Postcolonial Literatures Unit 1 Things Fall Apart

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Things Fall Apart

2. Why are proverbs important in Things Fall Apart? 

Ans: One of the first things readers may notice in Things Fall Apart is the sheer number of proverbial expressions. All cultures and languages make use of proverbial expressions. Common English-language proverbs include “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and “A watched pot never boils.” Native English speakers immediately comprehend the meaning of such expressions, without need for much reflection, but they pose challenges for anyone learning the language.

In Things Fall Apart, the subject of proverbs first arises in the context of a challenging discussion, when Okoye comes to Unoka’s hut and asks him to repay a longstanding debt. Okoye makes his request by speaking “half a dozen sentences in proverbs,” because “proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.” This statement itself constitutes a proverb about proverbs, and it emphasizes how proverbial language eases the difficulty of challenging conversations.

In Okoye’s case, proverbs enable him to address the subject of debt indirectly. Using less direct language reduces the risk that his words will offend Unoka and shut down dialogue. The indirectness of proverbs also serves as a reminder that they do no express the opinion of a single individual. Instead, since proverbs emerge from cultural tradition, they express the received wisdom of an entire community.

Although Achebe introduces proverbs through a dispute, he also incorporates proverbs in less charged moments. Achebe’s use of proverbs also infuses the novel with a uniquely Igbo perspective on a range of subjects, from the importance of mothers (e.g., “Mother is supreme”) to the relative value of action over words (e.g., “There is nothing to fear from someone who shouts”) and beyond. Such proverbs often do not occur in the context of dialogue, which means that they do not have a clear social function as they did in the case of Okoye and Unoka. Instead, Achebe places many of these proverbs into the mouth of the narrator, who uses them to comment on the story.

A powerful example occurs at the end of Part One, when the narrator concludes, “As the elders said, if one finger brought oil it soiled the others.” This proverb insists that Okonkwo must go into exile lest he offend the Earth goddess and spell Umuofia’s doom. Yet this proverb is also ominous, gesturing covertly to the coming of the first missionary and the future “contamination” of the nine villages. Here the proverbial expression has a narrative function, foreshadowing the chaos to come.

3. What is the ending of the story and what does it mean? 

Ans: Things Fall Apart ends with two related tragedies. The first tragedy is Okonkwo’s death. Following an outburst of unsanctioned violence in which he kills a European messenger who tries to stop a meeting among clan elders, Okonkwo realizes that he is no longer in sync with his society. No one applauds his action, and Okonkwo sees that he alone wishes to go to war with the Europeans caught between his rage that the nine villages would succumb to European rule and the futility of fighting the Europeans alone, Okonkwo retreats to his compound and hangs himself. With this act, Okonkwo lives up to his role as a tragic hero whose struggles with society ultimately lead to death. Okonkwo’s death also has another, culturally specific implication. As the narrator explains, the Igbo consider suicide a “feminine” rather than a “masculine” crime. Okonkwo’s suicide is an unspeakable act that strips him of all honors and denies him the right to an honorable burial. Okonkwo dies an outcast, banished from the very society he fought to protect.

The novel’s second tragedy occurs on the broader level of history. Achebe signals this second tragedy by ending the novel with a shift from an African to a European perspective. In the novel’s final two pages, the District Commissioner reflects on how he will depict the events surrounding Okonkwo’s death in the book he’s working on, titled The Pacification of the Tribes of the Lower Niger. 

The District Commissioner threatens to erase the specificity of Okonkwo’s tragedy by removing the events from their context and simplifying them into a tale meant to entertain his readers: “The story of this man who had killed a messenger and hanged himself would make interesting reading.” Even more troubling, the District Commissioner threatens to reduce Okonkwo’s story to a fleeting anecdote in the European history of conquest: “One could almost write a whole chapter on [this man] perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any rate.” Decontextualized and stripped of all complexity. and nuance, Okonkwo’s story will be tragically lost to history.

