So, what did you think of this book? Did it meet your expectations? Would you recommend it to others?
Questions from Books@Random:
- Okonkwo rejects his father’s way and is, in turn, rejected by Nwoye. Is there something more here than mere generational conflict?
- The lives of Ikemefuma and Okonkwo can be deemed parallel to the extent that they both have fathers whose behavior is judged unacceptable. What do you think the contributing factors are to the divergent paths their fate takes them on?
- The District Commissioner is going to title his work The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Niger (p. 209). What do you interpret from this to be his perception of Okonkwo and the people of Umuofia? And what do you imagine this augurs in the ensuing volumes in Achebe’s trilogy of Nigerian life?
- What is the event that causes things to fall apart? Is any one person or event to blame for things falling apart?
- How did you respond to Okonkwo’s suicide? Did you expect it or did was it a surprise?
I was interested in reading about the spread of Anglicanism from the tribe’s perspective. I’ve read many biographies that detail the missionary’s perspective when settling in a foreign land and learning about the culture and religion of the native people. But I’ve never read about the native person’s view of the “white man’s” religion.
Questions from Books@Random:
- Our own news media pre-programs us to view the kind of culture clash represented here as being purely racial in basis. Does Achebe’s work impress as being primarily concerned with black versus white tensions? If not, what else is going on here?
- Certain aspects of the clan’s religious practice, such as the mutilation of a dead child to prevent its spirit from returning, might impress us as being barbaric. Casting an honest eye on our own religious practices, which ones might appear barbaric or bizarre to an outsider?
- Okonkwo rejects his father’s way and is, in turn, rejected by Nwoye. Do you feel this pattern evolves inevitably through the nature of the father/son relationship? Or is there something more being here than mere generational conflict?
The plot of the story advances greatly in these chapters and significant events occur in each story line.: Ezinma is healed, Obierika’s daughters is married, Ezeudu and his son die, and Okonkwo is exiled.
Questions from Books@Random:
- The villagers believe–or pretend to believe–that the “Supreme Court” of the nine egwugwu are ancestral spirits. In fact, they are men of the village in disguise. What does this say about the nature of justice in general, and in this village in particular?
- Of one of the goddesses, it is said: “It was not the same Chielo who sat with her in the market…Chielo was not a woman that night” (p. 106). What do you make of this culture where people can be both themselves and also assume other personas? Can you think of any parallels in your own world?
- Nature plays an integral role in the mythic and real life of the Ibo villagers, much more so than in our own society. Discuss ways in which their perception of animals–such as the cat, the locust, the python–differ from your own, and how these different beliefs shape our behavior.
- Of Ezinma, Okonkwo thinks: “She should have been a boy” (p. 64). Why is it necessary to the story that Okonkwo’s most favored child be a girl?
- What do you think of the marriage ceremony and the dowry described in chapter 12. What do the traditions tell us about the Ibo society? How do those traditions compare or contrast to traditional American marriage ceremonies?
- Most of the women are referred to by their relationship to men, for example, Nwoye’s mother and Obierika’s wife. Why do you think that is true? Ezinma is the only woman consistently called by her name and not her relationship to a man. Why do you think that is so? And do you think it is important to the story?
I’ve been incredibly busy with school work and yearbook, so I’ve fallen terribly behind in posting questions for Things Fall Apart. So, today I’m going to post the questions in 5 chapter increments for the rest of the book.
If you finished the book while I was buried in work, you can go ahead and answer the questions at your leisure, and I will catch up soon! I’m only a couple of chapters away from the end and will answer the questions too.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the book, even with my erratic posts about it. I’ve really enjoyed the book and have learned a lot.
There’s only one question this week from the discussion questions at Books@Random. This section serves to advance the plot and several stories have begun, but we haven’t found out their conclusions yet. Even with the sad story of Ikemefuma, I don’t think we’ve seen the full consequences of his death yet.
The threads of the story are related in a circular fashion, as opposed to a conventional linear time pattern. What effect does this impose on the tale of Ikemefuma? What effect does it have on the story of Ezinma?
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).
You can find a more detailed overview of the book and biography at LitLovers, but I thought these comments from the discussion guide published by Random House would be a good, concise introduction to the book.
Biography of Chinua Acebe (from Books@Random)
Chinua Achebe was born in Nigeria in 1930. He was raised in the large village of Ogidi, one of the first centers of Anglican missionary work in Eastern Nigeria, and is a graduate of University College, Ibadan.
His early career in radio ended abruptly in 1966, when he left his post as Director of External Broadcasting in Nigeria during the national upheaval that led to the Biafran War. He was appointed Senior Research Fellow at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and began lecturing widely abroad.
From 1972 to 1976, and again in 1987 to 1988, Mr. Achebe was a Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and also for one year at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.
Cited in the London Sunday Times as one of the 1,000 “Makers of the Twentieth Century,” for defining “a modern African literature that was truly African” and thereby making “a major contribution to world literature,” Mr. Achebe has published novels, short stories, essays, and children’s books. His volume of poetry, Christmas in Biafra, written during the Biafran War, was the joint winner of the first Commonwealth Poetry Prize. His novel Arrow of God was winner of the New Statesman-Jock Campbell Award, and Anthills of the Savannah was a finalist for the 1987 Booker Prize in England.
Often mentioned as a leading candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Mr. Achebe holds an Honorary Fellowship of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, as well as more than twenty honorary doctorates from universities in England, Scotland, the U.S., Canada, and Nigeria. He is also the recipient of Nigeria’s highest award for intellectual achievement, the Nigerian National Merit Award.
About the book (from Books@Random)
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe’s first novel, was published in 1958. Worldwide, there are eight million copies in print in fifty different languages. This stunning work, which John Updike calls “a great book, that bespeaks a great, brave, kind human spirit,” is often compared to the great Greek tragedies. It concerns itself with the classic struggle between rigid traditionalism and the winds of change. Specifically, it is about the effects of British colonialism on a small Nigerian village at the turn of the century. A simple story of a “strong man” whose life is dominated by fear and anger, it is written with remarkable economy and subtle irony. Uniquely and richly African, at the same time it reveals Achebe’s keen awareness of the human qualities common to men of all times and places.
- What books have you read that are by African authors or that are set in Africa?
- What did you like/dislike about the book(s) by African authors?
- What are you anticipating about this book?
I received my copy of Things Fall Apart in the mail at the end of last week, but I know some book club members haven’t gotten their books yet. I think those who have a book want to get started with reading and I need to begin posting questions.
Here’s the plan for right now, but I am definitely open to suggestions. Please bear with me; I’ve never organized a book club before!
This week, I plan to write a short bio of the author, Chinua Achebe, and research the setting of the book. The book has 25 short chapters of just a few pages each, so I’m going to post discussion questions for a group of 5 chapters every Saturday for 5 weeks.
Because everyone reads at a different pace and because you are all adults who are not in one of my English classes and therefore subject to reading quizzes on a specific date, I am going to create a new tab on my blog for the book club; you can feel free to read at your own pace and respond to the questions as you come to the chapters. The posts for the book club will show up in real time on my blog’s home page, but if you miss them, you can just click on the tab to see the week’s questions and discussion.
Sound good? I’m looking forward to reading this book with you.