Things Fall Apart Book Summary - Things Fall Apart Book explained in key points
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Things Fall Apart summary

Chinua Achebe

A Classic on the Reality of Change and Colonialism in Nigeria

(9 ratings)
7 mins

What is Things Fall Apart about?

Things Fall Apart (1958) was the first in the African Writers Series of 350 books published between 1962 and 2003 which provided an international audience for many African writers. It tells the story of a respected leader of an Igbo community and the problems faced by the community as white men arrive and bring with them their laws and religion.

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    Things Fall Apart
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    Part one

    When Okonkwo was just 18 years old, he brought honor to his village by winning a wrestling match against Amalinze the Cat who’d been unbeaten for 7 years. Now, 20 or more years later, Okonkwo is wealthy and well respected even beyond the nine villages of the Umuofia clan.

    Although Okonkwo’s father died ten years ago, he’s still haunted by his memory. His father was a spendthrift who’d spend any money he’d get on palm wine. When he died, he still owed many of his neighbors large sums of money. Luckily, among the Umuofia a man is judged on his own merit, not that of his father. Consequently, Okonkwo has become a wealthy farmer and an accomplished warrior. He also has three wives and eight children. But he’s worried about his eldest son, 12-year-old Nwoye, who he thinks is lazy. He tries to correct this by nagging and beating Nwoye constantly.

    One morning, every Umuofia man is summoned to the marketplace. Some 10,000 men learn that one of the married women of Umuofia has been murdered by a neighboring clan, the Mbaino. To avoid war, the Mbaino agree to provide a 15-year-old boy and a virgin as compensation. The boy, Ikemefuna, belongs to the whole Umuofia clan, and the virgin replaces the murdered wife. Okonkwo is asked to look after the boy. In turn, he asks his first wife, Nwoye’s mother, to take him in.

    Ikemefuna is very afraid. He’s been transported to the Umuofia but doesn’t even understand why. He tries to run away a few times but doesn’t know where to go. Nwoye’s mother is kind to him and eventually, he gets over his fear. He even becomes popular in the household. Soon Ikemefuna and Nwoye become inseparable. Okonkwo also grows fond of Ikemefuna but never shows his affection – to do so would be a sign of weakness. Ikemefuna begins to call him father and accompanies Okonkwo to meetings and feasts.

    A few weeks after Ikemefuna’s arrival, the Week of Peace begins. During that week, Okonkwo’s youngest wife goes to a friend’s house to have her hair plaited but then fails to return in time to cook Okonkwo’s dinner. He’s angry and when she finally returns he beats her heavily. He’s forgotten it’s the Week of Peace and even when he’s reminded by his other wives, he continues to beat her.

    That evening, Ezeani, the priest of the earth goddess calls on Okonkwo and tells him that he has done a great evil and that it could bring ruin to the whole clan. To make amends and ensure the earth goddess doesn’t punish them by stopping their crops from growing, Okonkwo must make a sacrifice. He does as he’s asked but has also lost the respect of the clan. They talk of nothing else for the whole Week of Peace.

    Years have passed since Ikemefuna joined Okonkwo’s household. He’s become part of the family and Okonkwo is pleased that he’s also aided Nwoye’s development greatly. But the peace bringing their family together only lasts for so long. Unexpectedly, Ezeudu, the oldest man in Umuofia calls on Okonkwo and asks to speak to him in private. He tells him that Umuofia has decided that Ikemefuna must be killed and that Okonkwo mustn’t take part in the killing. It’s the Oracle of the Hills and Caves that has pronounced it, he says.

    The next day, elders from the nine villagers call on Okonkwo and talk in hushed tones. Later, Okonkwo talks to Ikemefuna and tells him he’s going to be taken back to his village. Nwoye overhears, breaks down into tears, and is given a heavy beating. Ikemefuna can’t believe the news because the idea of his former home has become faint and distant. 

    The day after, the nine men return. Okonkwo and Ikemefuna set off with them and silence descends over the compound. At the start of the journey the men laugh and joke, but as they leave Umuofia they too fall silent. Some distance away, one of the men raises his matchet and lays a blow on Ikemefuna. Okonkwo looks away, but Ikemefuna cries out as he runs toward his father. Okonkwo doesn’t hesitate, he draws his own matchet and, so as not to appear weak, strikes Ikemefuna down.

    When Okonkwo returns home, Nwoye senses that Ikemefuna is dead. Okonkwo, for his part in the killing, falls into a deep depression. But a few days later he visits his closest friend Obierika, and after some conversation to distract him from what he’s done, he begins to feel like himself once more.

    Time passes until one day the ekwe – the drums – beat out a message: Ezeudu is dead. Okonkwo remembers that the last time he saw the old man was when Ezeudu told him not to have any hand in the death of Ikemefuna. A shiver runs down his spine.

    Ezeudu’s funeral is attended by the whole clan. Drums beat, guns and cannons are fired. The men cut down trees, kill animals, and jump on walls and roofs. It’s a funeral worthy of a noble warrior. When the evening comes, the drums and the shooting intensify, and there’s a clashing of matchets as warriors salute each other. As darkness approaches and the time for the burial is near, there’s a cry and shouts of horror. Suddenly, there’s silence. In the center of the crowd lies the lifeless body of Ezeudu’s 16-year-old son. Okonkwo’s gun exploded and a piece of shrapnel has gone straight to the boy’s heart.

    Okonkwo flees as the clan law forbids the killing of another clansman. His punishment is to be banished for seven years, after which time he can return. He gathers his things and his family together and they leave before dawn. When day breaks, men from Ezeudu’s quarter storm Okonkwo’s compound. They burn the houses, kill all the animals, and destroy the barn. They need to purge the land polluted by the killing of their clansman.

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    About the Author

    Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian novelist, poet, and critic. His first novel, Things Fall Apart has sold over ten million copies and has been translated into 45 languages.

    Who should read Things Fall Apart?

    • Lovers of great story-telling
    • Anthropology students interested in understanding the cultural and religious practices of the Igbo people of Nigeria
    • History buffs interested in African history and the impact of colonialism

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