Things Fall Apart (Norton Critical Editions)

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Chinua Achebe’s tragic novel of pre-colonial Igbo society was a major literary and cultural event when it was published in 1958.
Written during a period of nationalist assertion and an emerging modern culture in Africa, Things Fall Apart’s influence quickly spread from Nigeria throughout Africa and beyond. In its fifty years, this unforgettable novel has been translated into fifty languages and has been read by millions.
A Chronology of Achebe’s life and work and a Selected Bibliography are also included.

A classic of modern African writing, this is the tale of what happens to tribal customs and old ways when white man comes.

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Editorial Reviews

Readers Catalog
Achebe's most famous novel brilliantly portrays the impact of colonialism on a traditional Nigerian village at the turn of the century. Its hero, Obi Okonkwo, epitomizes both the nobility and the rigidity of the traditional culture.
Sacred Fire
Things Fall Apart is one of the most widely read African novels ever published. It is written by one of Nigeria’s leading novelists, Chinua Achebe. Set in the Ibo village of Umuofia, Things Fall Apart recounts a stunning moment in African history&#8212its colonization by Britain. The novel, first published in 1958, has by today sold over 8 million copies, been translated into at least forty-five languages, and earned Achebe the somewhat misleading and patronizing title of "the man who invented African literature." It carefully re-creates tribal life before the arrival of Europeans in Africa, and then details the jarring changes brought on by the advent of colonialism and Christianity.

The book is a parable that examines the colonial experience from an African perspective, through Okonkwo, who was "a strong individual and an Igbo hero struggling to maintain the cultural integrity of his people against the overwhelming power of colonial rule." Okonkwo is banished from the community for accidentally killing a clansman and is forced to live seven years in exile. He returns to his home village, only to witness its disintegration as it abandons tradition for European ways. The book describes the simultaneous disintegration of Okonkwo and his village, as his pleas to his people not to exchange their culture for that of the English fall on deaf ears.

The brilliance of Things Fall Apart is that it addresses the imposition of colonization and the crisis in African culture caused by the collapse of colonial rule. Achebe prophetically argued that colonial domination and the culture it left in Africa had such a stranglehold on African peoples that its consequences would haunt African society long after colonizers had left the continent.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Achebe's powerful critique of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness as a racist mirror of Eurocentric attitudes leads off this challenging collection of essays on art, literature and social issues. The famed Nigerian novelist ( Things Fall Apart ) views literature as a medium that can help Africa regain a belief in itself to replace a posture of self-abasement instilled by its traumatic historical encounter with the West. Tributes to novelists Amos Tutuola and Kofi Awoonor, as well as discerning appraisals of writers such as V. S. Naipaul and James Baldwin, reflect his belief in the power of fiction to give us a ``handle on reality.'' Overall, these concise essays deliver a forceful commentary on Afro-American life and letters. Summing up Nigeria's recent sociopolitical history as ``a snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory,'' Achebe calls active participation in the political process a prerequisite for his country's, and Africa's, regeneration. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Because the Nigerian novelist Achebe usually writes in English, his essays are informed by a sense of encounter between Africa and Europe. In this collection Achebe attacks patronizing Western views of African culture with gusto. Focusing on the role of the writer, he considers literature--written and oral--as a social force. As literary theory, the prophetic, moralizing kind of criticism Achebe favors would need more stringent argument and more careful dissection of opposing views. Beyond that, libraries holding his earlier book, Morning Yet on Creation Day (o.p.), will already have five of the best essays here. Still, the present title has obvious value for African studies collections. Also, since Achebe's novels are frequently assigned in English courses, students might find helpful background here.-- Donald Ray, Mercy Coll. Lib., Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
School Library Journal
YA-- Gathered together are 20 short stories written between 1980-1991. They are divided by region: five stories from Southern Africa; two from Central Africa; five from East Africa; two from Northern Africa; and six from West Africa. Region is important for, in many cases, the issues of the area are reflected in the selections. As an example, those from South Africa use racism as a major theme. Several have strong maternal figures struggling to provide for their families under intolerable burdens. While many of the authors are new, there are some well-established names. Nadine Gordimer's ``Amnesty'' beautifully describes the harshness of life in South Africa. The writing is mature, and the themes and moods are many, ranging from mystical to magical to supernatural to realistic. This anthology is a worthwhile addition to any library collection serving YAs.-- Pat Royal, Crossland High School, Camp Springs, MD
The Readers Catalog
Achebe's most famous novel brilliantly portrays the impact of colonialism on a traditional Nigerian village at the turn of the century. Its hero, Obi Okonkwo, epitomizes both the nobility and the rigidity of the traditional culture.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393932195
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/19/2008
  • Series: Norton Critical Editions Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 598
  • Sales rank: 138,859
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Francis Abiola Irele, formerly Professor of French, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, was for several years Professor of African, French, and Comparative Literature at the Ohio State University. After retiring from Ohio State in 2003, he became Visiting Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Among his many publications are The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature (edited with Simon Gikandi) and two collections of essays, The African Experience in Literature and Ideology and The African Imagination: Literature in Africa and the Black Diaspora. He is a contributing editor to The Norton Anthology of World Literature and General Editor of the Cambridge Studies in African and Caribbean Literature series.

