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Things Fall Apart | Discussion Questions 21 - 30

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How does Ekwefi's story of Tortoise and the birds foreshadow the fate of the Igbo people in Things Fall Apart?

In Ekwefi's story, Tortoise is very cunning. He uses his cunning to take advantage of the birds and talks them into making him their leader. The birds lend him feathers so he can fly. The whole group goes to a great feast in the sky. Tortoise uses a trick to get the best food, while the birds are left with scraps. The birds take their feathers back and lie to Tortoise. He plummets to the ground, breaking his shell into pieces. Tortoise can be seen as symbolic of the British colonialists. Like them, Tortoise uses language to manipulate the gullible birds. He takes advantage of the birds' decency, steals their resources, and leaves them with next to nothing.

In Chapter 11 of Things Fall Apart how does Okonkwo behave differently than he does in other chapters?

When Ezinma is taken by Chielo to see Agbala, Ekwefi is overcome with grief. Shortly after Ezinma is taken, Ekwefi follows Chielo despite having been warned not to. Ekwefi spends all night following Chielo around the various villages. Okonkwo realizes Chielo is taking Ezinma to the Oracle's shrine and goes there four times to look for Ekwefi. Finally he finds her waiting outside the shrine. Okonkwo tells Ekwefi to go home because he knows she has had a rough night. She is too worried to leave. While waiting, Ekwefi recalls when she first came to Okonkwo. His actions show that Okonkwo is concerned about his wife and daughter's health and safety. He shows genuine care, even love—emotions that he usually tries to hide.

Compare and contrast the effects of the ritual displays of generosity in Chapter 12 and Chapter 19 of Things Fall Apart.

In Chapter 12 Obierika's daughter has a suitor. The young man, his father, and his male relatives come to Umuofia as part of the betrothal ceremony. They bring a tremendous amount of wine with them, much more than Obierika's people expected. The gift helps unite Obierika's family with that of the suitor. Similarly, in Chapter 19, Okonkwo provides a feast for his Mbanta kinsmen to mark the end of his exile. One of his kinsmen thanks Okonkwo for being so generous. However, he also takes the opportunity to express his fears for the younger generation because the Christians are breaking up family bonds. Okonkwo's generosity, unlike that of the suitor of Obierka's daughter, cannot hold together the fragmenting family.

In Chapter 13 of Things Fall Apart Okonkwo accidentally kills Ezeudu's son. How are the ramifications of this boy's death different from those of Ikemefuna's killing?

When Ezeudu delivers the message that Okonkwo's adopted son Ikemefuna is to be killed, he warns Okonkwo, "That boy calls you father. Do not bear a hand in his death." Ignoring Ezeudu, Okonkwo strikes the fatal blow. Since the Oracle mandated the boy's sacrifice, it is not a crime. However, because of Ikefuna's adoption into Okonkwo's family, Okonkwo is skating on thin ice. Ikemefuna is almost a kinsman, and killing a kinsman is a serious offense. Slaying a kinsman intentionally is considered a masculine crime, punishable by permanent exile. Although Okonkwo is not punished for his involvement, his son Nwoye turns away from him as a result. He is also traumatized. He killed Ikemefuna to appear strong; his remorse, however, makes him weak. Okonkwo goes on to accidentally kill Ezeudu's son—who is officially a kinsman. The tribe considers this a feminine crime because of its unintentional nature. Still Okonkwo is devastated to receive the punishment: seven years of exile. Although these deaths are viewed differently by Igbo society, Okonkwo suffers significantly for each of his deeds.

A foil is a character whose contrasting qualities serve to highlight those of another character. How does Obierika serve as a foil to Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart?

Obierika is Okonkwo's friend and confidant, but the two men are very different. Obierika is open minded, willing to question Igbo rules that Okonkwo accepts. Obierika is also compassionate, offering support to his friend after the death of Ikemefuna, where Okonkwo rarely shows any emotions except for pride, anger, and fear. Perhaps most significantly, Obierika realizes that the Igbo culture has changed beyond repair, while Okonkwo believes that war could eradicate the presence of the white men and reverse the changes of recent years. It is Obierika who utters the phrase "we have fallen apart." This echoes the Yeats poem from which the novel takes its title.

