Chinua Achebe has received numerous literary awards from around the world. I haven’t. This summary of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is meant as a review, not as a substitute for reading the novel.
Chapter 1: Chapter 1 introduces the novel’s protagonist Okonkwo, a wealthy and respected member of the Umuofia tribe. His elevated status began in his youth when he defeats Amalinze the Cat in a wrestling match. Okonkwo’s family often went hungry as a child due to his father’s laziness and irresponsibility.
Chapter 2: Okonkwo supports three wives and eight children, a barn full of yams, a shrine to his ancestors, a hut for himself, and a hut for each wife. He despises weakness and beats his children and wives. An Umuofia citizen is murdered in Mbaino and Okonkwo goes to demand reparations. He returns with a virgin and a young man, Ikemefuna, who stays with Okonkwo’s family.
Chapter 3: Because his father was lazy, Okonkwo begins with nothing and must do twice as much to compensate for his father’s negligence. His first harvest is disastrous, but Okonkwo survives it.
Chapter 4: Ikemefuna becomes a well-liked part of Okonkwo’s family, telling stories to his brothers and sisters and even calling Okonkwo “father.” During Peace Week, Okonkwo severely beats one of his wives and is reprimanded by the tribe. Planting season begins and Okonkwo finds fault with his son’s Nwoye’s work.
Chapter 5: The village celebrates the Feast of the New Yam. Bored, Okonkwo finds an excuse to beat Ekwefi, his second wife. He then tries to shoot her.
Chapter 6: The highlight of the festival is the wrestling match, pitting boys from each tribe against one another.
Analysis: Although Okonkwo has many desirable qualities–strength, work ethic, and perseverance–his temper causes problems. He beats his children and wives, gets bored easily, and is too demanding. He’s a modern day cross between a steroid-taking professional wrestler and a two-year-old. Oprah would accuse him of not being affectionate enough with his children and every college football coach in the country would give him a scholarship. Okonkwo would tell them to stop judging him through their cultural lens, punch Oprah in the face, and sign with USC or Ohio St. If he knew how to read I doubt he’d approve of you reading the summary of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe instead of reading the actual novel.
Chapter 7: Okonkwo is pleased with Ikemefuna’s influence on his son Nwoye. The tribal elders call for the death of Ikemefuna, who thinks he’s being returned to his home village. On the way, a man takes out his machete to kill him. In fear, Ikemefuna runs to his “father,” who kills him so as not to look weak.
Chapter 8: Okonkwo becomes depressed over Ikemefuna’s death and longs for work to help him forget. He chastises himself for being so weak-minded.
Chapter 9: Ekwefi wakes Okonkwo and tells him his daughter Ezinma is dying. Okonkwo prepares her medicine and the story of Ekwefi’s nine dead children is narrated. Ezinma is Okonkwo’s favorite.
Chapter 10: The egwuwu, nine village spirits who rule on tribal matters, who are actually clan leaders in really scary masks, appear. They solve a dispute between a husband and wife, who returned to live with her brothers because her husband beat her.
Chapter 11: Ekwefi tells Ezinma a story about a greedy turtle who tricks birds into giving him wings and taking him to a feast. Chielo, the priestess of Agbala, arrives and informs Ekwefi that the oracle wishes to see Ezinma, who cries at having to leave. Okonkwo and Ekwefi defy Chielo’s instruction and follow her, separately, to the oracle’s cave.
Chapter 12: Early in the morning, Chielo exits the oracle’s cave. Okonkwo and Ekwefi, relieved, return to their huts and prepare for Obierika’s daughter’s betrothal festival.
Chapter 13: A great warrior dies and a large ceremony follows. The men fire guns, Okonkwo’s misfires and kills the warrior’s sixteen-year-old son. He is forced into exile for seven years. His hut and all his property is burned.
