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Things Fall Apart

SETTING
Time/Place

There is no specific date for the events in the novel.

Based on these same events, however, we can surmise that the novel takes place during the early nineteenth century to the
early twentieth century.

The story occurs in Igbo territory in Nigeria.

Specifically, the plot unwinds in the villages of Umuofia, Mbaino and Mbanta.

Historical Context

British expansion had just gained relevance in the African interior.

Many of the missionaries, explorers and traders thought that the interior of Africa was a wild and dangerous place that was
inhabited by primitive people.

There was a scramble for territorial control of Africa between 1870 and 1900 for two reasons:
1. Africa was an untapped source for raw materials that could fuel the Industrial Revolution in Europe.
2. Trade could be enhanced by using Africa as a stop off port on the way to the Middle East.

This scramble opened the door to the missionary's need to 'civilize' and 'enlighten' the population of this new
colony/continent.

With the infiltration of these missionaries came churches and schools, both of which were instrumental in the colonizing
process.

The over arching result of the European infiltration was:


1. The indigenous cultural and religious practices were rejected and viewed as uncivilized and heathen.
2. Tribal practices were outlawed.
3. Local judicial systems were replaced.
4. Trading posts and monetary systems replaced barter and rural systems of trade.

Social Context

The men are dominant and the women are subservient.

Social mobility is possible through personal achievement.

Success is measured by the number of barns one owns and titles that their wealth can buy.

The society is polygamous, and social prestige is accorded to a man that can afford to support many wives.

The acquisition of a bride is a solemn event that involves ritual and ceremony.

Children are a sign of virility.

Villagers feel a sense of obligation to help each other.

Being hospitable to each other is very important.

Conversation involves ritual - palm-wine, kola nut, alligator pepper - and proverbs.

Members of the clan are prohibited from killing each other.

Political Context

Approval of the entire clan is necessary before any major decision is made.

Egwugwu, the representative of the ancestral spirits, are integral in administering tribal justice.

Ndichie, the elders of the village, have a place of honour in the clan and their advice is respected.

The priests get their power from the Oracle, and their decisions are never questioned.

Religious Context

Ordinary people gain access to the gods through the Oracle.

The gods do not show themselves physically, but speak through the priests or priestesses.

The ancestors, embodied physically in the egwugwu, are revered.

There is the belief that the ogbanje, or spirit child, returns to plague its mother, ensuring that all her children die.

Twins are taboo and placed in the 'evil forest'.

The concept of the chi, or a person's identity in the spirit land, is important in Igbo religious beliefs.

A good chi can mean success, while a bad chi can mean misfortune.

Economic Context

Sharecropping provides a financial base for young men who do not inherit a barn from their fathers, or are simply in financial
crisis.

Cowrie shells are the medium of exchange.

The family unit provides the basis for economic success.

Each individual, even the children, has a specialized role that contributes to the family's financial success.

Motifs
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the texts major themes.
Chi
The concept of chi is discussed at various points throughout the novel and is important to our understanding of Okonkwo as a tragic
hero. The chi is an individuals personal god, whose merit is determined by the individuals good fortune or lack thereof. Along the
lines of this interpretation, one can explain Okonkwos tragic fate as the result of a problematic chia thought that occurs to
Okonkwo at several points in the novel. For the clan believes, as the narrator tells us in Chapter 14, a man could not rise beyond the
destiny of his chi. But there is another understanding of chi that conflicts with this definition. In Chapter 4, the narrator relates,
according to an Igbo proverb, that when a man says yes his chisays yes also. According to this understanding, individuals will their
own destinies. Thus, depending upon our interpretation of chi, Okonkwo seems either more or less responsible for his own tragic
death. Okonkwo himself shifts between these poles: when things are going well for him, he perceives himself as master and maker of
his own destiny; when things go badly, however, he automatically disavows responsibility and asks why he should be so ill-fated.
Animal Imagery
In their descriptions, categorizations, and explanations of human behavior and wisdom, the Igbo often use animal anecdotes to
naturalize their rituals and beliefs. The presence of animals in their folklore reflects the environment in which they livenot yet
modernized by European influence. Though the colonizers, for the most part, view the Igbos understanding of the world as
rudimentary, the Igbo perceive these animal stories, such as the account of how the tortoises shell came to be bumpy, as logical
explanations of natural phenomena. Another important animal image is the figure of the sacred python. Enochs alleged killing and
eating of the python symbolizes the transition to a new form of spirituality and a new religious order. Enochs disrespect of the python
clashes with the Igbos reverence for it, epitomizing the incompatibility of colonialist and indigenous values.

