Things Fall Apart is celebrated author Chinua Achebe’s first novel. Known as perhaps the most popular book in modern African literature, the book compellingly depicts European colonialism in Nigeria, providing a variety of discussion topics ranging from the morality of colonialism to the conflict between traditional and Western ideologies. A background lesson on the Igbo people and colonial and pre-colonial Nigeria will help contextualize the novel.

Achebe’s skillful prose exposes the both insidiously damaging and obviously destructive effects of colonialism on native populations, as shown through the disintegration of the Igbo people’s customs and the protagonist’s tragic end. As the ghost of colonialism haunts modern-day Africa, students will likewise be haunted by Okonkwo’s story and the thought-provoking topics it discusses, such as colonialism, masculinity, language, family, and communalism.

1. Summarize Things Fall Apart

A respected and prosperous warrior of the Umuofia clan in Nigeria, Okonkwo is inspired to be a great provider for his family and his people because of his own father’s laziness. The story traces Okonkwo’s fall from respected leadership position through a series of misfortunes—from the accidental murder of a clansman to beating one of his wives during a sacred week. Although he repents, these events forever tarnish his name amongst the people in his community, resulting in Okonkwo’s exile. Upon his return several years later, Okonkwo finds his village overrun with Christian missionaries, who mean to colonize and convert the Igbo people, destroying their culture and customs in the process. Okonkwo’s realization that the Igbo cannot and will not fight the white men results in his tragic suicide.

Content Warning: This novel contains graphic violence and suicide.

2. Identify Objectives for Teaching Things Fall Apart :

  • Describe the culture of the Igbo people.
  • Discuss the impact of British colonization.
  • Compare the expected roles of each gender and explain the significance of Okonkwo’s hyper-masculinity.
  • List characteristics that form the basis of an ideal family according to the Igbo.
  • Explain the effect that reputation and respect have on Okonkwo.

3. Pinpoint Key Facts and Literary Elements

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 1958
  • Length: 209 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 890
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9-10

Literary Elements

  • Foreshadowing
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Personification
  • Theme

4. Understand Themes and Motifs

  • Individual & Society – Many of the stories reveal the destructive consequences of war that affect not only other countries and cultures, but also the individual.
  • Tradition – Soldiers who are naïve to the horrors of war must learn quickly what lengths they must go to in order to survive. Any innocence they had quickly evaporates when faced with fatally serious situations.
  • Responsibility – The stories depict how the resulting experiences of war can make a soldier question if he is the same man who first entered the service.

5. Explore Related Works

Theme of Individual & Society

Theme of Tradition

Theme of Responsibility

6. Employ Films and Other External Resources

7. Consider What Your Students Will Love

  • Following the story of Okonkwo and his interactions with the missionaries
  • Learning about the Igbo people

8. Anticipate What Your Students May Struggle With

  • Understanding some of the sins and their corresponding punishments
  • Relating to Okonkwo’s struggle, which is relatively specific to his situation

9. Order Things Fall Apart Resources from Prestwick House:

Resource Format
Things Fall Apart Paperback Student Edition
Things Fall Apart Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Things Fall Apart Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Things Fall Apart AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Things Fall Apart Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Things Fall Apart Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set