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Things Fall Apart (The African Trilogy, #1)
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New School Classics- 1900-1999 > Things Fall Apart - SPOILERS

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Christine | 1217 comments This thread is for discussion of specific content of our February 2015 New School group read, Things Fall Apart. You may post spoilers here!


Janet (goodreadscomjanetj) | 852 comments As a resource portraying the culture of the Igbo and as a critique of colonialism this book was very thought provoking. Reverend Smith and the District Commissioner were both so shortsighted. Perhaps Mr. Brown(clever name) could have merged the two cultures with better success.


Sarah I absolutely loathe Okonkwo. I will be so glad to be done with this.


Nathan | 421 comments Sarah wrote: "I absolutely loathe Okonkwo. I will be so glad to be done with this."

I agree. He has a few positive qualities (like being hard-working) that seem to get him a pass from everyone around him for being an otherwise awful human being.

Early on, I really struggled with how neutral the narration is. Achebe steps back and allows the reader to pass his/her own judgement on Okonkwo and the events of the story. AND he does it without making the narrative feel distant. It's an impressive feat.

My favorite part of the novel was probably the food. I'm a bread baker and I also run a greenhouse on a farm, so I found all the uses of plants very interesting. I liked being able to see how the plants were processed and presented and how they impacted the social interactions between the characters. Palm wine, yams, cassava, alligator pepper, kola nuts...all that stuff was cool.


Sandy | 57 comments A rather sad book since Okonkwo is so stubborn, never learns or grows. The killing of the boy that lived with the family was very disturbing.


Sarah It seems like even the fact that he was hard working had more to do with his pride and arrogance than any actual virtue.

Did anyone else think the suicide was weird? He seems like the type who would have thought he was right in his behavior. I find it hard to believe that someone with his pride and arrogance would ever commit suicide. I was suspicious of the friends until Obieriko (sp?) became so emotional about it.


Janet (goodreadscomjanetj) | 852 comments I think his pride and arrogance was tied with his status in the community and once he lost that because the rest of the community did not stand with him he could not, by himself, accept the consequences of what he had done.


Sarah It didn't make sense to me based on his character but I think part of this is that I can't completely comprehend the culture. Culture has such a huge impact on our behavior sometimes.


Christine | 1217 comments Sarah wrote: "Did anyone else think the suicide was weird?"

Initially I found it surprising, but after I thought about it, the suicide kind of made sense to me. Okonkwo had spent his whole life striving to make himself into a person of status and a person he thought would be respected by his village. By the end, it seemed that everything Okonkwo valued about himself had lost its value to his tribe.

Some of the events in the life of the tribe were a fascinating portrait of their culture and religion, but others were confusing to me. For example, I don't understand the significance of Ezinma being taken one night by the priestess. Did anyone understand what that was about?


Christine | 1217 comments Even though we all know how the broader story of European colonialism in Africa goes, the final paragraph of this book was so depressing to me. I have read that Achebe chose to write this book in English as a sort of response to books like Heart of Darkness - I will definitely be adding that book to my TBR, as well as Achebe's other books in this trilogy.


Sarah I don't know about the priestess. I initially read it as a method to show the parent's concern and the different ways it manifested. I didn't think about why.


Janet (goodreadscomjanetj) | 852 comments I did not understand the part about Ezinma and the priestess either. As Sarah said, it was a good device to show that Okonkwo did care about her but that could have been shown in other ways. There must be some significance to it.


Sarah Part of what I struggled with in this book is that it would suddenly go back in time. Then it would leap forward with no warning. Anyway, the scene with the priestess was one of those backward leaps and it involved the little girl getting sick. They were carrying for her attentively then the priestess comes and there's that whole strange sequence of events, then the girl comes home, and if I remember right that was the end? It never said how she was healed so maybe that was the purpose of the scene.


Sarah Yes, I just read an article that talked about how, because of her ogbanje status, this was supposed to represent her last trip to the spirit world. So I think it was a kind of healing journey that would have permanently severed get ogbanje ties. Ties that could have caused her to die again.


Nathan | 421 comments Sarah wrote: "Did anyone else think the suicide was weird? He seems like the type who would have thought he was right in his behavior. I find it hard to believe that someone with his pride and arrogance would ever commit suicide. "

I'm sure he thought he was in the right, but he also realized he was alone in his willingness to fight. It was clear life was not going to be able to go on as it had. As far as I could see, his options were arrest (and probable execution), attempting to flee or suicide. He would never give up control of his own destiny and I can't see him running away, so his suicide made sense to me.

I thought the priestess probably took Ezinma with the intent of making her the next priestess. I'm not sure what the significance of Okonkwo and Edwefi following was though.


