Discussion will take place in the library.

Race Morrison
Melissa Levinson
Ben Decker
Katrine Laukli
Ben Soule
Debe Overhaug
Facilitator: Melissa

NOTE: We can use as many or as few of the below protocols as we would like to get our discussion flowing.


A whip can be done at any point or multiple times in the discussion. Go around the circle and each person talks for less than a minute. Other participants listen and can respond after the whip has made a full circle.
Whip questions for beginning of the discussion:
  • How did you like the book?
  • How did you respond to a certain character?
  • What did you care most about in the book?
  • Describe your level of understanding.
(Choose a whip question from above to ask the group)

Another Point of View

Works to extend a discussion about a passage that the group seems eager to discuss and gets participants looking specifically at the text.

  • Choose a scene or longer passage that is ripe for discussion.
  • Together, examine how the story is narrated. Describe the narrator’s position, level of power, and tone. Open discussion for three minutes or until you’ve covered it.
  • After you feel content with the discussion in #2, re-examine the scene from another character’s or narrator’s point of view, especially a person who has a different level of power than the narrator.
  • Discuss the scene/passage openly from both points of view.

Passage Path

Try this if you’ve talked with your books closed for a while. It is helpful to use the language of the book as a way to open a discussion.

  • Everyone should refresh their memory of passages they've marked as important in the text.
  • One person starts by bringing the group to a passage that felt significant. He or she briefly explains why the passage feels important.
  • The rest of the group should be thinking about other passages that compares or contrasts (for any reason) to the original. When a participant feels she has one, direct the rest of the group members to the page number and read the passage aloud. The participant explains the connection to the first passage; others can contribute.
  • Repeat #2 until as many passages have been brought up as there are participants in the group, or for a small group, go around twice. Feel free to make connections to passages discussed earlier.
  • Be aware not to but undue pressure on individuals with this protocol, but work together to find and explain the connections between the passages.

Discussion Questions:
• Okonkwo has risen from nothing to become one of his village's most powerful men. Yet the same thought processes that guided him to success have forced him to turn against his father, beat his wives, and kill the boy who he took in as a son. Is he really a great man?
• Okonkwo takes Ikemefuna in, and the two develop what is close to a father-son relationship. Then he not only allows Ikemefuna to be killed, but he kills him himself. Why? How does this affect the relationship between Okonkwo and his real son, Nwoye?
• To the foreign onlooker, the people of Umuofia display a number of disturbing characteristics. They mutilate stillborn children, they allow twins to starve to death, they practice polygamy, and they live in constant fear of their own Gods. A typical Westerner may view these practices as atrocities; however, they are deeply ingrained into African culture. Is it okay for a group of people to try to change a foreign culture?
• "But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo's fear was greater than these. it was not external but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father." This quote summarizes Okonkwo's views and motives. Is it reasonable?
• The title of this novel is derived from William Butler Yeats' poem "The Second Coming" about the second coming of Jesus. The line from which the title comes is "things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." What is the significance of this quote in relation to the text?
•Women suffer great losses in this novel but also, in certain circumstances, hold tremendous power. What role do women play in Okonkwo’s life? Is there any difference between his interaction with specific women and his understanding of women and femininity in general?
• Animals are a big part of the story, what is their significance and what do they symbolize?
When missionaries go to Nigeria, are they always received so willingly?
• When Onkonwo killed Ikemefuna do you think that changed him in any way?
• If it did change him, in what ways do you think his personality, and emotional life was altered?
• Why did Onkonwo decide to kill himself? He has already been to jail, his entire life he has fought for everything he has, and now he chooses to end it all. It seems very uncharacteristic of Onkonwo.
• Do you think that the weather in the novel was symbolic to the events that took place?
• Is it personal greed and desire for success that motivates Okonkwo, or is he more concerned with is best for his people?
• The villagers of Umuofia cannot read, they do not pursue science, and they place their trust in prophets and medicine men. Are the missionaries correct in assuming that they are ignorant?
• Why does Chinua Achebe choose to tell the story of Okonkwo in third person?
• Is it natural or right for one culture to educate another?
• Do the missionaries do good in Umuofia?
• "Things Fall Apart" was written as a response to books like "Heart of Darkness" portraying African culture as backwards and primitive. Achebe's goal was to reflect the cultural richness of Africa. Did he succeed?

