Things Fall Apart | Study Guide

Chinua Achebe

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Things Fall Apart | Part 1, Chapter 10 | Summary



Crowds have assembled at the ilo (an open space where village gatherings are held) to view a trial that is taking place. Nine egwugwu (masked village elders who impersonate/represent ancient spirits of the clan) act as judges. The nine egwugwu are "the most powerful and most secret of the clan." Each represents a village of the clan.

A man claims that his wife's relatives kidnapped his wife and children. He says he went to his in-laws and asked them to return his bride-price as called for by the law of the clan.

The wife's family admits that all of this is true. However, they say the man beat his wife every day during the nine years they were married. One beating nearly killed her. They say she should not have to pay the money, because she fled to save her life.

The egwugwu instruct the man to go to his in-laws and beg to have his wife return. They advise the wife's family to accept his request.


Many of the villagers realize on some level that the egwugwu are actually men from the area. "But if they thought these things," the narrator says, "they kept them within themselves." The clan believes that their tribe's ancient spirits are the ones permitted to judge them, and a select group of clan leaders impersonate these ancient spirits so that clan members can see, hear, and believe in this judgment process. The nine men portraying the egwugwu take care to costume themselves and alter their voices to further their impersonations. The remaining clan members go along with the impersonations, even if they suspect the truth.

Through this role-playing, the egwugwu fill an important function for the clan. They act as judge and jury. They take these roles seriously, and the people obey their verdicts. This belies the view of the Igbo as a primitive people who believe might means right. While Okonkwo certainly believes in strength and masculinity, he is an egwugwu and by extension recognizes the law.

The patriarchal nature of the clan is once again noted: "It was clear ... that the ceremony was for men." Women are on the outside, although the court case focuses on women's rights. A man is not free to treat his wife any way he chooses. The husband is shamed for the way he treats his wife and must beg forgiveness. However, the wife does not speak at the trial, and her return is a foregone conclusion if her husband apologizes.

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