Things Fall Apart | Study Guide

Chinua Achebe

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Things Fall Apart | Part 1, Chapter 2 | Summary

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Summary

Night has fallen, and the clan is notified of a town meeting taking place the next morning. It is a quiet night, as the nights without moonlight are in Umuofia. The narrator notes that "darkness held a vague terror for these people."

Okonkwo thinks the meeting might be a call to war. He had previously proven himself in warfare, having brought home five human heads as battle trophies.

At the meeting, Ezeugo, a powerful orator, explains that a clanswoman has been killed by someone from Mbaino. Clan members decide to send a delegate to Mbaino to negotiate. The people of Mbaino will have the choice of offering Umuofia a young man and a virgin as payment for the loss—or waging war.

The narrator notes that Umuofia is "powerful in war and in magic" and is therefore feared by its neighbors. The clan goes to war only if its Oracle declares the war just.

Okonkwo is chosen as the negotiator. When he goes to the potential enemy to review the terms, he is treated with great honor and respect. Soon he brings home the virgin and a young boy—Ikemefuna. Given the responsibility to care for Ikemefuna, Okonkwo entrusts his first wife to look after the frightened and homesick young boy.

Readers learn that Okonkwo "rules his household with a heavy hand." His wives and children "live in perpetual fear of his fiery temper." Okonkwo's life is dominated by fear—particularly the fear that he will end up like his father. He has a lot of energy and works hard, which enables him to grow wealthy. Nwoye, Okonkwo's oldest son, is unlike his father. Okonkwo says he is lazy, and he tries to correct him "by constant nagging and beating."

Analysis

Okonkwo's intensity and heavy-handedness are revealed to be a cover-up for his "fear of failure and of weakness." In his drive to succeed and deserve the respect of his clan, Okonkwo vows never to be gentle or idle, because that is how his father was. All of Okonkwo's traits and behavior are dictated by his determination to be the opposite of his father.

  • Okonkwo is the clear ruler in his household. He regularly beats his wives and children, and they are afraid of him.
  • Preferring action to conversation, he is not interested in having to explain himself to anyone. When his first wife asks him a question, he answers, "Do what you are told, woman." He adds that she is not one of the elders. Thus, he reflects the patriarchal hierarchy of the tribe.
  • Okonkwo is judgmental and bases his self-esteem on his perception of masculinity. With great pride he recalls his exploits in war and the symbols of his victories, five human heads.
  • Okonkwo is comfortable with the clan's rules of conduct, as the clan has a clear set of behaviors that apply to war.

Here readers see that the anger and fear that drive Okonkwo to be so hard on his family allow him to be successful at war and respected by his fellow clan members. These character traits, however, allow him success only within his Igbo culture; they will create increasing conflict for him as the culture is gradually annihilated by imperialism.

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