Things Fall Apart is celebrated author Chinua Achebe’s first novel. Known as perhaps the most popular book in modern African literature, this story 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 for students.

Achebe’s skillful prose exposes the insidiously 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 thought-provoking topics of discussion, such as colonialism, masculinity, language, family, and communalism.

The novel’s title is an allusion to William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming” in which Yeats describes the catastrophic end of one civilization and the start of another. For a deeper analysis of Okonkwo’s character, consider reviewing the entire poem with your students, as the emotions expressed in the piece parallel those experienced by Okonkwo as he watches his village fall to colonialism.

Continue reading to learn more about Things Fall Apart.

Summary of Things Fall Apart

Key Facts

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

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 a respected leadership position through a series of poor decisions—from his murdering a clansman by accident to beating one of his wives during a sacred week. Although he repents, these events forever tarnish Okonkwo’s name among the people in his community, resulting in his exile. Upon his return several years later, Okonkwo finds his village overrun with Christian missionaries, who intend 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: Things Fall Apart contains graphic violence and suicide.

What Your Students Will Love About Things Fall Apart

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

Potential Student Struggles With Things Fall Apart

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

Learning Objectives for 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 upholding reputation and respect has on Okonkwo.

Literary Elements in Things Fall Apart

  • Foreshadowing
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Personification
  • Proverb
  • Simile
  • Theme
  • And more!

Major Themes in Things Fall Apart

Individual and Society — Okonkwo resists the changes that are overtaking his community and turns away from his tribe on more than one occasion.

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Tradition — While some embrace the work of the missionaries, many Igbo are wary of the destruction of their culture and customs.

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Responsibility — Okonkwo feels responsible for the Igbo people, especially when he must uphold obligations that he may not completely agree with.

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Other Resources for Things Fall Apart

Order Things Fall Apart Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
Things Fall Apart Paperback Student Edition
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
Things Fall Apart Multiple Critical Perspectives Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Things Fall Apart Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set