Things Fall Apart Essay
Chinua Achebe says in his essay “The Novelist As Teacher,” that he writes novels such as Things Fall Apart to help people better understand that African culture prior to European contact was as rich, varied, and functional as any other culture, including European culture.
“I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones I set in the past) did more than just teach my readers [Africans] that their past – with all its imperfections – was not one long night of savagery from which the Europeans acting on God's behalf delivered them,” he writes.
In what two ways does Achebe show through Things Fall Apart that the Igbo have a culture that is rich, complex, varied, and functional? Analyze how Achebe shows this to be true.
The Igbo possess cultural traits which strengthen their society. Discuss a couple traits and practices which make the Igbo culture a strong one in Things Fall Apart. Analyze how these cultural practices and traits make the Igbo strong.
The Igbo possess cultural traits which one could argue lessen the strength of their society. Discuss a couple traits and cultural practices which prove destructive to the Igbo in Things Fall Apart. Analyze how these cultural traits and practices diminish the strength of the Igbo.
Consider cultural topics such as: the ceremonies the Igbo have, their religion/system of belief, the way they govern their society, their justice system, the structure of their families, the ways in which they resolve conflicts.Write a four-paragraph essay (introduction, two body paragraphs [one on each cultural topic], conclusion) using specific references to all relevant sections in the book. Your two body paragraphs must deal with any of the cultural topics in bold above or others of your own creation.
Use blue or black ink pen
Use one side of the notebook paper
Leave one-inch margins on right and left sides of paper
Do not write a rough draft.
Take 10-15 minutes to write an outline of your ideas.
Refer to specific portions of the book.
Don’t simply summarize the book. Use your examples to answer the essay question.
Writing an Analysis on Literature
Open your intro with one of the following methods (hooks):
- Summarize your subject very briefly. Include the title, author, and the type of book. This can be done with a what-and-how statement
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of the most well-known novels of the Romantic era. The story is one that has seeped into the popular imagination . . .
- Start with a quotation from the book and then comment upon its importance (think in terms of the focus of your analysis).
- Begin with an explanation of the author’s purpose and how well you think he or she achieves this purpose.
- Open with a few general statements about life that relate to the focus of your analysis.
Chaos often rules on the fringes of society . . . . .
- Begin with a general statement about the type of literature you are analyzing. Then discuss your subject within this context.
The best science fiction always seems believable and logical within the context of the story line. This certainly is true in . . . .
After this hook, transition into your thesis wherein you answer the essay question and set up how you will prove this thesis. (This “how you will prove” part will determine the order and content of your body paragraphs.) -- from Write for College: A Student Handbook (Write Source)
The body paragraphs
Begin with a topic sentence for each body paragraph that acts as a thesis for the entire paragraph. Use a forecast sentence if appropriate and helpful for your reader.
Develop your analysis through the use of specific details (summary of plot points or analysis of characters, etc.) and direct quotations from the text (with page numbers). Direct quotations should be set up with your own writing or incorporated into your own writing. See sample student paper below.
End body paragraphs with a concluding sentence that summarizes your main point.
Tie important points together and make a final statement about your analysis.
Sample student paper
(Thesis, from the intro) Chinua Achebe depicts loyalty and the ability to show respect as the two most praise-worthy among the many diverse qualities presented in his novel Things Fall Apart.
