General introduction to the novel:Things Fall Apart, published in 1958, is the seminal African novel in English. Although there were earlier examples, notably by Achebe's fellow Nigerian, Amos Tutuola, none has been so influential, not only on African literature, but on literature around the world. Its most striking feature is to create a complex and sympathetic portrait of a traditional village culture in Africa. Achebe is trying not only to inform the outside world about Ibo cultural traditions, but to remind his own people of their past and to assert that it had contained much of value. All too many Africans in his time were ready to accept the European judgment that Africa had no history or culture worth considering. He also fiercely resents the stereotype of Africa as an undifferentiated "primitive" land, the "heart of darkness," as Conrad calls it.
Throughout the novel he shows how African cultures vary among themselves and how they change over time. Look for instances of these variations as you read.As a young boy the "African literature" he was taught consisted entirely of works by Europeans about Africa, such as Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson, which portrays a comic African who slavishly adores his white colonist boss, to the point of gladly being shot to death by him.
Achebe has said that it was his indignation at this latter novel that inspired the writing of Things Fall Apart. Try to see in what ways his novel answers Cary's. He also wrote a famous attack on the racism of Heart of Darkness which continues to be the subject of heated debate.
The language of the novel is simple but dignified. When the characters speak, they use an elevated diction which is meant to convey the sense of Ibo speech. This choice of language was a brilliant and innovative stroke, given that most earlier writers had relegated African characters to pidgin or inarticulate gibberish. One has the sense of listening to another tongue, one with a rich and valuable tradition.In this edition, a glossary of Ibo words and phrases is printed at the end of the book. Be sure to consult it whenever you encounter a new Ibo word or phrase.
Chapter One:Note how Achebe immediately establishes his perspective from inside Umuofia (which is Ibo for "people of the forest") in the first sentence. The wider world consists of the group of nine related villages which comprise Umuofia and certain other villages like Mbaino. What are Okonkwo's main characteristics as he is depicted in the first few chapters? List as many as you can, being as specific as possible. What were the characteristics of his father which affect him so powerfully? Kola is a stimulant, comparable to very strong tea or coffee, which is served on most social occasions in this culture. It is also one ingredient after which Coca Cola is named. Note how the ritual for sharing kola is described without being explained.
Why do you think Achebe does this? He will continue to introduce Ibo customs in this fashion throughout the novel.One becomes influential in this culture by earning titles. As with the Potlatch Indians of the American Northwest and many other peoples, this is an expensive proposition which involves the dispersing most of one's painfully accumulated wealth.
What do you think are the social functions of such a system?One of the most famous lines in the novel is "proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten." What does this mean? Palm oil is a rich yellow oil pressed from the fruit of certain palm trees and used both for fuel and cooking. Look for other proverbs as you read. Cowry shells threaded on strings were traditionally used as a means of exchange by many African cultures. The villages' distance from the sea makes them sufficiently rare to serve as money.
Cowries from as far away as Southeast Asia have been found in sub-Saharan Africa. Chapter TwoWhat effect does night have on the people? What do they fear? How do they deal with their fear of snakes at night? Palm-wine is a naturally fermented product of the palm-wine tree, a sort of natural beer. What is the cause and nature of the conflict with Mbaino? Beginning with this chapter, trace how women are related to the religious beliefs of the people. What is the purpose of the taking of Ikemefuna? Note how Achebe foreshadows the boy's doom even as he introduces him.In what ways does Okonkwo overcompensate for his father's weaknesses? In what ways is he presented as unusual for his culture? What is his attitude toward women? Why does he.