4. What is important about the title: “Things Fall Apart?” Is there a reference in the novel that explains the title?

Ans: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a novel whose title bears the central message of the work. The very title ‘Things Fall Apart’ foreshadows the tragedy which takes place at the end of the novel. The novel depicts the tragedy of an individual as well as the tragedy of a society. The protagonist of the novel Okonkwo who was rich and respectable at the beginning of the novel meets a tragic fate at the end of the novel. Achebe portrays how an ambitious, well known, and respected African Okonkwo’s life falls apart. But when he suffers, his whole tribe also suffers. At the beginning of the novel, the Ibo society was a peaceful, organic society, but at the end of the novel it falls into pieces. Thus, the novel records not only falling apart of Okonkwo’s life but also his whole society.

The phrase “things fall apart” is taken from the poem, “The Second Coming” by W.B Yeats, which Achebe quotes more extensively in the epigraph. Achebe’s literary allusion to Yeats’ poem might deepen or extend by comparison and/or contrast-the meaning(s) of Achebe’s title and his novel. The beginning four lines of the poem are referred as a preface of the novel.

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre 

The falcon cannot hear the falconer,

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold; 

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,”

“Things fall apart” can be said when something we believed would last forever, comes to an end. The title Things Fall Apart refers to the fact that without proper balance, things do fall apart. The notion of balance in the novel is an important theme throughout the book. Beginning with the excerpt from Yeats’ poem, the concept of balance is stressed as important; for without balance, order is lost. In the novel, there is a system of balance, which the Igbo culture seems but at the end of the novel the society people can not listen to the leader, so a chaotic situation is created.

Okonkwo’s Life Falls Apart: At the beginning of the novel we see Okonkwo as a prosperous leader of the Igbo people. But the novel ends with his tragic end. Thus, we can say that the novel Things Fall Apart depicts how Okonkwo’s life falls apart. Okonkwo is definitely a man of importance for his society. He is a well-known person throughout the nine villages and beyond. He is a warrior and wrestler who gains respect through his athletics. He is a fierce-free individual. He hasn’t lost one fight or any battles. And for this the people of the village love him. He is also respected because of his wealth.

Okonkwo’s life first begins to fall apart when he kills Ikemefuna, a prisoner who stayed at Okonkwo’s home. Okonkwo considers Ikemefuna as one of his own sons. It has been decided from the oracle that Ikemefuna will be killed. Okonkwo takes part in his murder, despite warning from his friend. “That boy calls you father. Do not bear a hand in his death.” But when he hears Ikemefuna’s crying, “My father, they have killed me!” as he ran towards him. Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down.” Okonkwo’s fear of being weak, which is one of his tragic flaws, drives him to rashness, and in the end it contributes to his own tragedy that his own life falls apart.

Another significant incidence where Okonkwo’s life falls apart was when he was thrown out of the clan for seven years. From this event, one can see that Okonkwo’s hopes and dreams have begun to fall apart. His hopes of being a rich and popular individual had drifted away with this disturbing incident. Okonkwo had no longer had his farm or animals. Also Okonkwo lost faith with most of his friends. This goes to show that Okonkwo lost faith with his friends, like his father lost faith with his friends. Another episode that showed the downfall in Okonkwo’s life was when Nwoye, his oldest and favourite son, converted to the white mans.

Okonkwo’s life is finally shattered after his return to his village where he finds that everything has changed. After the clansman burn the Church building down, the District Commissioner asks the leaders of the clan, Okonkwo among them, to go and see him for a peaceful meeting. The leaders arrive, and are quickly seized. While they are in detention waiting for the fine to be collected from their people, they are beaten severely by the court messengers and their heads are shaved. They are held in jail until the clan pays a heavy fine. Embittered and grieving for the destruction of his clan’s independence, and fearing the humiliation of dying under white law, Okonkwo commits suicide and his life totally falls apart.

Igbo Society Falls Apart: Like Okonkwo his Igbo society also falls apart. In the first part of the book we see a socially, politically and religiously organic Igbo society. But this organic society becomes divided and virtually loses all energy at the end of the book. Thus, the novel documents the falling apart of the Igbo tribe due to its own brutal rules as well as the coming of the Christian missionaries and the rule of the English government.

The Society Itself Responsible For Falling Apart: At the beginning of the book we see that the Igbo people have a strong faith in their traditional religion. The religion of the Igbos consisted in the belief that there is a suspense God, the creator of the universe and the lesser gods. The supreme God was called Chukwu. The other gods were made by Chukwu to act as his messengers so that people could approach him through them. People made sacrifices to the smaller gods, but when the failed, the people turned to Chukwu. Ancestor worship was also an equally important feature of the religion of the Ibo people. There were man superstitious ideas related with their religious belief. They believed in evil spirits and oracle. One of such Oracles is responsible for Okonkwo’s sacrifice of Ikemefuna. 