Cultural Questions:
  • How does the political climate affect the overall atmosphere of the village? (Katrine)
  • What is it about twins that is so terrible to the natives of Nigeria? (Ben)
  • At what time in history does this book take place? (Ben)http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/things/context.html
  • Is there a cultural/symbolic significance to the motif of yams? (Melissa)
  • Are the religions in Nigeria all based off of a polytheistic view? (Race) http://www.nationmaster.com/red/country/ni-nigeria/rel-religion&all=1 (This table displays the prevalence of mainstream religions like Catholicism and Islam in Nigeria. It looks to me like polytheistic native religions are only a small part of the country's religious climate. However, this story takes place in the 1890s, so religion in Nigeria may have changed significantly in the past 120 years. Ben)

Cultural Background:
  • British mandate: 1900-1960.
  • Over 50 languages are spoken.
  • Over 250 ethnic groups are present.
  • Three largest ethnic groups: 1) Hausa-Fulani in the North, 2) Igbo in the South-East, and 3) Yoruba in the South-West.
  • "The 1963 census indicated that 47 percent of Nigerians were Muslim, 35 percent Christian, and 18 percent members of local indigenous congregations." -wikipedia
  • Food: African carbohydrates such as Yam and Cassava - Yam is either fried pounded to make a mashed potato like Yam pottage.

Biographical Information on Chinua Achebe:
From Nigeria - part of Igbo ethnic group.
Focuses of traditions of Igbo society, effect of Christian influences, clashes between Western society and Traditional African values.
Style of writing relies on Igbo oral tradition
Combines straightforward narration with folk stories and proverbs.

Pre-Discussion Processing:
  • Okonkwo: One of the greatest men in the village of Umuofia. He is driven by his father's failure to succeed. This yearning for success is his ultimate tragic flaw.
  • Nwoye: Okonkwo's oldest son. Okonkwo views him as lazy. Nwoye eventually converts to Christianity, and his father disowns him for it.
  • Ikemefuma: A boy from a village neighboring Umuofia. His father is involved in the murder of a woman from Umuofia, so to avoid war, his fellow villagers offer him as a sacrifice. He is taken in by Okonkwo and treated as a son. Settling into the family, he becomes good friends with Nwoye. He is finally killed by the clan.
  • Ezinma: The only child of Okonkwo's second wife, Ekwefi. She is Okonkwo's favorite child because she understands him better than any other child.
  • Ekwefi: Okonkwo's second wife. She used to be the most beautiful woman and ran away from her first husband to marry Okonkwo.
  • Chielo: The priestess to Agbala. She is very fond of Ezinma and when she is not possessed, she is great friends with Ekwefi.
  • Obierika: Okonkwo's closest friend. He sells Okonkwo's yams for him when he is exiled.
  • Mr. Brown: Umuofia's first white missionary. He is understanding and peaceful. He tries to appeal to the clan respectfully.
  • Reverend James Smith: The missionary who takes Mr. Brown's place. He is uncompromising and strict.
  • Uchendu: Okonkwo's peaceful younger brother. He welcomes Okonkwo and his family back to his motherland.
  • Unoka: Okonkwo's father. Okonkwo has always been ashamed of him because he was lazy and had a lot of debt.
  • Enoch: Christian convert in the village of Umuofia.
  • Ogbuefi Ezeudu: The oldest man of the village and one of the most important leaders.

  • Umuofia - Igbo tribe in South-East Nigeria
  • 1890s

Important Plot Events:
  1. When Ikemefuna is "adopted" by Okonkwo. This is important because this is Okonkwo's ideal son, unlike his other son in whom he sees too much of his father. He is eventually killed, which communicates that all good things come to an end.
  2. When Okonkwo kills Ezeudu's son. He exiled for this. This is important because Okonkwo and his family have to find a whole new way of life and Okonkwo does not like change.
  3. When the missionaries come to Umuofia because this is another sign of change and how there is nothing they can do to stop it. This brings a lot of tension into the village and causes a lot of problems.

