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Things Fall Apart | Discussion Questions 11 - 20

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When Okonkwo visits Nwakibie in Things Fall Apart, what is the significance of the arrival of Nwakibie's first wife Anasi?

There is a strict hierarchy among wives in the Igbo culture. First wives have the highest status, and succeeding wives are ranked depending on when they marry into the group. After Okonkwo and the other men have drunk palm wine, Nwakibie invites his wives to also have a drink. Four wives arrive and stand waiting for Anasi, since—as first wife—she has the privilege of drinking before them. She enters, looking very much the ruler of the household's women and—most likely—making a point of her higher status by causing the others to wait. After she drinks, the other wives also drink in order of their seniority.

In Things Fall Apart, what are the social ramifications of Okonkwo's inability to show affection?

Okonkwo believes it is not manly to show fondness for others. While he certainly feels emotions, he refuses to acknowledge any but anger. Okonkwo thinks this makes him strong, but instead his refusal is a social handicap that proves detrimental to both himself and his family. His relationship with his son Nwoye, in particular, is hampered by his lack of affection toward the boy. Okonkwo believes the only way to get Nwoye to act in a manly manner is to use force, and he regularly berates and beats the boy. Instead of making Nwoye more manly, as Okonkwo hopes, the abuse pushes the boy away.

Why does Okonkwo disrupt the Week of Peace in Things Fall Apart, and what does this say about him?

The Week of Peace is a seasonal religious festival. It is a time of relaxation and ease before the planting season and includes a number of rituals. During this time all violence—even the use of harsh words—is to be avoided. Okonkwo, however, does not enjoy relaxing. He is restless and anxious and prefers work to relaxation. He breaks a rule of the Week of Peace when he beats his wife Ojiugo for not preparing a family meal. While he wishes to be a leader, he is also a transgressor. His actions lead readers to question whether Okonkwo conforms only to the rules of the culture that are convenient.

In Things Fall Apart, Nwoye begins to model Ikemefuna's behavior. How does this advance an understanding of gender roles?

While Igbo women and children are expected to be subservient to men, the men of the clan are expected to rule over their households. Okonkwo believes that if a man "was unable to rule his women and his children (and especially his women) he was not really a man." Through his friendship with and desire to imitate Ikemefuna, Nwoye begins acting in a more "masculine" way. In particular he starts treating women in a way that pleases his father. When the women send him to do a difficult masculine task, he pretends to be angry, but inwardly Nwoye is pleased because he knows this is what Okonkwo wants: for his son to be tough and capable of ruling the household.

How does the locusts' dual nature makes them an apt symbol for the white colonizers in Things Fall Apart?

The arrival of the locusts in Chapter 7 causes "a shadow [to] fall on the world." At first they are a small swarm, but soon a mass of them arrives. They settle everywhere, causing tree branches to break. The locusts change everything as "the whole country became the brown-earth color of the vast, hungry swarm." While the locusts devour crops, they are themselves a good food source, and the villagers gladly collect the insects to eat. In Things Fall Apart, the locusts openly symbolize the colonizers. One white man appears, and the elders consult their Oracle about what to do. The Oracle says, "The strange man would break their clan and spread destruction among them" and adds that more white men on the way are locusts. Like the locusts, many more colonialists arrive after the "small swarm" and devour the Igbo culture. At the same time, much like locusts, they also bring some benefits: trading posts, a school, and a hospital.

In Things Fall Apart, why does Okonkwo ignore the warning to avoid Ikemefuna's killing, and what is the effect on his family?

Okonkwo treats Ikemefuna as a son, and the boy considers him his father. Ikemefuna is one of the few characters of whom Okonkwo is fond. When the Oracle decides that Ikemefuna is to be killed, Ezeudu tells Okonkwo not to participate. To betray Ikemefuna in this way would violate the sanctity of the family, a foundation of Igbo culture. Despite the warning, Okonkwo accompanies the executioners and delivers the final blow that kills Ikemefuna. To admit to his affection for the boy would be to show weakness, and a man who is weak is not respected. Okonkwo's all-consuming desire for respect fractures his relationship with his son Nwoye, who adored Ikemefuna.

How does the loss of Ikemefuna in Things Fall Apart contribute to Nwoye's decision to become a Christian?

Nwoye is broken when he realizes what happened to Ikemefuna. He feels "a snapping inside" himself that he last felt when he heard the cries of babies who had been left for dead in the Evil Forest. Nwoye's connection to his father, and to the clan and its ways, is destroyed. He can no longer abide the clan's traditions. His father's blind adherence to the Oracle and involvement in Ikemefuna's killing are unpardonable actions. The narrative reminds us that individuals have a need to belong. Since Nwoye's connection to the clan has been severed, he looks for a new home and finds it in the church. Similarly the outcasts of the Igbo are among the first converts because they find acceptance among the Christians.

What is the significance of Okonkwo wanting Ezinma to be a boy in Chapter 8 of Things Fall Apart?

Okonkwo believes that boys should be bold, strong, and tough. Okonkwo sees these traits in Ezinma and feels saddened that she cannot develop and use these traits because she is a girl. The culture is a patriarchal one in which the husband rules the household and women are subservient to men. Since boys are more valued in Umuofian society, Okonkwo is disappointed that his best child is a girl and not a boy. Gender roles extend beyond the family in Igbo culture. For example, crimes and crops are either masculine or feminine. When Okonkwo accidentally kills Ezeudo's son, he commits a "feminine" murder. Yams are "a man's crop," while coco-yams, beans, and cassava are women's crops.

How is Ekwefi's concern for Ezinma related to her family status in Things Fall Apart?

Ekwefi lost nine children before Ezinma was born. She became a broken woman who felt bitter toward her own soul. When Ezinma was born and lived beyond a very young age, "love returned once more to her mother." However, because of the many lost children, Ekwefi worries about Ezinma excessively. She believes Ezinma will live on, but she never escapes her fear when the child gets sick. Ekwefi's concerns are understandable to readers. However, in Umuofian society a woman's roles are strictly defined, which heightens Ekwefi's fears. She is expected to produce children and so far has just one living child. Her sole responsibility is to serve her husband and family. Without children, she has little purpose. Since there is scant evidence of romantic involvement between Okonkwo and any of his wives, she would also have no outlet for her love.

In Things Fall Apart, what is the role of the egwugwu and why are their true identities not discussed?

The egwugwu are "the most powerful and ... secret cult in the clan." They portray the clan's ancestral spirits. There are nine egwugwu, each representing a village in Umuofia. Tribal leaders wear masks to represent the spirits. Their identity is kept secret, as they never remove their masks in public. Women and children greatly fear the egwugwu. During trials egwugwu function much like a court. They hear both parties, recess to judge the case, and hand down a verdict that becomes law and must be obeyed. Their court system thus defies the colonizers' perception of the Igbo as uncultured. While many suspect that Okonkwo is one of the egwugwu, it is not discussed. A possible explanation is because their authority would be undermined if their identities were revealed. Another is that this male-only ritual helps maintain the society's patriarchal structure.

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