This incident underlines the superstitious brutality of traditional Igbo society. We also find the brutality, injustice and the inhuman activities in some other rituals or rules such as- people who are affected by some severe diseases are carried on the Evil Forest to die and they do not get any burial and twain babies are thrown out in the Evil Forest just after their birth. The ultimate result of such brutality is when the people, who are dissatisfied with these rules such as- Nwoye, the mother of three twin babies, get the opportunity to change their religion they do it and the society ultimately falls apart.

Igbo Society Encounters the Colonial Masters and Falls Apart: Prior to the coming of the white the political life of the Igbo people was also very organic and strong. They were very loyal to their political leaders. After the entrance of colonial masters, the colonial religion mostly replaced the traditional religion. When the white man arrives, however, they ignore the Igbo’s values and try to enforce his own beliefs and religious practices. Missionaries would convince these tribesmen that their tribe worshipped false gods and that its false gods did not have the ability to punish them if they chose to join the mission. Like many others, Okonko’s son Nwoye is also affected by the colonial religion.

The only point in the book in which the title is referenced is Chapter Twenty, when the main character, Okonkwo, and his friend, Obierika, are discussing the invasion of white men into their community. Obierika says, “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.” his passage clearly ties the destruction of the Igbo people’s way of life to sneaky, divisive action on the part of European missionaries and imperialists.

The colonial politics affects the Igbo society. Okonko’s life is also affected by the colonial politics. The Igbo people become the victims of the colonial politics and many people die as a result of colonialism. The same things happen to Okonkwo. 

The novel concludes with the end of the Igbo society and the death of the hero. In the face of the chaos caused by the incursion of Christianity, Okonkwo becomes a murderer and then hangs himself. His world has literally fallen apart, and it symbolically represents that Igbo society has fallen apart. Thus, we can say, the title of the novel, Things Fall Apart denotes its theme appropriately.

5. Discuss the major and minor conflicts in the novel. 

Ans: Conflicts are a major part of every story. The writer creates conflicts at the start of the story and resolves them at the end. Several conflicts are also there in “Things Fall Apart” as it is a postcolonial novel. Chinua Achebe tells us a real story. He creates bundles of conflicts in “Things Fall Apart” but ends the novel without finding any solution for them. Perhaps, he wanted to remain close to reality; therefore, he created a pen picture of realistic images of his own culture and society.

Conflicts have many types. Some of them are;

(a) Personal

(b) Racial

(c) Class

(d) Caste

(e) Political

(f)  International

Bundles of conflicts are there in “Things Fall Apart”. However, four major conflicts are:

(a) Cultural conflicts in “Things Fall Apart”

(b) Religion Vs. Religion conflict in “Things Fall Apart”

(c) Internal conflicts in “Things Fall Apart” 

(d) Man vs Man conflict in “Things Fall Apart”

Cultural conflicts in “Things Fall Apart”: It is main conflict of the novel. Before arrival of Christians, people were happily following their rules and customs. Their culture was everything for them. They had their own customs, practices and traditions. They were divided into tribes and every tribe had a leader. Growing yams in farms was their only duty. Sons inherited farms from their fathers. In difficult times, they consulted their mothers or maternal uncles. A person could have as much wives as as he wanted. Only the strongest could survive. They used to tell stories. Ibo culture was combination of different norms.

White-men arrived and shattered everything. They bring their culture with them and forcefully tried to impose it on others. There were lots of differences between white-men’s cultures and Nigerian culture (Igbo society). It was not easy for Ibo people to accept their values. Hence, a cultural conflict arouse in “Things Fall Apart”. Strong men like Okonkwo tried to resist but failed. However, the younger generation accepted it. Nwyoy’s example is in front of us. He accepted Christianity and their culture. It causes another inner conflict between young generation and old generation in “Things Fall Apart.”

White-men’s culture was entirely opposite to Ibo culture. When Ibo people refused to accept it a conflict arouse Cultural conflict is very realistically illustrated in “Things Fall Apart”.

