Things fall apart: Character, summary
Things Fall Apart is a novel written by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. Published in 1958, its story chronicles pre-colonial life in the south-eastern part of Nigeria and the arrival of the Europeans during the late nineteenth century.
The bulk of the novel takes place in Umuofia, a cluster of nine villages on the lower Niger. Umuofia is a powerful clan, skilled in war and with a great population, with proud traditions and advanced social institutions.
One of the greatest warriors of Nigeria, Okonkwo, is a leader of the Umuofia clan. He is a highly respected man in his village; the only problem he has to face is his son, Nwoye, who, in his father’s eyes, is an idle and negligent young man of twelve years old.
When Okonkwo retrieves two adolescents, a boy and a girl, from another tribe in return for a great evil against his village, the girl goes to another family while the boy is left in Okonkwo’s care. As the the 15-year-old boy gets used to Okonkwo and his family, Okonkwo finds a perfect descendant in Ikemefuna, but because of Okonkwo’s strict view of masculinity, Okonkwo can’t open his heart to the boy.
On the Week of Peace, Okonkwo breaks the “law” when he beats one of his wives, Ojiugo, because she was too negligent. This was the first case when he shocked his family and tribe.
Three years later, during a rare invasion of locusts, the Oracle makes a decision: Okonkwo’s “adopted son” has to be sacrificed. A village elder tells Okonkwo not to take part in the murder since he is called “father” by Ikemefuna.
When the chosen clansmen take Ikemefuna out of the village and strike Ikemefuna, he runs towards Okonkwo for help. Since Okonkwo does not want to appear weak, he kills Ikemefuna with great cruelty. Nwoye, who had become great friends with Ikemefuna, grieves and is again afraid of Okonkwo, whom he could stand when Ikemefuna was around.
At the funeral of the old clansman, Ogbuefi Ezeudu, who warned Okonkwo about the murder of Ikemefuna, a tragedy happens: during the salvo Okonkwo’s firearm blows up and takes the life of Ezeudu’s son.
Because of village tradition, Okonkwo must atone for his accidental killing, so he and his family are exiled from the village for seven years. Once they leave for Mbanta, the native village of Okonkwo’s mother, Ezeudu’s family destroy everything that was related to the ex-leader of the clan in order to cleanse the village of the sin.
Okonkwo and his family rebuild everything in Mbanta, the land of his mother, and reconcile themselves to their new life. They start a farm and sell yams. Everything seems to be fine and peaceful until the second year of the exile when white missionaries arrive in Mbanta who try to Christianize the villagers. Nwoye also Christianizes.
Seven years have passed and Okonkwo returns to his village where the missionaries have already converted most of the local people. When the peaceful leader of the missionaries, Mr. Brown, is followed by the brutal Reverend James Smith, the method of the conversion changes: the Reverend uses violent methods. Enoch, one of the new converts, tries to provoke the heathen villagers: during a traditional ceremony he unmasks an egwugwu, killing it. In retribution, the egwugwu burn Enoch’s house and the new Christian church the next day.
The response of the District Commissioner comes soon: the leaders of the Umuofia clan are arrested and held for ransom. After their release the village decides to start organizing an uprising. Okonkwo, attends the meeting where the village will decide whether or not to go to war. During the meeting, five court messengers arrive and tell the villagers that the white man has ordered the meeting to end. Okonkwo becomes enraged and kills the lead man. When Okonkwo kills the man, the rest of the village looks on in amazement. Okonkwo realizes that the village will not go to war, even with the threat right in front of them.
Once he sees, to his astonishment, that the clan isn’t going to go to war with him, Okonkwo hangs himself. When the District Commissioner finds out about the ironic situation, he finds it interesting enough to include it into his book about Africa: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.
Major Characters: Things fall apart summary
Husband of three, father of eight, he is the most respected warrior and leader in his village. All his life he endeavors to get rid of the memory of his father, Unoka, who was an unmanly, idle, and lazy person.
Okonkwo is a conservative person who believes that the only thing a man has to do is to fight for his family and for his tribe. He can’t tolerate any other attitude, that’s why he worries about his 12-year-son, Nwoye, who seems to be similar to Okonkwo’s despised father.
He always wants to prove that he is a real man (not like his father) but he regularly makes big mistakes and even falls into sin as a result of excessive manliness and frustration.
He is not able to accept any change in life including the white converters and the Christianity. But when the clansmen compromise and choose peace instead of war against the white people, he is forced to realize that he has no future in the community because of his lack of ability to conform.
Okonkwo is a “classical” tragic hero: he is a superior person and his tragic flaw – the compilation of manliness with violence, arrogance, and impatience – brings about his destruction.
Okonkwo’s best friend. He takes care of Okonkwo’s yams after Okonkwo is exiled for seven years. He also questions some of the tribal morals and consequences. Chinua Achebe uses this character as a foil to Okonkwo because Obierka is a man that thinks instead of acts like Okonkwo
Okonkwo’s oldest son who is, similarly to his grandfather, a rather “feminine” boy and that’s why he is unacceptable to his father. He wants to meet his father’s requirements but can’t hide his personality and feelings. However, when Ikemefuna arrives and becomes Nwoye’s best friend, with the help of his “stepbrother”, he is able to show some manliness to Okonkwo.
When Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna, Nwoye becomes alienated from his father and his values. He joins forces with the white converters, and although Okonkwo disowns him, he finds peace at last far way from his father.
Daughter of Okonkwo who has more “masculine” spirit than her brother, Nwoye. Okonkwo wishes Ezinma was a boy, and interestingly she is the only child who has won Okonkwo’s respect.
She shares an interesting relationship with her mother Ekwefi. The relationship is more like one of equals than of the typical mother-daughter seen in the tribe. This could be because Ekwefi has lost so many other children, Enzinma is her only child, and so she loves her less because she has reached the crowning achievment of a woman, motherhood, but more because she relishes the love and companionship that she finds with Ezinma.
Ezinma shows great love for her father. She constantly tries to help him, and after he is taken hostage by the white District Commissioner, she breaks the traditional 28 day stay with her husband to be’s family in order to return home and wait for her father’s return. And after Okonkwo gets back, she is the only one who can persuade him to eat.
Similar to Ezinma, he also confuses Okonkwo’s feelings and beliefs: though he is not a real child but a gift of another tribe, Okonkwo finds him a much better and suitable son than Nwoye. Though Ikemefuna calls Okonkwo “father”, the strong leader shouldn’t show anything but masculine strength – so, in order to prove his manhood, he kills the innocent boy. The death of Ikemefuna is one of the most important incidents that will lead to the tragedy of Okonkwo.
One of the wives of Okonkwo whose only aim is to protect her only child, Ezinma – from Okonkwo and even from the gods.
The first leader of the missionaries: a gentle and kind man who tries to convert the villagers only verbally and through his hospital and school, and he never uses aggressive methods.
Reverend James Smith
He is the one who uses violence in order to convert the local people. He believes that the quality and zeal of the converts counts more than Mr. Brown’s large quantity of followers.
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