CSEC Literature- Notes on Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Okonkwo – Timeline

  • Okonkwo grows up resenting his father’s laziness and devotes all his time to proving his own respectability and masculinity–qualities his father lacks.
  • At age 18, Okonkwo beats a champion wrestler named the Cat.
  • Okonkwo goes to Nwakibie to borrow seed yams and start his own farm. The year is a series of natural disasters but Okonkwo survives and vows that he will survive anything.
  • Okonkwo is given charge of Ikemefuna for three years.
  • During the Week of Peace, Okonkwo commits the crime of beating his wife. This is his first crime against the earth. As punishment, he is told to make a ritual sacrifice, which he does.
  • A few days before the new year, Okonkwo threatens his second wife Ekwefi with a gun.
  • The clan leaders inform Okonkwo that they are going to kill Ikemefuna, his adopted son.  Though it is not required, Okonkwo participates in the murder. Guilt haunts him.
  • When his daughter Ezinma falls sick, Okonkwo frantically makes medicine and does everything in his power to save his favorite child.
  • Okonkwo participates as a masked egwugwu in a series of court-like trials as a judge.
  • Okonkwo follows Chielo the priestess and Ekwefi when the priestess unexpectedly abducts Ezinma. This is the second time we see Okonkwo openly showing compassion and genuine concern for Ezinma.
  • At Ezedu’s funeral, Okonkwo accidentally shoots and kills a boy. For his crime, he is sentenced to seven years exile. This is his second crime against the earth.
  • In Mbanta, Okonkwo is chastised by Uchendu for dishonoring his motherland by acting so depressed about his exile.
  • From Obierika, Okonkwo gets news about the coming of the white men and later hears about Nwoye being among the Christian converts in Umuofia.
  • We flashback to the point when Okonkwo first learned about Nwoye converting to Christianity.
  • Okonkwo hears through the grapevine that Nwoye has been spending time with the Christians.
  • Okonkwo attacks his son and demands to know where he’s been (the answer is with the Christians). Though Uchendu prevents Okonkwo from further harming Nwoye, Okonkwo disowns his son.
  • Okonkwo hosts a feast in Mbanta in gratitude to Uchendu and his family.
  • Upon his return to Umuofia, Okonkwo has a conversation with Obierika about the Christians and Okonkwo despairs over the disunity of the clan.
  • At this point, Okonkwo becomes more passive than he has ever been before, watching and lamenting the coming of the missionaries while unable to do anything.
  • In reaction to Enoch’s crime of unmasking an egwugwu, Okonkwo and the other leaders of Umuofia retaliate by destroying the missionaries’ church. Okonkwo had advised violent action, even to the point of killing the missionaries, though the group only ended up burning down the church.
  • When invited by the District Commissioner to discuss the recent destruction of the church, Okonkwo and five other leaders go to meet the official and are ambushed.
  • In prison, Okonkwo is singled out to be beaten. Upon his release, he vows revenge, even if he is not supported by the clan.
  • During a village conference contemplating war, Okonkwo kills a messenger sent by the District Commissioner.
  • When he sees that the Umuofian people don’t support him, he knows it means they will not go to war. This realization drives him to suicide–his third and final offense against the earth.

Major Conflict

· On one level, the conflict is between the traditional society of Umuofia and the new customs brought by the whites, which are in turn adopted by many of the villagers.
Okonkwo also struggles to be as different from his deceased father as possible. He believes his father to have been weak, effeminate, lazy, ignominious, and poor. Consequently, Okonkwostrives to be strong, masculine, industrious, respected, and wealthy.

Rising Action

· Enoch’s unmasking of an egwugwu, the egwugwu’s burning of the church, and the District Commissioner’s sneaky arrest of Umuofian leaders force the tension between Umuofia and the colonizers to a breaking point.

Climax

· Okonkwo’s murder, or uchu, of a court messenger

Falling Action

· The villagers allow the white government’s messengers to escape, and Okonkwo, realizing the weakness of his clan, commits suicide.

Themes

· The struggle between tradition and change; varying interpretations of masculinity; language as a sign of cultural difference

Motifs

·Chi, animal imagery

Symbols

· The novel is highly symbolic, and it asks to be read in symbolic terms. Two of the
main symbols are the locusts and fire. The locusts symbolize the white colonists descending upon the Africans, seeming to augur good but actually portending
troublesome encounters. Fire epitomizes Okonkwo’s nature—he is fierce and destructive. A third symbol, the drums, represents the physical connection of the community of clansmen in Umuofia, and acts as a metaphorical heartbeat that beats in unison, uniting all the village members.

Foreshadowing

· The author’s initial description of Ikemefuna as an“ill-fated boy,” which presages his eventual murder by Okonkwo; the arrival of the locusts, which symbolizes the eventual arrival of the colonizers; Obierika’s suggestion that Okonkwo kill himself, which foretells Okonkwo’s eventual suicide.

