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1. Who is Chinua Achebe?
Chinua Achebe is one Africa's most prolific writers. He is largely and widely considered as one of the early pioneers of African literature. Achebe has had an illustrious writing career in writing. His novels are mostly based on early colonialism in traditional Nigeria as is narrated in Things Fall Apart, and No Longer at Ease, African politics in A Man of the People among other issues common in the African society. His early upbringing in traditional Igbo land and colonial legacy is what inspires the events that he describes in his novel Things Fall Apart.
2. Characters and characterization in Things Fall Apart
Achebe brings to us the events in a traditional setting of Umuofia. He uses various characters to show the traditional culture and its conflict with colonial culture through Okonkwo who is the main character in the story. Okonkwo is the epitome of traditions, superstition and the local culture. He is the leader of the clan and participates as an egwugwu. Okonkwo though is inwardly embarrassed by his late father, Unoka who is portrayed as lazy and a debtor. "Any wonder then that his son Okonkwo was ashamed of him..." ( 6). It is due to Unoka's failures and shortcomings that act as a drive to Okonkwo who does not want to be like his. His late father did not have yams and title, some of the most important things in the clan. In Umuofia, a man's worth is judged by the titles he has gotten and the quantity of the yams he can harvest which shows his hard work. Ironically, it is Unoka's failures that make Okonkwo a successful man, one who hates laziness, cowardice and respects traditions. Okonkwo comes to grow from the shadow of his father to become a respected man "solidly on his achievements."
Okonkwo's does not like his son Nwoye because his interests are different from what he father expects. Okonkwo is innately afraid that is son going be like his late father, Unoka. This at, times draws severe beatings and reprimands from Okonkwo and makes Nwoye live in perpetual fear of his father, who is also known to "rule his family with a heavy hand." ( 9). Then enter Ikemefuna, a young boy from the neighboring clan who is given up by his village-Mbaino- for killing a woman from Umuofia and to avoid an imminent war which they will ultimately lose to the likes of Okonkwo. Ikemefuna is taken to live with Okonkwo and his family and he quickly becomes friends with Okonkwo's son. Okonkwo is impressed by Ikemefuna and his influence on Nwoye and starts to see him Nwoye start to develop into the man he has always wanted to see. Ikemefuna though does not understand why he has been taken away from his family and brought to live in a new village with a new family. Okonkwo grows fond of Ikemefuna but later joins in the in the killing of the young boy because he hates to be thought of as weak (43). This causes fallout between Nwoye and Okonkwo.
Akueke is the daughter of Obiereka. She has been used by the author to bring forth or to explain the concept of tradition and culture. Akueke is supposed to be married to Ibe, but before she does, dowry has to be paid. In the African traditional society, the process involves the two sets of in-laws to meet and negotiate. In Umuofia, this meeting involves a lot of palm wine drinking and eating. During the negotiating process, other customs of Umuofia come like men Ozo should not climb trees to tap wine. Okonkwo and other men also see their customs as superior as compared to those of other neighboring clans. He says, "Some of their customs are upside down. They do not decide bride price as we do....." (51).
Ekwefi is Okonkwo's second wife and by far the most devoted. Ekwefi has only one child-Ezinma- whom she treats as special even allowing her to eat eggs-which are banned from women. Ezinma is considered an Ogbanje-a child that dies repeatedly and comes back to be born again. In Ibo land, the Ogbanje are known not to live for long and that's why Ezinma is considered special because she somehow manages to live albeit after performing some rituals (56-60).
Okoli has been used to show the traditional beliefs. His sudden death after the killing of the 'sacred python' show that the gods that the people of Umuofia believe in can still work even when the new religion proclaims otherwise (114). Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith are viewed as agents of change and pillars of the new religion-Christianity. They both go about introducing people to the new religion through other locals albeit from other villages. The locals act as messengers and court translators fondly referred to as kotma. They accept into their religion outcasts referred to as Osu and the locals think that the something bad is going to happen to them. But then, nothing happens to them, even after building their church on a piece of land considered and even called Evil Forest. "Every clan had it own "evil forest". In it were buried all those who really died of evil diseases, like leprosy and smallpox...... the evil forest was therefore, alive with sinister forces and darkness. It is such a forest that the leaders gave to the missionary...." (105).