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Table of Contents

Chinua Achebe: A Biographical Note
Chinua Achebe and the Invention of African Literature
Igbo Culture and History
Principal Characters in the Novel
Glossary of Words and Phrases Used in the Text
Suggestions for Further Reading
Things Fall Apart 1
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Reading Group Guide

1. The Ibo religious structure consists of chi--the personal god--and many other gods and goddesses. What advantages and disadvantages does such a religion provide when compared with your own?

2. The text includes many original African terms and there is a glossary provided. Do you find that this lends atmospheric authenticity, thus bringing you closer to the work? Do you find it helpful?

3. There is an issue here of fate versus personal control over destiny. For example, Okonkwo's father is sometimes held responsible for his own actions, while at other times he is referred to as ill-fated and a victim of evil-fortune. Which do you think Okonkwo believes is true? What do you think Achebe believes is true? What do you believe?

4. The threads of the story are related in a circular fashion, as opposed to a conventional linear time pattern. What effect does this impose on the tale of Ikemefuma? What effect does it have on the story of Ezinma?

5. The villagers believe--or pretend to believe--that the "Supreme Court" of the nine egwugwu are ancestral spirits. In fact, they are men of the village in disguise. What does this say about the nature of justice in general, and in this village in particular?

6. Our own news media pre-programs us to view the kind of culture clash represented here as being purely racial in basis. Does Achebe's work impress as being primarily concerned with black versus white tensions? If not, what else is going on here?

7. Certain aspects of the clan's religious practice, such as the mutilation of a dead child to prevent its spirit from returning, might impress us as being barbaric. Casting an honest eye on our own religiouspractices, which ones might appear barbaric or bizarre to an outsider?

8. In an essay entitled "The Novelist as Teacher, " Achebe states: "Here then is an adequate revolution for me to espouse--to help my society regain belief in itself and put away the complexes of the years of denigration and self-abasement" (Hopes and Impediments, p. 44). In what ways do you feel that this novel places Achebe closer to the fulfillment of this noble aspiration?

9. Nature plays an integral role in the mythic and real life of the Ibo villagers, much more so than in our own society. Discuss ways in which their perception of animals--such as the cat, the locust, the python--differ from your own, and how these different beliefs shape our behavior.

10. The sacrifice of Ikemefuma could be seen as being a parallel to the crucifixion of Jesus. The event also raises a series of questions. Ikemefuma and the villagers that are left behind are told that he is "going home" (p. 58). Does this euphemism for dying contain truth for them? Do they believe they are doing him a favor? Why do they wait three years, him and Okonkwo's family to think of him as a member of the family? Finally, Okonkwo, "the father, " allows the sacrifice to occur as God presumably allowed Christ's sacrifice, with no resistance. How can one accept this behavior and maintain love for the father or God?

11. Of Ezinma, Okonkwo thinks: "She should have been a boy" (p. 64). Why is it necessary to the story that Okonkwo's most favored child be a girl?

12. Of one of the goddesses, it is said: "It was not the same Chielo who sat with her in the market... Chielo was not a woman that night" (p. 106). What do you make of this culture where people can be both themselves and also assume other personas? Can you think of any parallels in your own world?

13. There are many proverbs related during the course of the narrative. Recalling specific ones, what function do you perceive these proverbs as fulfilling in the life of the Ibo? What do you surmise Achebe's purpose to be in the inclusion of them here?

14. While the traditional figure of Okonkwo can in no doubt be seen as the central figure in the tale, Achebe chooses to relate his story in the third person rather than the first person narrative style. What benefits does he reap by adopting this approach?

15. Okonkwo rejects his father's way and is, in turn, rejected by Nwoye. Do you feel this pattern evolves inevitably through the nature of the father/son relationship? Or is there something more being here than mere generational conflict?

16. The lives of Ikemefuma and Okonkwo can be deemed parallel to the extent that they both have fathers whose behavior is judged unacceptable. What do you think the contributing factors are to the divergent paths their fate takes them on as a result of their respective fathers' shadows?

17. The title of the novel is derived from the William Butler Yeats poem entitled The Second Coming, concerned with the second coming of Christ. The completed line reads: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." What layers of meaning are discernible when this completed line is applied to the story?

