Things Fall Apart
By Chinua Achebe
1. Why did Achebe choose to take the title of his novel, Things Fall Apart, from William Butler Yeats' poem "The Second Coming"? 2. What is the narrator's point of view and what values are important to the narrator? 3. Achebe presents details of daily village life in Umuofia, as well as details concerning the Igbo culture. Describe the setting of the novel. 4. What is chi? Explain the importance of chi in shaping Okonkwo's destiny. 5. Obierika is a foil for Okonkwo. That is, when compared to Okonkwo, the contrast between the two characters emphasizes the distinctive characteristics of Okonkwo. Compare the two characters — Obierika and Okonkwo. 6. Achebe suggests that Igbo culture is dynamic (constantly changing). Find evidence in the novel to support this notion. 7. What is the significance of Nwoye's Christian name, Isaac? 8. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe includes stories from Igbo culture and tradition, proverbs, and parables. What is the significance of Achebe's integration of African literary forms with that of Western literary forms? 9. Achebe resents the stereotype of African cultures that is presented in literature, such as Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Identify instances in Things Fall Apart that portray variations in African cultures. 10. What is the role of women in the novel?
11. Explain the advantages and disadvantages of the social structure portrayed in Things Fall Apart. For example, the culture is polygamous; the husband, wives, and children live in their own compound; children are cared for communally. 12. Explain why you think Okonkwo kills himself.
13. In your opinion, what contributes most to things falling apart in Umuofia? Explain. 14. How are the womanly or feminine qualities of the Igbo culture important to its survival? 15. Compare Mr. Brown and Reverend Smith. How does the black and white thinking of Reverend Smith contribute to Umuofia's downfall? What would have prevented Umuofia's downfall?
Use of Language in Things Fall Apart
Writers in Third World countries that were formerly colonies of European nations debate among themselves about their duty to write in their native language rather than in the language of their former colonizer. Some of these writers argue that writing in their native language is imperative because cultural subtleties and meanings are lost in translation. For these writers, a "foreign" language can never fully describe their culture.
Choosing a Language
Achebe maintains the opposite view. In a 1966 essay reprinted in his book Morning Yet on Creation Day, he says that, by using English, he presents "a new voice coming out of Africa, speaking of African experience in a world-wide language." He recommends that the African writer use English "in a way that brings out his message best without altering the language to the extent that its value as a medium of international exchange will be lost. [The writer] should aim at fashioning out an English which is at once universal and able to carry his peculiar experience." Achebe accomplishes this goal by innovatively introducing Igbo language, proverbs, metaphors, speech rhythms, and ideas into a novel written in English. Achebe agrees, however, with many of his fellow African writers on one point: The African writer must write for a social purpose. In contrast to Western writers and artists who create art for art's sake, many African writers create works with one mission in mind — to reestablish their own national culture in the postcolonial era. In a 1964 statement, also published in Morning Yet on Creation Day, Achebe comments that African people did not hear of culture for the first time from Europeans. . . . their societies were not mindless, but frequently had a philosophy of great depth and value and beauty, . . . they had poetry, and above all, they had dignity. It is this dignity that African people all but lost during the colonial...
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