Analysis: How do these guys remember so many gods? Most Westerners have enough trouble remembering one. Okonkwo displays tenderness toward his daughter and second wife. That little thing about killing his son, however, would probably be big on Youtube today and pretty much cancel out all the tenderness he displays toward Ezinma. Of course, I’m looking at his actions through my cultural lens, one that prohibits the senseless murder of young people and the disposing of twins into The Evil Forest at birth. Okonkwo’s banishment seems harsh, causing Obierika to question the tribe’s customs.
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Chapter 14: Okonkwo arrives at his mother’s homeland where his Uncle Uchendu welcomes him. Uchendu lectures Okonkwo on the importance of staying strong.
Chapter 15: Obierika shows up to give Okonkwo money from the sale of his yams. He tells about Abame, a village destroyed by white men in retaliation for the killing of one of their associates.
Chapter 16: Obierika returns two-years later and reports that Nwoye has become a Christian missionary. Okonkwo refuses to discuss it. Nwoye’s mother tells the story of his conversion.
Chapter 17: The story of Nwoye is told. The Christian missionaries ask for a plot of land to build a church. The tribe’s elders give them land in The Evil Forest, thinking it would discourage them. The missionaries rejoice and build a church. The clan expects evil spirits to destroy the Christians. They wait in vain. This causes many of the tribe to join them, including Nwoye. Okonkwo beats him when he finds out.
Chapter 18: The church attracts the titleless and the outcasts of the village. Okonkwo advises the elders of Mbanta to destroy the church and its members and considers them weak for not doing so.
Chapter 19: Okonkwo’s seven years are up. He holds a feast of thanksgiving for his family and expresses his concern for the youth of the tribe and their disregarding of tribal customs in favor of the new religion. He harbors resentment over the missed opportunities caused by seven years in exile.
Analysis: Okonkwo learns many valuable lessons: (1) make sure your firearm is working properly before you shoot it at a funeral; (2) beating your son and criticizing him constantly may cause resentment and force him to join a different religion later in life; (3) the new generation is soft and doesn’t kill enough; (4) Mbanta is full of pansies.
Chapter 20: Okonkwo returns and realizes much has changed. The white man’s religion is spreading and the white man’s judicial system ignores tribal customs. Okonkwo is upset that Umuofia has not driven away the white man. Obierika explains the white men came peacefully and were welcomed before turning arrogant and oppressive.
Chapter 21: The white man’s presence has brought wealth to Umuofia. The local church is lead by Mr. Brown, a tolerant man who forbids his congregation from harassing non-believers. He has many religious discussions with Akunna, one of the clan’s leaders. The two become friends, despite their differences. Mr. Brown encourages the tribe to send their children to his school. Okonkwo is disappointed in the lack of attention his return receives.
Chapter 22: Reverand James Smith replaces Mr. Brown and establishes an era of intolerance. An overzealous convert named Enoch unmasks an egwuwu and the villagers burn Enoch’s hut, hunt for him, and destroy the church.
Chapter 23: The district commissioner summons six men, including Okonkwo to discuss the burning of the church. They are imprisoned, treated poorly, and ordered to pay a large fine if they wish to be released.
Chapter 24: The sullen prisoners return. An emergency meeting is called. Five court messengers arrive to break up the meeting. Okonkwo chops off the head of one of the messengers, which sends the remaining messengers scurrying and prematurely ends the meeting.
Chapter 25: The district commissioner and a few soldiers arrive in Umuofi and ask for the whereabouts of Okonkwo. Obierika agrees to show them and says they need their help. Obierika leads them to a bush where Okonkwo has hanged himself. He explains that suicide is a grave sin, no one in the village can touch him, and asks the commisioner’s men to remove him from the tree.
Analysis: The messengers learn an important lesson: don’t make Okonkwo angry! Okonkwo learns an important lesson: before you chop the head off a commissioner, make sure the rest of the tribe supports your actions. The district commissioner learns nothing.
- Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books. 1959.
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