By Chinua Achebe
Genre: Cultural, Postcolonialism, Historical Drama
Reading Level: 5th grade
Interest Level: 9th-12th grade
Awards: TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005
Teaser: Okonkwo is an important man of the Ibo people. But when differences arise because of the new visitors to Umuofia, Okonkwo struggles with his place in his community.
Summary: Okonkwo is a warrior and wrestling champion of the Ibo people. He tries to compensate for his shameful father by being a very respectable warrior, husband, and farmer. Okonkwo has a son and a daughter. He adopts a fifteen-year-old boy that Umuofia won in a settlement against a neighboring tribe. Okonkwo, in anger, accuses his wife of carelessness and fears that she is negatively influencing their daughter into being too casual and careless around males. He beats his wife during the Week of Peace, causing his fellow community members to look down on him. Later, Okonkwo does a terrible thing to someone he loves. He believes he is cursed for what he has done. When missionaries come to Umuofia, Okonkwo is unable to contain himself. He kills a fellow clansman and is banned for seven years. When he comes back to a whitewashed Umuofia, Okonkwo tries to spur his people into war against the white man. He is unsuccessful and his story comes to a very tragic end.
Information about the Author: Biography.com writes, “Born in Nigeria in 1930, Chinua Achebe attended the University of Ibadan. In 1958, his groundbreaking novel Things Fall Apart was published. It went on to sell more than 12 million copies and been translated into more than 50 languages. Achebe later served as the David and Marianna Fisher University professor and professor of Africana Studies at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He died on March 21, 2013, at age 82, in Boston, Massachusetts.”
Critical Evaluation: I liked the structure of the storytelling in this book. Okonkwo is the main character and it follows him from his childhood to his end. Each section of the book is a step forward in his (d)evolution. The stark portrayal of gender roles is a little demoralizing, but that does not mean that they did not exist. Despite these strict gender roles, I think that Ojiugo is actually a strong female character. The reason why Okonkwo gets so angry at her is because he is afraid that her casualness with him has rubbed off on his daughter. I enjoyed the chapter that followed Ojiugo because Okonkwo’s perspective can be irritating at times. His pride causes him so many problems. In the end, it is hard for the reader to decide if Okonkwo was a bad guy or just a product of his upbringing and circumstances. Achebe tells an unpredictable story that focuses in on the effects of colonialism.
Curriculum Ties: History of Africa, Postcolonialism
Booktalk Ideas: Discuss the traits of Okonkwo. Honor is such an important part of his culture, is Okonkwo honorable? Discuss the gender roles portrayed in the books.
Challenge Issues: Racism, Polygamy, Violence
Challenge Resources: Rationale for choosing this book (see “Why Did I Pick This”), Engage students and parents in discussions about intellectual freedom, ALA Library Bill of Rights,Challenge Resources from the American Library Association
Why Did I Pick This: This book follows a conflicted protagonist who struggles with his place in his society. Young adult readers will be able to relate to the imperfect narrator and get a glimpse of the affects that colonialism can have on a culture.
Achebe, C. (1994). Things Fall Apart. New York City, NY: Anchor Publishing.