Things Fall Apart: Chapters 1-5

Questions from Books@Random:

1. The Ibo religious structure consists of chi–the personal god–and many other gods and goddesses. What advantages and disadvantages does such a religion provide when compared with your own?

2. The text includes many original African terms and there is a glossary provided. Do you find that this lends atmospheric authenticity, thus bringing you closer to the work? Do you find it helpful?

3. There is an issue here of fate versus personal control over destiny. For example, Okonkwo’s father is sometimes held responsible for his own actions, while at other times he is referred to as ill-fated and a victim of evil-fortune. Which do you think Okonkwo believes is true? What do you think Achebe believes is true? What do you believe?

My questions and comments:

4. What disease do you think Unoka, Okonkwo’s father, had? He’s described as having a swollen stomach and limbs, so at first I thought he was dying of starvation, but I’m not sure why the man who staggered back to his home was tied to a tree or why this sickness was “an abomination to the earth” (18).

5. I was glad for the explanation of Iboan conversations  as it explains much about the structure and dialogue of other African novels I’ve read.

“Having spoken plainly so far, Okoye said the next half a dozen sentences in proverbs. Among the Ibo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten. Okoye was a great talker and he spoke for a long time, skirting around the subject and then hitting it finally” (7).

6. What do you think of the proverbs referred to in the story? Some of them I found to be quite humorous and enlightening, but others were confusing because I’m not familiar with the culture.

7. What do you think of the story so far? Do you have any other observations to add?

My comments are going to be a bit random: I really like the story so far and already feel very interested in the characters and can sense that something terrible is going to happen. Some of the customs I find revolting–drinking wine out of a human skull, for example–but the details help me understand the violence of the tribe, in general, and Okonkwo, in particular. I am always intrigued with stories about a husband’s many wives; I feel so badly for them, but I think the rules regarding rights and responsibilities are interesting. My heart also goes out to the poor virgin who was given to the man whose wife was murdered and who Ikemefuna “never saw .  . . again” (15).

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5 thoughts on “Things Fall Apart: Chapters 1-5

  1. Natalie and all. Great questions Natalie. I loved your first three questions.
    I have read five chapters, then had my gall bladder out.
    I will post answers this evening.

    • I look forward to hearing what you think of the book thus far, and I plan on posting my responses soon. I hope you feel better quickly! I’ve been praying for you since I heard about your surgery.

  2. I did not repeat the queations., but here are resonses to 1-4 and 7. will do 5 and 6 later.

    1. (Religious structure)
    I wanted to find if there is a connection between this chi and the chi, as in Tai chi and in Eastern thought with chi meaning the life force. I am very interested in Quantum Healing and chakra balance. Brief research indicates a possibility of some ancient connection between the Chinese and African chi. However, in our novel, the chi seems more like ‘fate”, rather than a life force and balance.
    Personally, I live in a spirit filled world and always have. I know my connection with God was established before any formal instruction and before I knew of any doctrines. I define myself as a person of the Christian faith, through the lens of pre 4th century Christianity and a progressive trajectory. An advantage of the Ibo religion is that a spirit can be called upon to explain almost anything. The disadvantage of this is the lessening of personal responsibility and avoidance of ethical struggles.
    Our early chapters depict a village frozen in time, where the very formation of the town came about through engagements with “Spirits of the wild”. I try to enter into this time and place and look for what is sacred and profane.

    2.( African terms and glossary) I like the use of the original terms and often get close to the meaning from the context. I actually did not consult glossary until Natalie mentioned it. I find the glossary helpful. I found myself making notes of words to look up which were not in the glossary, such as harmattan. I think there must be some “atmospheric authority” in the language used because I almost see the story like a movie in my mind,

    3. (fate vs. personal control of destiny)

    I think Okonkwo is more fate driven and that a lot of his “work ethic” is an attempt to avoid the fate of his father. Sort of that ill fortune can not hit a moving target. Okonkwo sees others only in relation to himself. He does not see his father “whole”. I do not judge him for this.
    Achebe treats Unoka in a more balanced manner telling the reader of his gift for music and also, although Unoka has little or nothing, he is generous, sharing his wine, etc.

