history of the European colonization of Africa

1. Looking at the linguistic and cultural diversity of Nigeria (just one small part of Africa), do you get some sense of how much African culture and history you have not been taught—as these are subjects actively denied and intentionally suppressed by your education system? Why is that? What can you do to remedy this?

2. What are the “things” that fall apart and the “center” that cannot hold in the history of the European colonization of Africa (esp. Nigeria)?

3. How does Achebe introduce the character of Okonkwo, what kind of person is Okonkwo, and why is this important (pp. 3-4)?

4. What are the differences between Okonkwo and his father Unoka? What do you think Achebe is telling us about Igbo masculinity here?

5. Why was Okonkwo ashamed of his father (p. 8)?

6. Achebe suggest that Okonkwo beat on his wives and children because “his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and weakness” (p. 13). This is one of the classic symptoms of patriarchy. Comment.

7. Okonkwo clearly uses his father as a negative role model. Have you ever known anyone who had a negative role model like this?

8. What role did yams play in Igboland?

9. Unoka suggests, in his final days, that a collective failure is easier to deal with than an individual failure—“it is more difficult and more bitter when a man fails alone” (p. 25). Explain.

10. Among the elders and title-holders of Umuofia, Okonkwo’s toxic masculinity was openly criticized (e.g., pp. 26-29). Why might Achebe have chosen this particular flaw for his protagonist?

11. How far did you read before you began to sense, and perhaps even fear, what is going to happen to these characters when the Europeans come?

12. Why do men with fragile masculinity always have to be in control, and always have to find faults in whatever other people do—e.g., “sometimes Okonkwo gave them a few yams each to prepare. But he always found fault with their effort, and he said so with much threatening” (p. 32)? Ever notice this behavior among men in your life?

13. Why does Okonkwo shoot at his wife Ekwefi (pp. 38-39)? Do you think the author wants the reader to take the character of Okonkwo as a positive or as a negative role model?

14. If you are not already familiar with domestic violence (or even if you are), how does the first half of Things Fall Apart help you to understand the nature of patriarchy?

15. Explain: “it filled him with fire as it had always done from his youth. He trembled with the desire to conquer and subdue. It was like the desire for woman” (p. 42).

16. Why is Okonkwo so insistent on policing gender—e.g., “sit like a woman!… no, that is a boy’s job” (p. 44)? Is this part and parcel of toxic masculinity? How often have you heard this shit in your life?

17. Explain: “he was always happy when he heard [his male child] grumbling about women [which he learned to do via imitation of older boys]. That showed that in time he would be able to control his women-folk. 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” (p. 53).

18. What is the difference between “men’s stories” and “women’s stories” in Igboland (pp. 53-54)? Is there a similar cultural construct in your brain—do you think men and women like different kinds of narratives (and if they do, is that from socialization or somewhere else)?

19. You do realize that the first half of Things Fall Apart is a direct discussion and critique of gender norms, right?

20. How did you feel when Okonkwo executes Ikemefuna, his adopted son—“dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak” (p. 61)? How do you think the author wanted his readers to feel?

21. How does Okonkwo deal with the death of Ikemefuna (pp. 63-65)? Does this sound familiar to you?

22. Explain: “Ekwefi had suffered a good deal in her life” (p. 77). What is an ogbanje?

23. Why is Ezinma so important to Ekwefi?

24. Did you notice the misogyny and patriarchal values embedded in Umuofia religion (pp. 90-93)? Do you think Achebe is aware of it too (considering he intentionally put it there)? How do these values compare, for example, with those of Greek myths?

1. Does it surprise you that tobacco, a highly addictive New World pharmaceutical cash crop, became one of the narcotic drugs of choice (snorted, smoked, sucked on, and chewed) for basically all of humankind in every culture almost without exception across the planet immediately after it was introduced into global commerce? Comment.

2. Is the Igbo story of the Tortoise (pp. 96-100) actually a lesson about masculinity? Why or why not?

3. Why did Okonkwo show up at the Oracle’s cave that pre-dawn morning and how did this affect Ekwefi (pp. 108-109)? Why did he allow “what he regarded as a reasonable and manly interval to pass” before he went to the shrine with his machete (p.112)?

4. How similar or how different are Umuofia weddings and funerals to those you have attended or seen?

5. Why is it ironic that Okonkwo and his family are exiled for his accidental killing of a sixteen year old boy?

6. Do you think Achebe is idealizing pre-colonial Igbo culture? Is he being critical of it? What is going on here?

7. Why did Okonkwo yield to despair (p. 131)?

8. What happened to the Abame clan (pp. 138-140)? Do you think they knew they were living under colonial rule?

9. What sort of people were attracted to the white man’s god in Umuofia (p. 143)?

10. Why does Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son, join the missionaries (pp. 144, 147, and 151-152)?

11. Are any gods, ever, just simply pieces of wood and stone (p. 146)?

12. Why did the Mbanta give the missionaries a part of their Evil Forest (pp. 148-149)?

13. Explain: “Okonkwo felt a cold shudder run through him at the terrible prospect, like the prospect of annihilation. He saw himself and his fathers crowding round their ancestral shrine waiting in vain for worship and sacrifice and finding nothing but ashes of bygone days, and his children the while praying to the white man’s god” (p. 153).

14. Explain: “but stories were already gaining ground that the white man had not only brought a religion but also a government” (p. 155). Again, did these people understand they had been colonized, or what that actually meant?

15. Explain: “An abominable religion has settled among you. A man can now leave his father and his brothers. He can curse the gods of his fathers and his ancestors, like a hunter’s dog that suddenly goes mad and turns on his master. I fear for you; I fear for the clan” (p. 167).

16. Do you think Achebe is trying to demonize Christianity in Nigeria? Heroicize it? Or is he strangely neutral?

17. How shocked were you to discover that the British colonial government of Nigeria (a.k.a., ‘Ashy Buttocks’ from the khaki uniforms and ‘My Buttocks’) beat African prisoners and forced them to do manual labor (p. 175)? Why?

18. Explain: “he has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart” (p. 176).

19. Do you see any parallels between colonial occupation of Africa and the earlier colonial occupations of the New World?

20. Schools and hospitals and churches have always been tools of colonialism (and neocolonialism). Comment.

21. How did the ending of the novel affect you? How about that last sentence?

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