Religion vs. Religion conflict in “Things Fall Apart”: Ibo people have belief in (Chukwu or Chineke), whom they consider creator god. Similarly an earth goddess (Ala) was also there for them to worship. Besides, they have beliefs in spirits as well as in ancestors who protect their living descendants. In short, they belonged to polytheistic religion. Different gods were there to help them on different occasions.

On the other hand, white-men came with Christianity. They worshipped only one God, which was unacceptable by Ibo society. Furthermore, they tried to expand their religion and to some extent they succeeded in doing so. When the observed that Christianity called killing twins a brutal act they stood against it and tried to stop its expansion. Eventually, religion vs. religion conflict arouses. Finally, Igbo religion was eliminated and Christianity overpowered.

Internal conflicts in “Things Fall Apart”: Christianity expanded; the new generation accepted it whereas the old generation resisted due to which internal conflicts arouse. Following are two main internal conflicts of “Things Fall Apart”:

(a) Man Vs. Innersole 

(b) Old Generation Vs. New Generation

Man Vs. innersole termed as “Chi” is the prominent inner conflict in “Things Fall Apart”. Ibo society was a complete society but every person was living an individual life. For instance, Okonkwo was fighting with his inner fears of failure. Her son was fighting with his weaknesses. Perhaps, this inner conflicts forced Nwoye to divert his religion. Apparently, people were happy but they were trying to find a better life. Obierika was also a follower of Igbo culture and obeyed every order of earth goddess but he was against the philosophy of killing the twins. He wanted to do something but could not.

Furthermore, modern literature deals with man vs. his innersole. Chinua Achebe knew this fact, therefore, he depicted this conflict in “Things Fall Apart”.

Likewise, new generation vs. old generation is also another conflict in “Things Fall Apart”.

Man vs. Man conflict in “Things Fall Apart”: Every tribe in Ibo society tried to maintain his respect by killing people from other tribes. It shows that Man is the worst enemy of humanity. “Survival of the Strongest” is the primary theme of this novel. Many incidents are there in the novel where man tried to kill his fellowman. Okonokwo killed his adopted son with his own hands just to show his powers over other men of his society. He could avoid it but he showed that he was emotionless hence he possessed more strength. Similarly, wars between tribes also showed conflict of “man vs. man”. Suffice is to say that man vs. man is one of the prominent conflicts in “Things Fall Apart”.

Apart from above, there are some small conflicts such as; son vs. father as Not consider himself right and his father wrong, man vs. religion as Obeirika was uncomfortable with killing of twins.

Numerous people accepted Christianity. Some accepted it with happy hearts and some with heavy hearts, therefore, the prominent conflict of the novel is the clash between the Western and traditional African Values.

6. Okonkwo as a Tragic Hero in Chinua Achebe’s Novel Things Fall Apart.


Discuss the character of Okonkwo.

Ans: Okonkwo, the protagonist of the novel, was tall and stout with bushy eyebrows and a wide nose on his face. He looked strict, severe and harsh. While sleeping he snored and breathed heavily. He walked on his toes, raising his heels. It looked as if he would pounce upon someone. He lacked patience, whenever he was angry, he didn’t use words rather used his fists.

Okonkwo was self made. He was wealthy and well-known throughout the nine nearby villages. His fame was by his hard work and personal achievements. His father, Unoka was a drunkard and heavily in debt, he could not provide the member of his family enough to eat. Okonkwo was in contrast to his father. Unoka was a coward, poor, idle, gentle and interested in music and wine only. Whereas, Okonkwo was brave, wealthy, violent and adamantly against music and emotions. But he often drank palm wine on auspicious occasions.

Okonkwo was a man of action. When he was Young he had won fame as a great wrestler throughout nine villages. He had two barns full of yams When he married his third wife, he had displayed his courage in two inter tribal Wars and had taken two titles. He was bold and never feared of war, he could hear blood-shed. He brought the first human head to home during the latest war in Umuofia and that was his fifth head.

Okonkwo was a respected and trustworthy man in Umuofia He was chosen as a great messenger of war to he was sent In Mbaino. There he was treated with great honour and reverence and after two days, he returned with a lad of fifteen years named Ikemefuna and a young virgin, as decided in a public meeting addressed by Ogbuefi Ezeugo.

