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Things Fall Apart and the Case Against Imperialism Essay

1. Achebe begins the novel with an elaborate description of the central character Okonkwo. What do we learn about the values of Umuofians through this characterization? 2. Discuss Okonkwo as an Igbo heroic character: how does he work to achieve greatness as defined by his culture? How does he differ from Western heroes? What are Okonkwo’s strengths and weaknesses? 3. Describe Unoka, Okonkwo’s father. What are Okonkwo’s feelings toward Unoka, and why? How does the example of his father shape Okonkwo’s character and actions? Would Unoka be viewed differently in a different culture? 4. What do the early descriptions of Okonkwo’s success and Unoka’s failure tell us about Igbo society? How does one succeed in this cultural context? In the system of the taking of titles who seems to be excluded from opportunities to gain such success?

5. Describe the setting (time, place, culture) of the novel. Discuss Achebe’s presentation of the details of everyday village life in Umuofia, the values and beliefs of the Igbo people, and the importance of ritual, ceremony, social hierarchy, and personal achievement in Igbo culture. How is social life organized? What are the important celebrations? What is the role of war, of religion, and of the arts? What is the role of the individual in relation to the community of Umuofia? Compare /contrast Igbo ways of life, customs, perspectives, beliefs, and values to those of your own culture. 6. What is the importance of drums in the novel?

7. What effect does night have on the people in Ch. 2? What do they fear? How do they deal with their fear of snakes at night? 8. What is the cause and nature of the conflict with Mbaino? 9. Consider the dual roles in the human and spiritual worlds played by the egwugwu and Chielo, the priestess of Agbala. 10. Chielo, the priestess of Agbala is introduced in Ch. 3. What does her power and status in Umuofia suggest about women’s roles in Igbo culture and religious beliefs? Later in the novel, note Chielo’s roles in the village. What are those roles? What does the Ch. 11 incident involving the priestess of Agbala tell us about the values of the culture? What side of Okonkwo is revealed by his behavior during that long night?

11. The chi or personal spirit is a recurring theme in the novel, a spiritual belief important to understanding the main character Okonkwo. Trace further references in the novel to the chi. What role does Okonkwo’s chi play in shaping his destiny? 12. Compare Obierika—a man “who thinks about things”–to Okonkwo. Is Obierika a kind of foil to Okonkwo? 13. Discuss family life and living arrangements in Okonkwo’s home. Describe Okonkwo’s relationships to his wives and children, especially to Ekwefi, Ezinma, and Nwoye. 14. What differing roles and functions do men and women have in Igbo society? 15. What is Okonkwo’s attitude toward women?

16. In this polygamous culture, men may take more than one wife and each household is enclosed in a compound. Each wife lives in a hut with her children, and the husband visits each wife in turn, though he has his own hut as well. Children are often cared for communally— an African proverb states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Compare/contrast the advantages and disadvantages of this social structure to our own family arrangements in the U.S. 17. Discuss the role of Ikemefuna: What is Okonkwo’s relationship with Ikemefuna? Compare Okonkwo’s feelings to Nwoye’s affection for Ikemefuna. Why does Okonkwo act as he does, despite the advice of others not to participate in the killing of Ikemefuna? 18. Why is Okonkwo disappointed with his son Nwoye? What values does Okonkwo associate with manliness? How does Nwoye relate to these values? Compare Okonkwo’s attitude toward Nwoye to Okonkwo’s attitude toward his daughter Ezinma (presented in Ch. 8).

19. How are white men first introduced into the story? Why might Africans suppose that they have no toes? What sorts of attitudes do the Africans express about white men? 20. The egwugwu ceremony of the Igbo is dramatized in Ch. 10. Who are the egwugwu and what are the functions of the ceremony? Compare the Igbo system of judgment in domestic affairs with that of the U.S. 21. What are these internal conflicts that erode the unity and integrity of the village? What part does Okonkwo play in the dissension? How does Okonkwo jeopardize his own authority within his community? 22. Part I presents Igbo life and culture before the coming of the white man and colonialism. In what way(s) can Things Fall Apart be considered a “response” to depictions of Africans in Western literature–or other images of Africa as portrayed in the Western media, film, books, etc., that you are familiar with? How does Achebe’s novel “correct” such European depictions of Africa and Africans, and offer you an Afrocentric (Africa-centered), rather than a Eurocentric (or Western-centered), perspective?

23. Even as Achebe works to educate his readers about African culture and to combat demeaning stereotypes, he does not present Igbo society as ideal or perfect. The portrait of this culture on the eve of its “falling apart” in Part I of Things Fall Apart is complex, sometimes contradictory and critical. What aspects of pre-colonial Igbo culture does Achebe seem to question or criticize? How does Achebe use characters like Obierika, Okonkwo, and Nwoye to offer such social criticism of Igbo society? How do the people of Umuofia react to change? 24. Discuss the theme of fate versus personal control over destiny. For example, Okonkwo’s father is sometimes held responsible for his own actions, while at other times he is referred to as ill-fated and a victim of evil-fortune. Which do you think Okonkwo believes is true? What do you think Achebe believes is true? 25. It is remarked on the back of the novel: “…Achebe’s keen awareness of the human qualities common to men of all times and places.” What are those qualities?

26. The villagers believe–or pretend to believe–that the “Supreme Court” of the nine egwugwu are ancestral spirits. In fact, they are men of the village in disguise. What does this say about the nature of justice in general, and in this village in particular? 27. Do you believe Achebe’s novel as being primarily concerned with black versus white tensions? If not, what else is going on here? 28. Certain aspects of the clan’s religious practice, such as the mutilation of a dead child to prevent its spirit from returning, might impress us as being barbaric. Casting an honest eye on our own religious practices, which ones might appear barbaric or bizarre to an outsider? 29. In an essay Achebe states: “Here then is an adequate revolution for me to espouse–to help my society regain belief in itself and put away the complexes of the years of denigration and self-abasement.” In what ways do you feel that this novel places Achebe closer to the fulfillment of this goal?

30. Discuss the sacrifice of Ikemefuma as being a parallel to the crucifixion of Jesus. 31. Of one of the goddesses, it is said: “It was not the same Chielo who sat with her in the market…Chielo was not a woman that night.” What do you make of this culture where people can be both themselves and also assume other personas? Can you think of any parallels in your own world? 32. There are many proverbs related during the course of the narrative. Recalling specific ones, what function do you perceive these proverbs as fulfilling in the life of the Ibo? What do you surmise Achebe’s purpose to be in the inclusion of them here?

33. While the traditional figure of Okonkwo can in no doubt be seen as the central figure in the tale, Achebe chooses to relate his story in the third person rather than the first person narrative style. What benefits does he reap by adopting this approach? 34. The District Commissioner is going to title his work The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Niger. What do you interpret from this to be his perception of Okonkwo and the people of Umuofia? 35. What role does religion play in the downfall of Umuofia? Discuss Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith’s methods of evangelization. 36. Critics have suggested that Things Fall Apart has a universal appeal. Do you agree? Explain your answer with examples from the text.


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