    I tend to “like” Unoka a little more than Okonkwo because O, in spite of his success, seems quite harsh toward others. In my lifetime, I have come to believe that there is a balance between fate/ill fortune and control over one’s destiny. Many things are placed before us that we can not control. However, we get to control our reaction to what is placed before us and to make decisions that make our lives better.

    My questions and comments:

    4. (Unoka’s disease)
    I think this is cancer/ tumor and edema and/or even something like liver failure from all that palm wine, which would also lead to edema. I think the villagers would be frightened because of lack of scientific knowledge about what was happening to Unoka, perhaps even thinking it could be catching.

    I like the writng. I am already disturbed by the story. I want to get on with the story and sit and read the book and then re-read for the study questions.

  3. 1. The obvious disadvantage in a belief system containing multiple gods is that a person must be concerned with pleasing and/or avoiding the wrath of all the gods at the same time. That’s just way too complicated. And some of the gods’ wishes might conflict, causing a person to please one god while displeasing another. I believe this kind of system would lead people to become more fearful and superstitious.

    I guess an advantage would stem from assigning undesireable events to the whims of other people’s gods and desireable events to your own personal god. There’s no reason to wrestle with the problem of a good god allowing bad things to happen, because there’s always some other god you can blame. The gods then become rather two-dimensional and very easy to understand.

    2. I didn’t know about the glossary until it was mentioned here, so I can’t say that I’ve found it helpful. However, I am a fantasy fan, and as such I’m used to reading books rich in the vocabulary of other languages (even though fantasy usually involves a fabricated language). I am not bothered by the foreign words in the book; I have read other books where there are so many foreign words that it becomes a distraction, but I can generally figure things out from the context in this book.

    3. I think Okonkwo learned from his father’s laziness and chose to take control of his own destiny. He perhaps believes that he can overcome his own fate by his hard work. Achebe, on the other hand, possibly will be using this book to show that hard work will not allow a person to overcome what the god(s) have already decided for him/her.

    As far as my personal opinion, it looks like there are two options from the question: we are either responsible for our own actions or we are victims of evil fortune. I believe that we are absolutely responsible for our own actions, but that ultimately God is still in control of what happens in this world, and sometimes He chooses to allow “bad” things to happen to us, in spite of whatever hard work or preventative techniques we may have employed, so that He will be given the glory and we will be drawn to Him. This is a big, deep question that cannot adequately be answered here – the apparent disparity between man’s free will and God’s sovereignty.

    4. Hmm. I’ve been watching too much House to be able to answer this easily. I am curious, though.

    5. Yes, the explanations were quite helpful. I have read other works where the characters speak in similar fashion, and it can be frustrating to try to wrap my Western mind around this type of conversation.

    6. Again, I agree. Some of the proverbs are easily understandable and some need to follow a lesson in African culture. The proverbs remind me of my Russian classes in high school; my Russian teacher would teach us one proverb per week and explain the meaning of it and the English equivalent.

    7. I am interested in this story as well. I haven’t read many stories set in Africa, so I am looking forward to learning more about that culture through this book.

  4. 1. The Ibo tribe’s gods reminded me of the early Greek, Roman, and German gods with a different god for every season, act of nature, or ritual of life. I think it would be scary and unsettling to operate under such a system, because you would never know if the gods were pleased with you. I treasure the stability of trusting in an unchanging God Who has revealed Himself in written Word, so we can know what He expects of us. I am very thankful the sacrificial system is over, because of the violence and lack of permanent appeasement it brought, and that Christ made the final and complete sacrifice.

    2. I like the use of dialect and words from the Iboan language because I think it helps me understand the culture better. Usually with a book like thos, I look up a lot of words at the beginning or read through the glossary and then I just draw from memory or context clues for the rest of the book.

    3. It seems like Okonkwo is trying to change his destiny and consciously be different from his father, but in the end capricious fate decides what will happen to him.

    I personally believe God is in control of everything that happens to us. We have been granted some measure of choice in our lives, but ultimately everything is in God’s control.

    4. I like Aunt Jane’s answer that the disease could be cancer because that would explain the physical deterioration. I think it is sad how the tribe separted out those who were so sick rather than caring for them, bit I guess it is logical since they seem to care so little about human life.

    5-7. I like the parables and the circular structure to the story because it reflects the speech and customs of the people.

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