18. The District Commissioner is going to title his work The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Niger (p. 209). What do you interpret from this to be his perception of Okonkwo and the people of Umuofia? And what do you imagine this augurs in the ensuing volumes in Achebe's trilogy of Nigerian life?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 420 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2012

    Things Fall Apart on Barbara Kingsolvers book list

    Classic fiction by one of Africas best authors

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2012


    U said to come here

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2012

    To luke


    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2012

    Officer cody

    Yep when i say im on pratrol i drive by the house

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2012


    Read it

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2012


    He aint scared.he aint on here rite now so stop bein rude

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2012


    You need to shut up!!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2012

    The re jess

    That qas an imposter!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 21, 2012

    Great in high school many yrs ago. Picked this up by

    Great in high school many yrs ago. Picked this up by accident in a museum in DC on a high school field trip!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2005

    this book is weird

    this is one of the wierdest books ever!! i mean i had to read it for summer reading and i really wish to throw it away but i have to read it. they change the topic so quick that there is no importance. this character okqonko or watever this guy gets kicked out of his village... hu cares the whole book is like that . maybe i am missing the point of the book or something i dun no...

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2003

    Reflections on Things Fall Apart.

    Tremendous events had occured throughout this exciting and unpridictible novel. However, one of the most major and defining aspects of the novel was Okonkwo's inclement and harsh actions. Okonkwo is the main charecter of the novel. Through the reading,Okonkwo revealed and expresed him- self as an obssesively harsh, visios and forceful person. Okonkwo had extensively revealed himself as a robust man of great fortitude and courage. He rarely expressed feelings of love, weakness or care twards others. Throughout the novel Okonkwo illustates himself notoriously, and person that didn't reveale any emotion openly unless it was the emotion of extreme anger. In the Igbo society expressing affection was a sign of weakness, the only thing worth demonstrating was strength and extreme fortitude. In some peoples point of view Okonkwo's actions revealed extreme malignance and cruelty. however, in Okonkwo's point of view his actions were correct and showing any differance in his actions would be considered as a feminon act or bieng craven. Basically Okonkwo was a part of a society of various thoughts and beliefs. Okonkwo, built his self as fearless and couragous. his word or comand was to be immedietly done. However, in various ways, i think Okonkwo tries to somehow reveal some affection twards differnt situations. Okonkwos way of treeting others remains the ideal way in his point of view. Basically, Okonkow's personality is a major aspect in structuring a massive portion of the novel. *Chinua wrote a wonderfull novel (Things Fall Apart)and revealed the influence of western society on the African culture.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2002

    This Audio Book is a Disaster!!

    Before I begin my review, I must confess that I couldn't get through the first of the four tapes in the package. I come from the Igbo ethnic group of South East Nigeria where Things Fall Apart is set. I grew up on Achebe's works, I even attended the same high school that this renowned son of Igbo land attended - Government College Umuahia. All through College and Graduate school, I read, wrote about and taught Things Fall Apart both in Africa and the United States. So I was excited when I saw that an audio book version was now released. I picked up the audio book, dashed to my car, popped in the first tape and quickly pulled over to the side of the road and 'wept.' I felt ashamed, raped and simply violated. Peter Francis James is a great narrator of repute, but this is not a project that should have been given to someone because of their reputation. Things Fall Apart simply fell apart in his hands as he struggled and fought his way through the Igbo names. Achebe is a very deliberate writer, hence his choice of names for his characters are very deliberate. The Igbo language is very tonal such that a word or name could mean three or more different things depending on how it is pronounced. For example the word 'akwa' could mean cry, egg, bed, or cloth. Sadly, as Peter Francis James began to murder the names of the characters, gods and places in this incredible work of literature; the novel became something else. Maybe to the Western ear, this is not important, but names of people and gods are not taken lightly by the Igbos. This is a book about us, Achebe tells our story because he was tired of having someone else tell it. Therefore, if there is one book that deserves authenticity - Things Fall Apart is it! My simple question is why an Igbo narrator was not chosen to do this, or at the very least an Igbo coach provided for Peter Francis James to help him with the Igbo names and words. I know that with today's nonlinear editing technology, all that is needed is for Peter Francis James to sit with a coach after the narration is finished, work on pronouncing the Igbo names and words and inserting them seamlessly. I refuse to believe that out of over 25 million Igbos (over 1 million in the USA, over 500,000 in Europe); Peter Francis James was 'most proper' to narrate this story of the Igbos. Achebe has tried to tell our story through our eyes, but perhaps our accent is too strong to give voice to his words? But it cannot be our strong accent, because I know a few Igbos who are television and radio announcers and reporters for the famed US and UK media houses: CNN and BBC. As if the insult was not enough, an AudioFile review printed on the cover reads 'Full of melodic richness, [Peter Francis] James projects Achebe's genuinely African cadences with a power and dignity equal to his vision, ...' AudioFile got it all wrong! It is an insult to even pretend that this reckless desecration of Igbo names, words and gods is equal to Achebe's vision. This act which in the name of civility I will attribute to ignorance undermines the underlying message of Things Fall Apart. It only goes to show that things are still falling apart indeed.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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