3. Why do the Europeans not appear until chapter 15? Why does Achebe take so much time to describe pre-European Ibo land?
Things Fall Apart has been written in three parts to mark the different periods and events that place in Umuofia and the changes that occur during this period. In part two, where Europeans are introduced, several other things have changed from the original set-up where the novel is set. Okonkwo is in a foreign land staying in exile and is not aware of the occurrences in his home village until he is briefed by his visiting friend Obiereka. The European are introduced later in the book to bring about the time lapse before any change occurs. The changes that take place ultimately in Umuofia start gradually and from the neighboring village until the white men take Umuofia completely. Achebe goes into detail to describe the pre-European period to show much the people of Umuofia upheld their culture and customs and how hard they are to let them go. The Umuofia clan is even proud that they can be able to preserve their customs unlike other neighboring village as evidenced during the dowry negotiations of Akueke (51). By detailing this, he shows how hard it will be for the Europeans to bring forth new customs to Umuofia.
4. What is the political structure of Umuofia before the arrival of the Europeans? How is it organized? Does it belong to a larger system? How does the arrival of the Europeans change this?
The village of Umuofia, just like any village in the story is organized into clans with each having a set of elders responsible for making critical decisions. The people who are elders are men with titles (Ozo) and are known to be hard working and men of worth in the village. Okonkwo is one such man and so is entitled to join other elders in making critical decisions that affect the village.
The arrival of Europeans in Umuofia changes this. The European introduces courts and district commissioner for the village. The new administration does not rely the on the village elders, indeed the two sets of administration appear to be on collision course, which starts when Enoch (pg 131) unmasks an egwugwu- which is largely considered an abomination in Umuofia. The elders then decide to burn down the church and they are in turn jailed by the white administration and told to pay a large fine (pg 137-139).
5. How is society organized in Umuofia? How is status attained? How did the arrival of the Europeans change this?
The family, being the basic unit of society, a man is the head of the home and resides in the Obi which is a house reserved for the head. He is the center of authority in the home, the sole decision maker and bread winner. Polygamy is largely practiced in Umuofia, and the more wives one has the more respect he commands. In religion, the locals pay homage to the Oracle of the Hills whom they regard as their supreme guide and look upon him to give meaning to the happenings in their daily lives. The people of Umuofia give sacrifices to the oracle upon communication from the mediator, the priestess of the oracle (Agbala).
Status is achieved through a man's public display of strength and sense of authority. In wrestling matches men acquire titles which give them higher rank in society than their peers. Wealth measured in terms of barnfuls of yams is also another determinant of status in Umuofia. Okonkwo is highly revered both at home and in the society of Umuofia for his wrestling prowess (pg 3) and also for his wealth and hard work (pg 19).
The Europeans interfered with the family structure in that the man no longer has absolute authority in the home. This is seen when Nwoye disregards his father's wish that he denounces the new faith. Instead he is baptized and runs away to stay at the mission. The new religion also introduces the concept of one God which contradicts Umuofia's beliefs of many gods or chi.
6. What role do women play in the society and economy of Umuofia? In its spiritual and political life? How do women exercise power and influence?
Women in the traditional society of Umuofia are the caretakers of the family. They are not allowed to partake in critical decision making like the men. They cannot become village elders and cannot sit in the meeting of village elders (pg 19). They are not bestowed titles.
Women though are critical in organizing other important events. The dowry payment ceremony, the New Yam Festival were feasts that were critical and would have failed without women. Women also played an important role interceding between the people and the Oracle of the Hills as priestesses.
7. How are the real world and the world of the ancestors and gods related? What role do priests, priestesses, chis and the egwugwu play in those relations? Why is the episode of the Evil Forest and the missionaries' church so destructive to the belief system of Umuofia?
