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Points to Ponder

Achebe's title Things Fall Apart comes from a poem by W. B. Yeats called "The Second Coming." (The first four lines of the poem are: "Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hew the falconer / Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.) It's pretty obvious how the words Achebe chose are relevant, but how does the rest of the poem apply to his novel? What is the novelist's attitude to change, seen through the lens of this poem? Do you see any irony in the relationship between the poem's Christian language and the missionary presence in Umuofia? At what point does the disintegration of Umuofia society seem ineluctable?

Achebe's language in this novel is a mixture of English, Ibo proverbs and untranslated words, and of course a title taken from the poem "The Second Coming" by Yeats. What is the effect of this mixture? What might this suggest about Achebe's relationship to European literature? What do you make of the switch in point of view from Okonkwo and his family to the British Commissioner that occurs on the last page of the book? What are the implications of the relationship between the book that the Commissioner projects writing on the last page, and the novel Achebe has written?

In many ways Okonkwo resembles the hero of a Greek epic. What is his tragic flaw? Is Okonkwo representative of his society-how much of his story could be read as symbolic? Is Okonkwo a sympathetic or unsympathetic character? Okonkwo often fails to reconcile the male and female virtues as they are understood in Umuofia society, and that plays into the fact that all the disasters which happen to him result from his offenses against the mother goddess, the earth. How does this relate to the larger plot in the novel, and to Okonkwo's final end?

According to Chinua Achebe, the African writer must be involved in the task of decolonializing the minds of his or her fellow Africans in the struggle against (neo)colonialism. In his essay Hopes and Impediments, he writes: "The writer cannot be excused from the task of re-education and regeneration that must be done.I for one would not wish to be excused. 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." In your view, how well does Achebe succeed in this goal?

What are the roles of women in this novel? Igbo thought conspicuously uses a metaphor of masculinity and femininity in its principle of balance-male and female categorize farming crops, types of crimes in the society, kinship structures, story-telling, religious rites, and of course social roles. Women are treated like property in this society, and yet the most important goddess of the society, Ani the earth goddess, is female. Ekwefi, Okonkwo's second wife, is able to desert her first husband and marry Okonkwo for love. What do you make of these contradictions? Is Okonkwo's fall in some way an indicator of the perils of an African machismo-a lack of a moderating female principle-at play in the society?

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Chapters 1 and 2
Chapters 3 and 4
Chapters 5 and 6
Chapters 7 and 8
Chapters 9 and 10
Chapters 11 and 12
Chapter 13
Chapters 14 and 15
Chapters 16 and 17
Chapters 18 and 19
Chapters 20 and 21
Chapters 22 and 23
Chapters 24 and 25
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25


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