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Study Questions

Study Questions

Study Questions

Study Questions

1. Why does Things Fall Apart end with the District Commissioner musing about the book that he is writing on Africa?

The novel’s ending is Achebe’s most potent satirical stab at the tradition of Western ethnography. At the end of Okonkwo’s story, Achebe alludes to the lack of depth and sensitivity with which the Europeans will inevitably treat Okonkwo’s life. Achebe shows that a book such as The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger, which the commissioner plans to write, reveals much more about the writers—the colonialists—than about the subjects supposedly being studied. The title of the book is also ironic, as it reflects the utter lack of communication between the Europeans and the Africans. Although the Commissioner thinks he has achieved the “[p]acification” of these tribes, he has only contributed to their unrest and increasing lack of peace.

Additionally, the artifice of wrapping up the narrative as fodder for an ethnographic study hearkens back to the close of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. As Marlow, the teller of the main story in Heart of Darkness, concludes his tale about colonization in Africa, the initial narrator, waiting with Marlow to sail out to sea, returns and ponders the water, leaving the reader to wonder what atrocities beyond those in Marlow’s story the British Empire will commit. The conclusion of Things Fall Apart gives the impression of a similar story-within-a-story structure. When the account of how the colonizers have imposed themselves upon Umuofia concludes, the commissioner contemplates the account, leaving little doubt that he will now proceed to impose European values on his version of the account.

2. What is the nature of Okonkwo’s relationship with Ezinma?

Although Okonkwo is generally misogynistic, his favorite child is his daughter Ezinma. Of all Okonkwo’s children, Ezinma best understands how to handle her father’s anger. One example of her sensitivity to his needs is her comforting of him after he has killed Ikemefuna. Ezinma can tell that Okonkwo is depressed but, not wanting to upset him, she doesn’t address his sorrow directly. Instead, she brings him food and urges him to eat. His frequent remarks that he wishes Ezinma were his son because she has the “right spirit” suggest that he desires an affectionate attachment with his sons, so long as it is not openly shown or acknowledged. He values Ezinma not because she exhibits desirable masculine traits but because of their tacit bond of sympathy and understanding.

3. What does the repetition of the number seven suggest about the novel?

In several places (Mr. Brown’s conversations with Akunna, for example), the novel explicitly focuses on the theological and moral similarities between Christianity and Igbo religion. The repetition of the number seven—symbolically important to both religions—is another way of highlighting the similarities between the two cultures. The text seems to draw a parallel between the apparent randomness of the symbolic number often chosen by the Igbo and the determinism of Christianity’s reliance on the number seven in the Bible and in the myth of creation. Indeed, the text explicitly refers to resting on the seventh day; this return to the number seven marks a similarity between the two cultures’ belief systems.

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Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart (SparkNotes Literature Guide Series)