Symbols
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Locusts
Achebe depicts the locusts that descend upon the village in highly allegorical terms that prefigure the arrival of the white settlers, who
will feast on and exploit the resources of the Igbo. The fact that the Igbo eat these locusts highlights how innocuous they take them to

be. Similarly, those who convert to Christianity fail to realize the damage that the culture of the colonizer does to the culture of the
colonized.
The language that Achebe uses to describe the locusts indicates their symbolic status. The repetition of words like settled and
every emphasizes the suddenly ubiquitous presence of these insects and hints at the way in which the arrival of the white settlers
takes the Igbo off guard. Furthermore, the locusts are so heavy they break the tree branches, which symbolizes the fracturing of Igbo
traditions and culture under the onslaught of colonialism and white settlement. Perhaps the most explicit clue that the locusts
symbolize the colonists is Obierikas comment in Chapter 15: the Oracle . . . said that other white men were on their way. They were
locusts. . . .
Fire
Okonkwo is associated with burning, fire, and flame throughout the novel, alluding to his intense and dangerous angerthe only
emotion that he allows himself to display. Yet the problem with fire, as Okonkwo acknowledges in Chapters 17 and 24, is that it
destroys everything it consumes. Okonkwo is both physically destructivehe kills Ikemefuna and Ogbuefi Ezeudus sonand
emotionally destructivehe suppresses his fondness for Ikemefuna and Ezinma in favor of a colder, more masculine aura. Just as fire
feeds on itself until all that is left is a pile of ash, Okonkwo eventually succumbs to his intense rage, allowing it to rule his actions until
it destroys him.

Culture of the Igbo People


In the Igbo society, a man is known for his own achievement and activeness and here a man who fails to progress beyond the junior
title is a man without status in the eyes of his people and such a man is called anagbala meaning a woman. The father of the
protagonist is called so as he attains no title. In the behaviour of the protagonist, the sense of self-respect is traceable.
Because of the great value placed on masculinity, women are, to a great extent, inferior to men in the Ibo society. Wives' main duty is
to serve their husbands. Women's value is directly tied to their ability to produce children, as shown by the fact that the birth of
children is a woman's crowning glory. Wife beating and domestic violence are very common practices. Okonkwo constantly beats
his wives for some very trivial matters such as forgetting to prepare meals for him. In one occasion, Okonkwo nearly killed Ekwefi
with his gun. Often women are merely properties of men who are even inferior to yams. The value of a man is measured by the
number of yams and wives he has, with the former bearing more importance than the latter. When a man suits a woman, he negotiates
a bride price using "a small bundle of short broomsticks," showing that women are only treated as properties and commodities in Ibo
society.
They had a sharp sense of community, The Week of Peace comes at the end of the carefree season and before the harvest and
planting season. During the Week of Peace, Okonkwo breaks the peace and is punished, as is the custom, by Ezeani, the priest of the
earth goddess. He told Okonkwo, even though his wife may have been at fault, he commits a great evil. During the Week of Peace
one has to live in complete peace no matter what the circumstances. The community fears that the evil he did could ruin the whole
clan.

Many a superstition runs through the Igbo society as we observe regarding the twin-born babies. They believe that it is a sign of evil
omen. For this reason, they cast away the twins in the Evil Forest as soon as they are born. Similarly Okonkwos fathers aliment
invites the same consequences and he is not buried with the traditional respect and rituals because a diseased person in the society is
left in the forest to die.
The lives of the Ibo people revolve around great traditions and supreme beings. The Oracle in the mountain is greatly respected and
feared by the villagers. His decisions are viewed as edicts that people who defy them will be damned. The powerful clan of Umuofia
never goes to war unless its case was accepted by the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves. After the Oracle decrees Ikemefuna's death,
Okonkwo, despite his affection for Ikemefuna, obeys and kills Ikemefuna. When Chielo the priestess, sent for by Agbala, comes to
Okonkwo's hut to get Ezinma, even the fearless Okonkwo gives way after incessantly pleading Chielo to allow Ezinma stay.
Religion has been the integral part of the Igbo society, as they believe in a supreme god, Chukwu, who has created all things and
demands obedience. In Things Fall Apart, the mask, the earth, the legends and the rituals all have significance in the history of the
Igbo culture.
First, there is the use of the mask to draw the spirit of the gods into the body of a person. A great crime in the Igbo culture is to unmask
or show disrespect to the immortality of an egwugwu, which represents an ancestral spirit. Toward the end of the novel, a Christian
convert unmasks and kills one of his own ancestral spirits. The clan weeps, for "it seemed as if the very soul of the tribe wept for a
great evil that was coming its own death."They also believe in chi a man personal god and many other gods and goddesses.
To conclude the discussion, it can be said that the Igbo society was much enriched but as soon as the colonizers came to their land,
their society, and cultural values commenced falling apart and the old way of life gets disrupted.