Things Fall Apart | Study Guide

Chinua Achebe

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Things Fall Apart | Part 1, Chapter 11 | Summary



Ekwefi tells Ezinma a story about Tortoise, a cunning creature who outwits birds. Tortoise enjoys the best of a feast that the birds were invited to, while the birds are stuck with scraps. The birds get their revenge, which leads to Tortoise's shell breaking. A medicine man puts the shell back together, and "that is why Tortoise's shell is not smooth."

Chielo comes to Okonkwo's compound to fetch Ezinma because Agbala, the Oracle, wants to see the girl. Okonkwo pleads with her to come back, saying the child is asleep. Ekwefi wants to go with her daughter but is told coming to Agbala without being summoned would bring about a curse.

Chielo carries Ezinma away. Later, Ekwefi tells Okonkwo she is going to follow Chielo, regardless of the punishment. She follows her all night through all nine villages. Chielo takes Ezinma into the Oracle's cave, and Ekwefi waits outside. Okonkwo appears and sits with Ekwefi. She appreciates his coming and is reminded of when she first came to Okonkwo's hut and he took her in.


In this chapter, the moral of Ekwefi's folktale is clear: don't be greedy. The power of language resounds within the folktale. Turtle uses language to outwit the birds. The birds are gullible and lose out because of their honesty and decency.

Readers get a look at Chielo in her role of priestess to the Oracle Agbala when she comes to fetch Ezinma. Commanding and eerie in her speech and appearance, she is hardly the woman with whom Ekwefi spoke at the wrestling match.

Another side of Okonkwo's character is revealed when he tries to convince Chielo not to take Ezinma. He is clearly frightened for his child. This tenderness does not end with Ezinma. Okonkwo is acutely aware of the closeness of Ezinma and Ekwefi.

Ekwefi's maternal feelings drive her to follow Chielo and Ezinma. She will go to any length to protect Ezinma, even if it means going against the gods. Okonkwo, in turn, follows Ekwefi and therefore also defies the gods. Okonkwo shows his concern for his wife when he says, "Go home and sleep. I shall wait here." This interaction, along with Ekwefi's reaction, is the first display of love between husband and wife in the book.

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