Overview of the Plot

Okonkwo is a wealthy and respected warrior of the Umuofia clan,a lower Nigerian tribe that is part of a consortium of nine connected villages. He is haunted by the actions of Unoka, his cowardly and spendthrift father, who died in disrepute, leavingmany village debts unsettled. In response, Okonkwo became a clansman, warrior, farmer, and
family provider extraordinaire. He has a twelve-year-old son named Nwoye whom he finds lazy; Okonkwo worries that Nwoye will end up a failure like Unoka. In a settlement with a neighboring tribe, Umuofia wins a virgin and a fifteen-year-old boy.  Okonkwo takes charge of the boy, Ikemefuna, and finds an ideal son in him. Nwoye likewise
forms a strong attachment to the newcomer. Despite his fondness for Ikemefuna and despite the fact that the boy begins to call him “father,” Okonkwo does not let himself show any affection for him. During the Week of Peace, Okonkwo accuses his youngest wife, Ojiugo, of negligence. He severely beats her, breaking the peace of the sacred week.  He makes some sacrifices to show his repentance, but he has shocked his community irreparably. Ikemefuna stays with Okonkwo’s family for three years. Nwoye looks up to him as an older brother and, much to Okonkwo’s pleasure, develops a more masculine attitude. One day, the locusts come to Umuofia—they will come every year for seven years before disappearing for another generation. The village excitedly collects them because they are good to eat when cooked.
Ogbuefi Ezeudu, a respected village elder, informs Okonkwo in private
that the Oracle has said that Ikemefuna must be killed. He tells Okonkwo that because Ikemefuna calls him “father,” Okonkwo should not take part in the boy’s death. Okonkwo lies to Ikemefuna, telling him that they must return him to his home village. Nwoye bursts into tears.  As he walks with the men of Umuofia, Ikemefuna thinks about
seeing his mother. After several hours of walking, some of Okonkwo’s clansmen attack the boy with machetes. Ikemefuna runs to Okonkwo for help. But Okonkwo, who doesn’t wish to look weak in front of his fellow tribesmen, cuts the boy down despite the Oracle’s admonishment. When Okonkwo returns home, Nwoye deduces that his friend is dead.
Okonkwo sinks into a depression, neither able to sleep nor eat. He visits his friend Obierika and begins to feel revived a bit.
Okonkwo’s daughter Ezinma falls ill, but she recovers after Okonkwo gathers leaves for her medicine.  The death of Ogbuefi Ezeudu is announced to the surrounding villages by means of the ekwe,a musical instrument. Okonkwo feels guilty because the last
time Ezeudu visited him was to warn him against taking part in Ikemefuna’s death. At Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s large and elaborate funeral, the men beat drums and fire their guns. Tragedy compounds upon itself when Okonkwo’s gun explodes and kills Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s sixteen-year-old son.  Because killing a clansman is a crime against the earth goddess, Okonkwo must take his family into exile for seven years in order to atone. He gathers his most valuable belongings and takes his family to his mother’s natal village, Mbanta. The men from Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s quarter burn Okonkwo’s buildings and kill his animals to cleanse the village of hissin.
Okonkwo’s kinsmen, especially his uncle, Uchendu, receive him warmly.
They help him build a new compound of huts and lend him yam seeds to start a farm.
Although he is bitterly disappointed at his misfortune, Okonkwo reconciles himself to life in his motherland. During the second year of Okonkwo’s exile, Obierika brings several bags of cowries (shells used as currency) that he has made by selling Okonkwo’s yams. Obierika plans to continue to do so until Okonkwo returns to the village. Obierika also brings the bad news that Abame, another village, has been destroyed by the white man.  Soon afterward, six missionaries travel to Mbanta. Through an interpreter named Mr. Kiaga, the missionaries’ leader, Mr. Brown, speaks to the villagers. He tells them that their gods are false and that worshiping more than one God is idolatrous. But the villagers do not understand how the Holy Trinity can be accepted as one God. Although his aim is to convert the residents of Umuofia to Christianity, Mr. Brown does not allow his followers to antagonize the clan.Mr. Brown grows ill and is soon replaced by Reverend James Smith, an intolerant and strict man.
The more zealous converts are relieved to be free of Mr. Brown’s policy of restraint. One such convert, Enoch, dares to unmask an egwugwu during the annual ceremony to honor the earth deity, an act equivalent to killing an ancestral spirit. The next day, the
egwugwu burn Enoch’s compound and Reverend Smith’s church to the ground.
The District Commissioner is upset by the burning of the church and requests that the leaders of Umuofia meet with him. Once they are gathered, however, the leaders are handcuffed and thrown in jail, where they suffer insults and physical abuse.
After the prisoners are released, the clansmen hold a meeting, during which five court
messengers approach and order the clansmen to desist. Expecting his fellow clan members to join him in uprising, Okonkwo kills their leader with his machete.
When the crowd allows the other messengers to escape, Okonkwo realizes that his clan
is not willing to go to war. When the District Commissioner arrives at Okonkwo’s compound, he finds that Okonkwo has hanged himself. Obierika and his friends lead the commissioner to the body. Obierika explains that suicide is a grave sin; thus, according to custom, none of Okonkwo’s clansmen may touch his body. The commissioner, who is writing a book about Africa, believes that the story of Okonkwo’s rebellion and death will make for an interesting paragraph or two. He has already chosen the book’s title:
The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger
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