In this classic novel, Okonkwo, a wealthy and respected member of the Umuofia clan, resists the forces of change brought to Africa by European colonists and missionaries.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) was an English poet, critic, and editor. His best known poem is “Invictus,” published in 1875, which he wrote just following the amputation of his foot due to tuberculosis.
In Henley’s poem, the speaker reflects on the adversity he faces and his response to it. In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo envisions himself as a self-made man who has survived a very difficult upbringing to become the person he currently is. Introduce the poem after students have completed Chapter 2 in the novel, and learned about Okonkwo’s fame, his wealth, and his relationship with his father. Ask students to compare and contrast the opinion that both the narrator of the poem and Okonkwo have of themselves.
In “If,” the speaker sets out a list of rules by which he thinks his son should live.
The poem “If” centers on the advice that a father gives his son on how to become a man. In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo thinks it is in the best interest of his sons for him to be a very strict, demanding, and sometimes violent father. Introduce this text after students have finished reading Chapter 4, and the scene where Okonkwo reprimands Nwoye and Ikemefuna for the way they are preparing the seed-yams. Ask students to compare and contrast the advice given by the father in Kipling’s poem with the parenting style of Okonkwo. What parts of the poem would Okonkwo reject, and what parts would he agree with?
In this early 20th-century story, a poor mother refuses to give up on her ailing daughter, and turns to a spiritual healer when a doctor tells her there is nothing left to do.
In Things Fall Apart, in Chapter 9, one of Okonkwo’s daughters, Enzima, becomes very ill. The narrator then recounts the story of when Okonkwo and Enzima’s mother, Ekwefi, entrusted a local medicine man to ensure that Enzima would not die as a child. After reading chapter nine, have students compare and contrast the way Ekwefi responded to the medicine man with the trust that Martha Benson places in the faith curist in Dunbar’s short story. How do the two women rely on their faith and their trust of others? How do the two women deal with adversity? Can the outcome of the two mothers’ trust have an effect on their faith?
This informational text is an introduction to the United States Supreme Court -- who is on it, how cases are brought to the Supreme Court, and why it matters.
Introduce this text once students have read Chapter 10, and have read how Evil Forest and the egwugwu resolve a dispute between members of the community. Ask students to compare and contrast the American justice system to the way justice is administered in Things Fall Apart.
The Code of Hammurabi is a well-preserved Babylonian law code of ancient Mesopotamia that dates back to about 1772 B.C. Hammurabi, the sixth Babylonian king, enacted The Code, which consists of 282 laws and corresponding punishments (depending on social status). The notion of trial by ordeal actually has some foundation in this ancient set of laws.
In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo’s gun goes off at a funeral and kills a member of the clan. As punishment for this accident, Okonkwo is exiled from the village for seven years and his home is burned down. After reading Chapter 13, have students read “The Code of Hammurabi” and discuss what makes a punishment fair or unfair, and what the purpose of a law is. Does Okonkwo deserve to be exiled in keeping with law and tradition within his community? When do laws need to be revised and changed? Are there any laws that students can think of that they feel need to be revised or changed?
Reverend H.T. Johnson wrote this poem in response to Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden.”
Introduce this text after students have read Chapter 16, and have them discuss the thematic connections between the poem and the plot of Things Fall Apart, in particular reference to the white missionaries’ address to the village people through the interpreter Kiaga. How might Johnson’s poem reflect some of the views of the villagers as they deride the missionaries? What assumptions do the village people make about the missionaries that arrive to speak to them? How do their views contrast with the speaker’s views of white people in Johnson’s poem? Consider pairing this text alongside “The White Man’s Burden” for a comparative view and discussion on perspective.
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was a British writer who is best known for The Jungle Book. In 1899, he wrote “The White Man’s Burden,” a poem about America’s imperative to colonize and rule the Philippine Islands. This poem sparked considerably controversy when it was written.
Introduce this text after students have read Chapter 16, and have them discuss the thematic connections between the poem and the plot of Things Fall Apart, in particular reference to the white missionaries’ address to the village people through the interpreter Kiaga. How does the missionary’s attitude compare with that of the speaker in “The White Man’s Burden”? How do the speaker of the poem and the missionary in Things Fall Apart view non-white people? What set of assumptions do the missionary and the speaker of the poem make? How does Achebe seek to challenge these assumptions through the village people and their response to the missionaries? Consider pairing this text alongside “The Black Man’s Burden” for a comparative view and discussion on perspective.
In “Manifest Destiny, I Do Believe,” Cordelia – a fictional missionary and pioneer - writes a letter about her bold plans to travel west and “civilize” the Indians in the name of Manifest Destiny.
Introduce this text after students have completed Chapter 21 in Things Fall Apart, and read the exchange between Mr. Brown, the Christian missionary, and Akunna, one of the clan leaders. Ask students to compare both Mr. Brown motivations for coming to Umuofia with Cordelia’s sense that it is her duty to God to travel west and bring “light” to a “dark” place. Have students discuss the motivations of both Mr. Brown and Cordelia in light of being presented with a novel like Things Fall Apart, a text that presents a different perspective to the missionaries. How do Mr. Brown and Cordelia make assumptions about their God-given “duties?” How do the two of them use God as justification to spread their sense of culture and civilization? How does Achebe use the characters in the novel to present a counter-culture and civilization in opposition to the sense of duty that Mr. Brown and Cordelia promote?
In this excerpt from Poetics, Aristotle offers a definition of tragedy, as well as several examples and non-examples of the genre.
In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo goes from being one of the wealthiest and most respected members of society to eventually hanging himself — a grave sin and dishonor amongst his clansman. Having completed the novel, ask students to use Aristotle’s “On Tragedy” to analyze “tragedy” as a literary genre, and discuss whether or not, according to Aristotle, if Things Fall Apart would be considered a tragedy. Is Okonkwo neither a just man nor a man full of vice? Is his downfall a result of an error in judgment? Is Okonkwo’s story the only “tragedy” to be gained from the story?
In this famous poem, William Butler Yeats paints a terrifying, apocalyptic scene in order to describe the atmosphere of Europe following World War I.
Chinua Achebe drew the title of his novel, Things Fall Apart, from one of the opening lines in Yeats’s poem. Introduce this poem after students have completed the book. Now that they have read the novel, and learned about the rise and tragic downfall of Okonkwo, ask them to consider the themes that can be drawn from Things Fall Apart and contrast those with the themes contained in The Second Coming. How do both pieces examine how chaos can occur? How do the poem and the novel take on the theme of tragedy? How do both Achebe and Yeats use their work as omens and forewarnings?
In “The Danger of a Single Story,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discusses the importance of not allowing one story to construct your understanding of the world.
After finishing the novel, ask students to discuss Things Fall Apart as a text that was written with the aim of dismantling the stereotypes associated with Africans and African culture. Does the novel address the concerns Adichie raises? How effective is Things Fall Apart as a counter-narrative to African stereotypes? Ask students to cite their reasons why they believe it is or is not effective.