Okonkwo has a fear that he too would be weak and a failure like his father Unoka. That was the reason; he was stem and strict towards his family. His three wives and eight children were afraid of him. He was not cruel at heart. He feared of himself lest he or his family should see evil days as his father did. He remembered how he had to cut a sorry figure when he listened from a clansman that his father was “Agbala”-a person who is like a woman.

Okonkwo was a hard worker, diligent and very strong. He worked on his farms from dawn to dusk and treated it as worship. He didn’t inherit anything, rather he was raised in his life through constant struggle and hard work. He faced a lot of hardships from the very outset of his career. When he started farming, he went to Nwakibic who promised him to give him eight hundred yam seeds. The very year when Okonkwo took Yam seeds was the worst year for farming. It rained late and was not sufficient for a good crop. But he didn’t lose hope. Those seeds were his own; he still had eight hundred from Nwakibie and four hundred from his father’s friend. He planted again that year it rained heavily and washed away the yam. The barns were full of water which destroys the seeds. Crop was looking like a funeral. One man of his village tied his cloth to a branch of a tree and hanged himself But Okonkwo remained a fierce fighter. He said: ‘Since I survived that year, I shall survive anything”

Then good days started, however. in his good days, became a little arrogant. He became somewhat rash, rough and haughty. In a meeting he insulted a member and then other reprimanded him and he had to apologise. He ruled his and children with a heavy hand. If someone in the family disobeyed him he would even beat the member. Once during the week of peace, he beat his second wife and was subsequently punished by the priest of the goddess of earth, Ani.

He had a great influence of his daughter Ezinma on him. She understood the moods of her father. When he returned after killing Ikemefuna, he didn’t eat anything for three days, It was only Ezinma who prepared the food and offered him to eat. He loved her with a wish that she were a boy. Okonkwo was a tragic hero in the classical sense. As he was superior character, well known throughout the nine villages, his tragic flaw: anger, rashness, short sightedness and violence brought his downfall. He wanted his son Nwoye to be a successful man in his life. That was the reason he treated him rashly without foreseeing that his harsh treatment might turn his son into a rebel.

Okonkwo never revealed his emotions. Fear of weakness or failure was also tragic flaw. He killed Ikemefuna because lie was “afraid of being weak”. When Ikemefuna came into his family, Okonkwo was very happy. Though Okonkwo loved the boy yet, he treated him in anger. It is taken for granted that it is a sign of weakness to love a child openly. He therefore treated Nwoye Ikemefuna and others with a heavy hand,

A sad accident added to his tragic end when, on Ezeudu’s funeral, a piece of iron exploded from his gun and pierced the body of Ezeudu’s sixteen years old son. It was a crime against the goddess of earth to kill a clansman. Consequently Okonkwo has to face seven years of exile in Mbanta, the native village of his mother.

He wished that he would gain the same status in Umuofia, as he enjoyed earlier. But when he returned to his village after exile, he found that missionary campaign was at the climax. He wanted to face the challenges single handed but failed to do so. Consequently, he committed suicide for his failure of saving his culture from destruction.

He was a true patriot and a flaming fire. His intense or dangerous anger has been associated with burning fire or flame. It was the only emotion that Achebe displayed in his character. As the fire destroys everything it consumes Okonkwo was both physically and emotionally destructive. Ikemefuna and Ogbuefi, Ezeudu’s son was the victim of his physical destruction. Whereas suppressing his emotions and fondness for Ezinma and Ikemefuna respectively was his emotional destruction. Just as the fire burns until it left a pile of ash. Okonkwo too burnt himself through intense rage until it destroyed him in the face of his suicide.

He was a man of iron will and he moulded his fate to the path of glory with his own efforts. He made his fortune smile on him by his constant hard work. He struggled against poverty and rose to the status of prosperity. Despite facing many hardships, he was still determined to do hard work He built three huts for his three wives separately. He became one of the lords of clan and attended the meetings of the village.

Okonkwo ended his life like a true hero for his ancestral culture and traditions. He was ambitious and a man of iron will. He fought many wars and brought human heads. He was a man of revolt but his short sightedness, anger, rashness and violence resulted his tragic end. Despite all his heroic qualities he failed to change himself according to the changed circumstances and that was one of the reasons that pushed him 10 take his own life.

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