(First part of first body paragraph) It is apparent by his writing that Achebe admires loyalty in a human being. For example, the character Obierika proves himself loyal to his friend Okonkwo when he visits him in exile and sells Okonkwo’s yams for him. This shows that although most of Umuofia had turned its back on Okonkwo, Obierika is still loyal enough to stand by his friend. Achebe shows his admiration for this quality through the tone of his writing. Upon Obierika’s arrival to visit his friend in exile, Achebe writes that “Okonkwo was very happy to receive his friend.” (p. 136) Achebe also writes that all of Okonkwo’s family who are with him in exile – including his wives, children, cousins and their wives – are delighted to know that Obierika has come to visit. This shows that a small visit could mean a lot, and the loyalty it exhibits is obviously a trait that the author shows his admiration for through the tone in his writing. . . . Another example of Achebe’s obvious admiration for loyalty is when Okonkwo’s daughter Ezinma breaks the 28-day rule and leaves her groom’s home when her father is arrested. Knowing the consequences of breaking Umuofian law or custom, young Ezinma still chooses to do so because of her loyalty to the well-being of her father. It is obvious through this example that Achebe admires loyalty because Ezinma’s actions would generally be considered noble and praiseworthy. Although Okonkwo says several times, “I wish she were a boy” (p. 173), Ezinma still breaks the law when her father is in need. Because it is considered ethical to put family as a priority in life, it is obvious that Achebe admires Ezinma’s loyalty to her father. . . . Some of these actions taken by the loyal Obierika, Ezinma, and Mr. Brown show that Achebe considers the quality of loyalty an admirable one.
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Change is Bad: Okonkwo’s Resistance to Change in Things Fall Apart
The character of Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart was driven by fear, a fear of change and losing his self-worth. He needed the village of Umuofia, his home, to remain untouched by time and progress because its system and structure were the measures by which he assigned worth and meaning in his own life. Okonkwo required this external order because of his childhood and a strained relationship with his father, which was also the root of his fears and subsequent drive for success. When the structure of Umuofia changed, as happens in society, Okonkwo was unable to adapt his methods of self-evaluation and ways of functioning in the world; the life he was determined to live could not survive a new environment and collapsed around him.
From an early age, Okonkwo was ashamed of his father, Unoka, who was unable even to feed his family. The unpredictability of receiving enough food at a young age was enough to inspire fear and embarrassment in Okonkwo who associated this embarrassment with his father and was given further justification for these feelings when he went out into Umuofia, discovering that the other villagers held similar opinions of Unoka. When he was old enough, Okonkwo began farming his own yams because “he had to support his mother and two sisters […] And supporting his mother also meant supporting his father” (25). Okonkwo’s self-reliance was admired, valued in the community where “age was respected […] but achievement was revered” (12); this admiration gave him feelings of security, and the respect of his peers pushed him towards greater self-respect, distancing him from his father. The security and respect became related in his mind as he viewed his acceptance in the community as his life’s goal and Okonkwo stretched it to the point of hyperbole in an effort to impress the villagers with the example of manhood he embodied. If he was accepted in the community, he was safe, respected, and successful, unlike his father, and his life had meaning.
Okonkwo continually rejected the ways of his father, who was deeply indebted to other members of Umuofia, holding no titles, to the point where Okonkwo’s “whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness” (16). He transferred his fears into the context of Umuofia and the traits that society valued, but what was really the driving force in his decisions “was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father” (17). The values of Umuofia resembled the polar opposite of what Unoka was and Okonkwo twisted his motivations around in his mind and presented them to himself and the community as derived from Umuofia’s traditions. From this delusion, Okonkwo established his ultimate goal of becoming a revered member of the village, possessing many titles, and achieving anything necessary displaying his prominence in the community.
The disparity between Okonkwo’s true motivations and his warped motivations lead Okonkwo to behave in ways which shocked other members of Umuofia with his apparent disregard for others, but which made sense to him as he saw weakness and Unoka in alternatives. When Ezeudu, a respected elder in Umuofia, informed Okonkwo that the village Oracle called for the killing of Okonkwo’s adopted son Ikemefuna, he asked Okonkwo not to take part. However, Okonkwo not only accompanied them, but he struck the killing blow as Ikemefuna called out for his protection. When Okonkwo is later questioned by his friend, Obierika, about not participating, Okonkwo became defensive saying, “‘You sound as if you question the authority and decision of the Oracle, who said he should die’” (64). Okonkwo associated participating in carrying out the village’s order with the strength valued by the community, disregarding his own relationship with the boy. Umuofia’s customs and traditions, as he saw them, outweighed his personal feelings in the situation. Okonkwo was mistaken in what the values were in this situation as they failed to comply with his real desire to partake in killing Ikemefuna, doing what his father would not have done. When he beat his wife during the Week of Peace, he did so because he didn’t wish to appear permissive the way Unoka was, but when the village chastised him, he repented accordingly, reconciling and accepting the blame, though he only regretted his actions as far as they cost him some of his standing in the community.