Traditional African society and indeed the society of Umuofia believe in the existence of ancestors who sometimes influence the day to day affairs of the society. They believe that these ancestors wield some power over the living and should not be annoyed or provoked in any way lest they draw the wrath of the ancestors. Sacrifices are occasionally offered to appease the ancestors in form of an animal or whatever the oracle may prescribe..."Your dead father wants you to sacrifice a goat for him...." (pg 15).
The priests and priestesses are the once that act as the intercessor between the gods (ancestors) and the living. The chis are considered as a manifestation of this gods and it is believed that everyone has his persona chi (god). The egwugwu are the people who embody this spirits during traditional occasion or during some important village event.
All the evils or outcasts of the village are cast into the Evil Forest. According to the people of Umuofia, what has been cast into the Evil Forest should not come back to the village and at no point should such people interact with other people of the village. Those born as twins are examples of people who were cursed and left to die in the Evil forest. So, when the missionaries ask for a place to build to build their church and the Evil Forest is given to them, the elders and other people believe the missionaries will not survive because they ".....expected them all to be dead within four days." (106). But when nothing happens to them, the church the church gets its first new converts (pg 106).
8. How does Achebe portray the missionaries, Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith? What impact do the missionaries have on life in Umuofia? Did they intend to have that impact?
The missionaries led by Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith are portrayed as agents of change. They bring a new religion in Umuofia and a new system of governance. Mr. Brown, through his policy of compromise and accommodate manages to win few converts to his religion. Mr. Smith has a different approach which is a stark contrast of his predecessor (pg 130).
The missionaries succeed in bringing change to Umuofia. Partly, apart from being interested in bringing their religion, they are also interested in bringing a new regime and new mode of administration to Umuofia. The District commissioner, to whom Mr. Smith reports the incident of burning the church by masked egwugwu, tells the village elders that "we have brought a peaceful administration to you and your people so that you may be happy." (pg 137). So indeed, the change or the impact brought is expected.
9. How is the justice system organized? Who decides what is a crime? Who decides punishments for particular crimes? Why was Okonkwo exiled to Mbanta? Why was this a great crime? How does the coming of the Europeans upset this system?
The man, as head of the family are responsible for instilling discipline in his children for small matters. Wife beating is not uncommon in Umuofia and the reasons for beating vary from family to family. For other crimes, the village elders are responsible for meting out punishment. The village elders are also responsible for deciding what a crime is. Breaking traditions or customs of Umuofia is unheard of because the people are expected to know these customs. The priests are also responsible for upholding the customs of Umuofia. Okonkwo gets punished by "the priest of the earth goddess, Ani..." (pg 22) for beating his wife during the Week of Peace. Okonkwo also gets exiled for spilling the blood of blood of a fellow kinsman. According to the customs of Umuofia, "It was a crime against the earth goddess to kill a clansman, and a man who committed this crime must flee from the clan." (Pg 87). The coming of the Europeans changes this by introducing court which are now responsible for meting out punishment.
10. What was the economic system of Ibo land before the arrival of the Europeans? How did the Europeans change that system?
Before the arrival of Europeans men and women of Umuofia traded their wares at the local market. They had different market days. The medium of exchange was cowries. The cowry shells were also used to pay bride price. Penalty or fines were paid in terms of farm produce or domestic example. "I have decided that you will pay a fine of two hundred bags of cowries........" (pg 137). The Europeans changed this system of economy and introduced a trading store and for the first "palm oil became things of great price and much money flowed into Umuofia...." (pg 126)
11. Think of two examples in which changes in the political, economic, justice, social or religious system influences the other systems.
The arrival of courts brought about by the European disempowered the traditional ruling system. The European disregarded the village elders of Umuofia and all offenders were tried in court. The village elders are jailed after they meted out punishment to Enoch who had killed the Sacred Python, a thing unheard of in Umuofia (pg 136-7). This change in the political structure had an impact on the religious system in that people were no longer feared violating traditional religious beliefs and customs which were seen by the white man as barbaric.