Silver | 8 comments I find myself with rather conflicted feelings about Okonkwo. While some of his actions and treatment of others is disagreeable and certainly seems very harsh and extreme, at the same time I do not believe that he is by nature truly a cruel, bad or malicious person.

He is haunted by his father, and driven to prove that he is not like his father, that he is better than his father is, and because of this all traits within him that remind him of his father such as compassion, and showing good humor he shuts away for he fears if he shows himself to be like his father in anyway he will lose the respect of others.

This does not excuse some of the things he does or make them right, but he doesn't know how to find that balance between proving himself to be a hard worker, and a better man than his father was, and also displaying more compassion, kindness, and love.


Janet (goodreadscomjanetj) | 852 comments Silver wrote: "I find myself with rather conflicted feelings about Okonkwo. While some of his actions and treatment of others is disagreeable and certainly seems very harsh and extreme, at the same time I do not ..."

Very true. But it is such a character flaw that he becomes unlikable. It is hard to sympathize with a character who has a hand in killing a boy he raised and who beats his wives for the slightest provocation. Although I know that there are cultural differences I do not believe that the rest of the men in that village were nearly as rigid. Okonkwo was warned not to take a part in the killing of the boy but he simply could not bear to appear soft.


Silver | 8 comments Janet wrote: "But it is such a character flaw that he becomes unlikable. It is hard to sympathize with a character who has a hand in killing a boy ."

I had mixed feelings about the killing of the boy. While it was harsh of Okonkwo to do it himself, and certainly not something most people could or would do, at the same time considering the boy was destined to die anyway a part of me thinks it is almost better that someone who cared for him do it opposed to someone who was indifferent.


message 19: by Christine (last edited Feb 10, 2015 11:06PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Christine | 1217 comments Janet wrote: "Silver wrote: "I find myself with rather conflicted feelings about Okonkwo. While some of his actions and treatment of others is disagreeable and certainly seems very harsh and extreme, at the same..."

I agree that he is not a particularly likeable character. He is, however, interesting.

I think the cultural differences play a pretty big part in our dislike of him. Okonkwo was the main character whose life and actions were examined in this book, but I think most of us would find some of the actions of many people in his village objectionable. For example, it's also hard to sympathize with any man who would murder his neighbor's son, or who would abandon newborn infants to die because they were twins.

I do think you are right that Okonkwo was more aggressive and violent than most of his neighbors, evidenced by them trying to intervene on several occasions. But in some cases they also valued his violent nature, revering him as a great warrior.


message 20: by Christine (last edited Feb 10, 2015 11:10PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Christine | 1217 comments In thinking about it a little more, maybe it is actually the similarities between cultures that make some of Okonkwo's characteristics objectionable. Domestic violence was perhaps more tolerated in some circumstances in Okonkwo's culture, but it looks pretty much the same no matter one's culture or viewpoint.


Lagullande | 101 comments In trying to understand why Okonkwo committed suicide, we have suggested that it may have been almost a matter of honour, with the alternative being unbearable for him. However, I found this interesting extract on suicide in the Igbo culture, with particular reference to this book, which throws another light on it:

Nigerian Literature - Suicide in the Igbo Culture


Christine | 1217 comments Very interesting link, Lagullande! Thank you for sharing.


Andrea AKA Catsos Person (catsosperson) | 1791 comments Very interesting Lagullande. Thanks for the link.


Silver | 8 comments Christine wrote: "In thinking about it a little more, maybe it is actually the similarities between cultures that make some of Okonkwo's characteristics objectionable. Domestic violence was perhaps more tolerated i..."

On the one hand there is some truth to that. Domestic violence is never ok, and should not be accepted. But on the other hand in viewing Okonkwo in context of his culture, he was brought up and raised within a culture where beating ones wife was the social norm and the expectation.

While in some cases he might take this too far, even in the eyes of his own people such as the instance of when he beat his wife during the day of peace, he was told be his neighbor that his wife was in the wrong, he just should not have beat her upon that particular day.

We cannot expect Okonkwo to have modern Western World values.


message 25: by Christine (last edited Feb 10, 2015 11:56PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Christine | 1217 comments Silver wrote: "Christine wrote: "In thinking about it a little more, maybe it is actually the similarities between cultures that make some of Okonkwo's characteristics objectionable. Domestic violence was perhap..."

I understand that Okonkwo's culture had different expectations with regard to beating wives and children. But as you said, he sometimes took this too far even within his culture's norms. (I recall that a neighbor also intervened when he reacted violently toward his son who had taken an interest in the Christians.) I guess my point was that in every culture, there are people who sometimes act with unacceptable harshness (as defined by their own culture) toward their families, and perhaps that is what we are reacting to when we see Okonkwo as "unlikeable".


