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Free Study Guide Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe BookNotes

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THE LIFE OF THE TRIBE


Throughout his novel Things Fall Apart, Achebe has attempted to describe the intricacies of the lifestyle of the Igbo, a thriving culture living in Nigeria. The novel produces impressive and beautiful artifacts in music, dance and above all, in conversation. “Proverbs are the palm-oil with which the words are eaten.” Many interesting and meaningful proverbs have been injected into the narrative of the novel. For example. “The sun will shine on those who stand, before it shines on those who kneel under them”, and “A toad does not run in the daytime for nothing”, “Eneke the bird says that since men have learnt to fly without perching”, and “The lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did” and many more.

A religion that is both mysterious and homely is revealed. Its vitality calls upon the sincerity of its followers who support it with a lot of conviction. At the same time, Achebe also informs the reader about life in the tribe, its customs and manners, its government and its administration of justice, its religious rites and beliefs, etc. A town crier always announces a meeting of the tribe where important decisions are made. Men and women with loathsome diseases are abandoned in the Evil Forest. Unoka, Okonkwo’s own father, suffers this fate. Twins too are abandoned in the same way. The egwugwu, who are the masked representation of their ancestral spirits, are deeply respected and revered. It is they who administer justice in the land, and are portrayed as awesome and almost supernatural. Certain superstitious and religious beliefs like the importance of the Oracle of the Hills and Caves are also highlighted.


The reader is also informed about the agricultural pattern - The Week of Peace, the planting of the Yams, the New Yam feast, followed by the dry season - The Harmattan - and the exquisite taste of locusts. Medical help, both herbal and psychological treatment, is meted out for illnesses. Ezinma was believed to be out of danger when the medicine man found her iyi-uwa. However when she later falls sick Okonkwo prescribes a herbal brew which relieves Ezinma of her fever.

Many folk-tales are related in the novel, like the story of the tortoise, the tortoise and the cat which reveal the strange nuances of their society and culture as well as the importance of stories and their pedagogical value. Morals and values are described through these seemingly simple tales of animals.

Social customs such as marriage ceremonies, funeral arrangements, and the gaining of titles are described in great detail to give the reader a glimpse of the way of life of Igbo, especially that of the clans members of Umuofia. Although many of these customs are similar throughout Igbo culture, it is important to remember that each village develops their own customs and rituals as well as dialects and that many villages were often at warfare with each other. These differences were exploited by the colonialists who often pitted clan against clan to gain control over their villages.


STUDY QUESTIONS - BOOK REPORT / ESSAY TOPICS


1. Trace the tragic element in Things Fall Apart.

2. Draw a character sketch of the hero and show how he is symbolic of his culture.

3. Examine the role superstition and religion plays in the life described in Things Fall Apart.

4. Outline the tragic errors or faults in Okonkwo that finally lead to his downfall.

5. Describe the gradual entry of the British administration into the tribal society and its final take-over of Umuofia.

What aspects of their culture allowed the British to take over?

6. Examine Nwoye’s role in the novel and his relationship to his father.

7. Analyze the title Things Fall Apart in terms of the destruction of the tribal ways and customs. How do ‘things fall apart’?

8. Interpret the suicide of Okonkwo. Why did he take his own life after killing the messenger?

9. Examine Okonkwo’s concept of masculinity. What does it entail and why does he think this way?

10. Discuss the differences between the two missionary figures, Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith. What are their attitudes towards the Igbo’s customs and religion? Give examples.

11. What contribution do women make to Igbo culture? Why are these contributions important to the survival of the culture?

12. How is the colonialist system more primitive than the Igbo system which is perceived that way by the District Commissioner?

13. How does Okonkwo contribute to his own demise? How does the colonialist enterprise contribute to his death?

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