The first part deals with the vindication of tribal life in Africa and the rise in power and authority of Okonkwo. Okonkwo, the protagonist is introduced, along with the intricacies and rituals of the Igbo culture that serve as his backdrop. The author highlights his strengths as well as his obsession with success. Okonkwo does not show any love in dealing with his three wives and children. This part reveals that Okonkwo's actions are often irrational and imprudent, which will be the cause of his eventual fall.
The reader learns about the traditions, superstitions and religious faiths of the villagers. The reader also learns about the life of the tribals, their agricultural pattern, the importance of the Oracle of the Hills and caves, the Egwugwu and their ceremonial arrangements.
The second part begins with Okonkwo's exile to his mother's land for seven years. This part also marks the entry of the white man into the lives of the African people. Though inwardly disappointed, Okonkwo begins a new life with his family on his uncle's bounty, dreaming and planning for the day when he would return to his own land. In these seven years, he hears of the destruction of the village of Abame by the white men because the natives there had killed a white man. This part also introduces the missionaries into the lives of the people with particular reference to their interest of converting people into their religion. Finally, there is the farewell feast that Okonkwo arranges for the whole village before he returns to his own village after his seven years of exile.
The third part deals with Okonkwo's return to his village and his disappointment at the lack of interest in his arrival. Many things have changed during these seven years. The village has virtually fallen apart' with the entry of the white men who have brought about a lot of changes in the village. They have brought in a new government and many villagers have converted to the new religion, including Nwoye, Okonkwo's son. Trade has also been established. The last two chapters deal with the terrible treatment meted out to the leaders of the tribe by the District Commissioner. His actions impel Okonkwo to behead one of their messengers and after finding that his action has no support from the tribe, Okonkwo is compelled to take his own life. Even at this last stage of his life, his fellow clan members do not bury him since he has desecrated the land of the Goddess Ani, by taking his own life.
The novel ends on a note of irony as the point of view shifts to the District Commissioner's who sees the situation only in terms of his own ambitions and ruthless need to subjugate the native populace. The tragedy of Okonkwo will just be a paragraph in the book of the District Commissioner, called The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger'. The author at the end of the novel criticizes the British for their lack of sensitivity and at the same time laments the demise of Okonkwo.