  • Conflicts - Identify and elaborate on the conflicts that drive the plot
The cultural clash between the natives of Nigeria and the foreign missionaries is one of the most important themes in “Things Fall Apart.” To the foreign eye, many of the practices of Umuofia and the surrounding villages can be perceived as horrible. They mutilate stillborn children, they leave twins to starve in the woods, they practice polygamy, and they live in fear of their own gods. Disgusted by these things and unaware of the fact that all of them are a part of Nigerian culture, the impassioned missionaries struggle to convert the “barbaric” villagers to Christianity. This conflict between villagers who are clinging to their heritage and missionaries who want them to change can be seen repeatedly throughout history, and it is certainly present in “Things Fall Apart.”
The conflict between man and the gods also plays an important role in this novel. Okonkwo claims that his exile from Umuofia is a result of his angry personal chi. Additionally, the people pray, make sacrifices, and direct their lives towards appeasing the gods. In fact, doing something as unholy as killing the sacred python is means for exile or even execution. “Things Fall Apart” depicts the fear that the people of Nigeria have of their gods and the passion with which they honor them. This struggle between man and the gods is one of the clearest conflicts in this story.

  • Narration (point of view) - Describe how the telling impacts the story
Chinua Achebe writes this story in third person. His narration is objective and simple, very similar to the way that someone would tell a folklore. His depiction of Umuofia's reaction to the coming of the white man is thought-provoking and authentic, and because there appears to be no bias in the narration, the reader has an unclouded view of the plot. Achebe's goal in creating this story was to emphasize the cultural richness of Africa and to discourage stereotypes about the continent as a whole. His third person narration allows the reader to see the continent's diversity and wonder from a neutral perspective. After reading, the tragedy involved in the "pacification" of Africa is clear.

  • Important passages - Have at least 5 important passages on the wiki; a brief comment or question about how and why the passage is important should follow each
"No matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and his children (and especially his women) he was not really a man." (Chapter 7) Taking the entire novel into account, are women really treated as inferior beings in Umuofia?
"After such treatment it would think twice before coming again, unless it was one of the stubborn ones who returned, carrying the stamp of their mutilation--a missing finger or perhaps a dark line where the medicine man's razor had cut them." (Chapter 9) If a culture dictates that stillborn children should be mutilated, does that make it okay?
"The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart." (Chapter 20) How can it be that the white man is ruining the people of Nigeria with religion and education?
• "Okonkwo stood looking at the dead man. He knew that Umuofia would not go to war. He knew because they had let the other messengers escape. They had broken into tumult instead of action. He discerned fright in that tumult. He heard voices asking: 'Why did he do it?'" (Chapter 24) Does Okonkwo want war because he wants to regain his glory, or does he want war because he wants to save his people?
• "That man was one of the greatest men in Umuofia. You drove him to kill himself; and now he will be buried like a dog...." (Chapter 25) Obierika is not a man of war or a man who values success to the same degree as Okonkwo. And yet his pure rage gets the best of him in front of the white men. The foreigners have forced Okonkwo to suicide and brought his level-headed friend to explosive anger. Has the white man ruined Umuofia?
• "The Commissioner went away, taking three or four of the soldiers with him. In the many years in which he had toiled to bring civilization to diferent parts of Africa he had learned a number of things. One of them was that a District Commissioner must never attend to such undignified details as cutting a hanged man from the tree. Such attention would give the natives a poor opinion of him. In the book which he planned to write he would stress that point. As he walked back to the court he though about that book. Every day bought him some new material. The story of this man who had killed a messenger and hanged himself would make interesting reading. One could almost write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any rate. There was so much else to include, and one must be firm in cutting out details. He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger." In reality, is the white man more ignorant than "the primitive tribes of the Lower Niger?"