In Things Fall Apart, why does Okonkwo have difficulty starting a new farm in Mbanta, and what is the significance of his plight?

The land and seed-yams he has been given should cheer Okonkwo after the trek to Mbanta. After all, he has been received with open arms by relatives he hasn't seen in 30 years—if ever. However, he believes he has lost too much in this banishment from Umuofia. His dream of becoming a lord of the clan lies shattered at his feet. Still he works hard at planting the new fields, although he cannot muster the enthusiasm he used to feel. Where once Okonkwo controlled his chi, now he believes that fate has cast out free will, and he has settled into depression.

How might the changes that Uchendo discusses in Chapter 15 of Things Fall Apart have made the Igbo more vulnerable to colonization?

Uchendu says in his day people had friends in distant clans, but these days, people stay at home and are afraid of their next-door neighbor. This lack of friendship and unity among the clans makes them more vulnerable to outside forces. If the bonds between the clans had been stronger, individuals might have felt more loyalty to each other and acted in a more cohesive way to oppose the white men. Instead some clan members—particularly those with lower status—join the missionaries. Those who convert to Christianity tend to bond with other church members and lose their connection to their neighbors. Thus "things fall apart."

In Chapter 15 of Things Fall Apart consider the different reactions of Okonkwo and Uchendu to the white man's arrival and the violence in Abame.

Although both Okonkwo and Uchendu believe the men of Abame acted foolishly, they have different opinions as to what the men did wrong. Uchendu says that because the white man said nothing, they could not know whether killing him was necessary or even safe. Uchendu suggests that speech enables people to appreciate each other's perspectives. Of course, these two groups were literally and metaphorically speaking different languages. Okonkwo believes that the men of Abame should have heeded the Oracle's warning about the arrival of other white men. After killing the first white man, they should have armed themselves and prepared to ward off an attack by others seeking revenge. Okonkwo's instinct is, typically, toward violence. He believes men should always be prepared to fight. While both men accept violence as a response to situations such as this stranger coming into their midst, Uchendu prefers to investigate first to determine whether violence is an appropriate option. Okonkwo's response is to employ violence and, if necessary, follow up with more violence.

In Chapter 16 of Things Fall Apart how do the missionaries exploit Igbo tradition to win their first converts?

The initial converts to Christianity are people who have been marginalized by Igbo tradition. The clan has strict expectations for members' behavior, and those who do not meet expectations are cast out. They include the efulefu, or "worthless, empty men." What makes them worthless or empty is never made clear, yet these people are looked down upon by the clan and made to feel unworthy. Chielo labels these people the excrement of the clan. People need human connections, so it is logical that the efulefu would be open to listening to the Christians' message of inclusion. Living outside the culture, they were perhaps also more open to change.

In Things Fall Apart, how is Nwoye's interest in Christianity fueled by the contrast of his personal life and what he perceives of the church?

Nwoye has tolerated Okonkwo's stories of violence and bloodshed because he and Ikemefuna listened to them together and because it pleased his father. However, he prefers his mother's gentler stories and songs. Ikefuna's death destroys Nwoye's faith in Okonkwo, the Igbo gods, and the clan. Since then he has been subconsciously looking for something else to believe in. When he encounters the missionaries in Mbanta, he is ripe for their influence. Their hymn about brothers together in darkness and fear may remind him of himself and Ikemefuna—and his mother's songs about mercy and the "suffering of the sons of men." The hymn revives Nwoye and awakens him to a different view of life. After Okonkwo severely beats Nwoye for attending church, Nwoye decides that Okonkwo is not his father. Again here he may be relating to the hymns and Bible stories he has heard about "the love of God" and the "tender shepherd's care."

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