Silver | 8 comments Christine wrote: "Silver wrote: "Christine wrote: "In thinking about it a little more, maybe it is actually the similarities between cultures that make some of Okonkwo's characteristics objectionable. Domestic viol..."

Ah yes, I understand what you mean. One of the reasons why I do struggle with my own opinions with Okonkwo and I have a hard time truly declaring him unlikeable, or likable, is because we are given insights into his thoughts.

His actions are at times unpardonable, and he does go too far at times, but he does these things not because he himself truly feels this way but because he feels it is what he has to do to prove his own manhood and strength.

We see that within him he does at times wish he can be more affectionate, and that he does have tender feelings, but he fears to actually let others see this side of him.

He overeats to minor offenses because of his own fear that showing affection will make him appear weak.


Laurie | 1631 comments Western culture is not as far removed from legal wife beating as we might like to think. It was legal in all US states until 1850 when the first state outlawed it and most others quickly followed. In the UK it was legal until 1868 when a law was passed allowing abused wives to seek legal separation. This isn't that many generations ago.


Sarah My dislike of Okonkwo stems from the fact that he's so driven by pride. And a lot of his pride is based on his ability to dominate and control others. His pride had him so puffed up that I personally want to kick his butt into the next century. He may have had reasons but he was nothing but a bully picking on those weaker. Is it any wonder his son took the first chance to leave?


message 29: by Katy, New School Classics (last edited Feb 27, 2015 08:16AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Katy (kathy_h) | 9434 comments Mod
I read that the title of this book was taken from Yeats' poem:

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Any thoughts?


Nathan | 421 comments "Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;"


Wow. Great image!

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."


I can't read that and not think about politicians.


message 31: by Silver (last edited Feb 28, 2015 10:18AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Silver | 8 comments On the question of the suicide, I can understand why Okonkwo did it, and in a way I think his act of committing suicide was in fact an act of pride.

He was the last warrior of his people, the world he knew was gone, his people were no longer willing to fight for it or themselves. Everything he had worked for and valued fell a part, he was a man who no longer fit into the world. He would not submit to the White Man and their power over him and his people.

After he killed the messenger he knew his people would not fight that all was lost and he knew the White Man would hang him for what he did. To attempt to flee would seem cowardly, and where would he go? There was nothing left for him, and so he choose to take his own life and thus deny the White Man the sanctification of doing it.

He would not be hanged as a criminal for his actions which he did feel justified in doing, so he took his own life because the world he knew the world he belonged to was in itself dead.

He could not live like a coward, submissive to foreign people and a foreign religion.


Andrea AKA Catsos Person (catsosperson) | 1791 comments Silver, a very good analysis.


message 33: by [deleted user] (new)

I read this book in a university class, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I found it well-written, and very poignant.


Christine | 1217 comments Maggie wrote: "I read this book in a university class, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I found it well-written, and very poignant."

Then why only 2 stars Maggie? What did you not like about it?


Desertorum I finally read this and enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I liked that the narration was so neutral, it gave you the opportunity to think yourself. I didn´t see Okonkwo that bad, I felt that the whole culture was kind of brutal with it´s beliefs. Or maybe more that he was as bad as the others. It was interesting to read about the coming of white men from this perspective. The part where they compared their religions showed also how these were alike, very good point.


message 36: by Pink (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pink | 6556 comments It's been a while since I read this one, but I agree it's a good book. I might get around to his others one day, especially the books that follow on from this story.


message 37: by Lynn, Revisit the Shelf (last edited Oct 31, 2020 06:06PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lynn (lynnsreads) | 3059 comments Mod
Sarah wrote: "It seems like even the fact that he was hard working had more to do with his pride and arrogance than any actual virtue.

Did anyone else think the suicide was weird? He seems like the type who wou..."


I know I'm really late to read this book, but I really hated the main character. As to the suicide, it very much reminded me of Dally's suicide in The Outsiders. Those who live by violence and cannot bend enough to change with the times sometimes choose a violent end. I saw a parallel between the two characters.


message 38: by Lynn, Revisit the Shelf (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lynn (lynnsreads) | 3059 comments Mod
Katy wrote: "I read that the title of this book was taken from Yeats' poem:

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre canno..."




Thank you for quoting the poem here. It is very powerful. It is my first time to read it, but it felt familiar. I then found an interesting article about how widely quoted the poem is.

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2...


Maggie the Muskoka Library Mouse (mcurry1990) A moving story I read in university.


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