the villagers they start a new life. They build huts and start growing yam. Of course, Okonkwo is very disappointed – he wanted to be the greatest leader of his clan, and now he is an exile - but seeing that his family is trying to work hard for their new life, he resigns himself to his destiny.
Uchendo, Okonkwo’s uncle, tries to encourage Okonkwo: he also lost everything several years ago and yet ‘I did not hang myself, and I am still alive’.
Two years later Obierika brings cowries to Okonkwo: he is selling Okonkwo’s yams until he returns to his village. He also tells a story about a destructed village, Abame. A white man appeared recently in Abame on an ‘iron horse’ (bicycle), and out of fear of the Oracle’s warning that more would come and destroy the village, the villagers killed the white man – despite the fact that he didn’t do anything but speak to the villagers in a foreign language. Once the other white men found their mate’s bicycle and guessed his fate, they murdered the entire village. Uchendu and Okonkwo call Abame’s people fools because they should have been prepared for the attack and otherwise, they shouldn’t have killed a man who did nothing but talk.
When Obierika returns to Mbanta, he tries to get Okonkwo to tell the story of how Nwoye converted to Christianity, but Okonkwo does not wish to speak on the subject. Through his first wife, Nwoye's mother, that Obierka discovers the details.
One day, the entire village of Mbanta went to see the white men who are to live there. They spoke of their religion and sang a hymn. Most of the villagers pay them no heed because their language is slightly different. Nwoye, however, finds great comfort in the Christian belief, but is not quite ready to convert.
The converters would like to build a church and the villagers offer a piece of land in the Evil Forest because they think the white men will not accept it. Of course, the missionaries are not afraid of the villagers’ myths, so they start building the church. To the villagers’ surprise, nothing happens with the white man and the church is built within a few weeks. More and more villagers have been converted, including Nwoye. Once Okonkwo finds it out, he disowns and evicts his son from the village.
The white man's church gains more and more converts; they even accept the osu, or rejects of the clan. Because their brothers have joined the church, the villagers cannot kill them, for fear of being kicked out of the village. Tensions rise between the church and the village, until one day a Christian kills the sacred python. Okonkwo suggests the use of violence on the men, but the clansmen decide instead to ostrasize them. In the end, the man accused of killing the python dies.
Seven years have passed since the exile and Okonkwo can return to his tribe. He organizes a great feast for his relatives and thanks them for everything, but inside he regrets that he has wasted seven years of his life with such cowardly people. Before he leaves, his uncle warns against the splitting of the clan.
Okonkwo is very enthusiastic: his plans include building new huts, marrying two more wives, getting titles for his sons, and persuading her daughters to marry young and brave warriors. But once he arrives in Iguedo, he has to realize that his village has changed: Christianity has overcome most of the villagers.
Everything seems to be peaceful. Mr. Brown, the pacific leader of the converters and Akunna, a leader of the clan often meet and discuss religious issues in public. They can’t convince each other but each accepts and tolerates the other’s views. Besides the church, the missionaries have built a school and a hospital as well. When Mr. Brown tells Okonkwo that Nwoye goes to a training college and he is going to be a teacher, Okonkwo threatens him and chase him away.
Mr. Brown gets sick and Reverend James Smith follows him in the leader position. He is an aggressive, rather violent man who refuses Mr. Brown’s peaceful converting methods. He encourages the new converts to disturb and humiliate the heathen villagers. During a traditional ceremony, Enoch, one of the new converts, unmasks an egwugwu who burns Enoch’s house and the new Christian church the next day.
The District Commissioner asks to have a talk with the leaders of the village about the church burning. Okonkwo tells the leaders to bring their machetes, but even with these preparations, the District Commissioner's men are able to capture them in the meeting room. The guards constantly whip and hit the leaders, who eat nothing they are given. In the meantime, the court messengers arrive in the village and demand a fine from the villagers, which they increase for their personal benefit.
Once Okonkwo and the other leaders are released and return to the village, they start planning revenge. The most anxious and enthusiastic man is, of course, Okonkwo, who has been waiting for this day since he was exiled. The only thing he wants is to show his courage and fighting skills to the clansmen. The villagers gather and discuss the issues. Okonkwo becomes the leader of the rebellion killing the leader of the court messengers who tried to hinder the uprising. He thinks he gets back his honor with this act but he has to realize that the threat of the court messengers has frightened the clansmen: they are not going to fight. Okonkwo leaves the village.
The District Commissioner arrives at Okonkwo's compound with the intention of arresting him for killing his messenger, but when he arrives Obierika shows him Okonkwo's dead body hung from a tree. The District Commissioner, complying with Obierika's plea, tells his men to take down the body and bury it. Obierika accuses the District Commissioner for pushing Okonkwo past his limit, making him kill himself. The District Commissioner finds the ironic scenario interesting, barely enough to include it in his book about Africa: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.