The Ibo ways faded through the novel, arriving at a head in Part Two, bringing the downfall of Okonkwo. There are signs in the novel of the changing mentality and questioning of Ibo ways, such as the abandonment of twins in the forest, by members of the community. During a discussion between Obierika and Okonkwo regarding the inconveniences of the ozo title, Obierika brought up that the title had lost value in other villages. Okonkwo became offended by Obierika’s joking saying “‘I think it is good that our clan holds the ozo title in high esteem […] In those other clans you speak of, ozo is so low that every beggar takes it’’’ (67). Okonkwo’s wording is key. Unoka was a beggar, was a valueless person to Okonkwo, and he held no titles in Umuofia society. If a beggar were allowed to take a title in Umuofia, it would disrupt the foundation on which Okonkwo had built and led his life; this response foreshadowed Okonkwo’s reaction to the larger events of the end of the novel.
When Okonkwo accidentally killed another member of Umuofia during a funeral ceremony, he made no argument about the seven years of banishment that was the standard punishment though it did pain him to leave. After Okonkwo and his family leave, Obierika, who is described as “a man who thought about things” (117) mourned the loss of Okonkwo and questioned the reasoning behind the punishment for an inadvertent crime such as the one Okonkwo committed. This implies that Okonkwo does not think about the traditions he follows; in fact, he does not think about them so long as they continue to sustain his internalized hatred of everything his father stood for.
In living with his mother’s family in the Mbanta village, he initially felt that all was lost, and despaired when he was deprived of Umuofia and the opportunity to fulfill his “great passion – to become one of the lords of the clan” (121). He was distracted from his loss as all were distracted by the arrival and imposition of the white men and their ways. His initial reaction is similar to those around him and though he disapproves of them, they are ignored. When they welcome Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye, as a convert, it upsets him at first, “but on further thought he told himself that Nwoye was not worth fighting for” (142). He’d always seen so many aspects of Unoka in Nwoye and by dismissing him thus, Okonkwo continued his rebellion against his father. He managed to convince himself that when the time came for him to return to Umuofia, he would be back where he belonged, in a society that still knew what it believed in, and he would go back to working his way up in the village. He was convinced that Umuofia would be able to handle the nuisance of the white men swiftly and looked forward to being a part of it.
When Okonkwo returned to find that this was not the case, that instead of fighting, “it seemed as if the very soul of the tribe wept for a great evil that was coming – its own death” (172), he once again despaired and ended his life. The white men attracted enough members of Umuofia, specifically those who occupied the lowest positions and those who questioned the previous order, to severely weaken the village’s effectiveness and conviction. Those valued by the new institutions were those like Unoka. The new ways of Umuofia were too radically different from what Oknonkwo had established as his path in his youth. Though suicide went against the Umuofian traditions, it hadn’t really been about those traditions on the most basic level, and Okonkwo did one last thing that his father would never have had the strength of conviction to do. In a way, Okonkwo’s suicide really did conform to the ways of Umuofia; the true Umuofia that Okonkwo had been able to identify with and that he sought validation from had killed itself with its pliability towards the new ways.
Change, however, is inevitable, and those species and people unable to adapt to new circumstances are left behind. For Okonkwo to survive, he would have needed to reconstruct his beliefs but instead self-destructed; based on how passionate and determined Okonkwo was in his early life, his resistance to the change was complete and irreversible. It was his final downfall. As the Ibo ways changed, Okonkwo resisted such transformation and died with the old traditions.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991.
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