Things Fall Apart

Chinua Achebe
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  Things Fall Apart

author  Chinua Achebe

type of work  Novel

genre  Postcolonial critique; tragedy

language  English

time and place written  1959, Nigeria

date of first publication  1959

publisher  Heinemann Educational Books

narrator  The narrator is anonymous but shows sympathy for the various residents of Umuofia.

point of view  The narration is in the third person, by an omniscient figure who focuses on Okonkwo but switches from character to character to detail the thoughts and motives of various individuals.

tone  Ironic, tragic, satirical, fablelike

tense  Past

setting (time)  1890s

setting (place)  Lower Nigerian villages, Iguedo and Mbanta in particular

protagonist  Okonkwo

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, Okonkwo strives 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 interpre-tations 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