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Book Review

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Okonkwo is a brave Nigerian warrior and a leader in the village of Umuofia. Disgusted by his lazy, unsuccessful father, Okonkwo strives from a young age to be the antithesis of the man. He wins a wrestling contest at age 18 and goes on to become a shrewd, successful farmer.

Because of his high rank in the village, he’s given the responsibility of caring for a young boy the Umuofia have received from another tribe as a peace offering. The boy, Ikemefuna, lives with Okonkwo, his wives and children for three years. Okonkwo secretly becomes fond of the boy, and Ikemefuna calls him father.

When the tribe decides to kill the boy, they try to spare Okonkwo from having to participate. The boy runs to him, and Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna with his machete so he will appear unshakable.

Okonkwo’s fear of looking weak causes many problems for him. As he secretly battles his own grief over Ikemefuna’s death, he beats his son, Nwoye, for mourning the loss. During the tribe’s Week of Peace, Okonkwo gets angry at one of his wives for not preparing his meal on time. He beats her harshly.

The tribe believes he has committed a great transgression against the gods by defiling the sacred observance, and he receives a heavy fine. At a funeral, Okonkwo accidentally kills a relative of the deceased. He is banished from his tribe for seven years and takes his family to Mbanta, the land of his mother. His uncle, Uchendu, helps him get settled. Okonkwo’s friend from Umuofia, Obierika, visits him a few times.

White missionaries begin evangelizing in the area. The tribes aren’t too concerned at first, believing the missionaries won’t stay long. Okonkwo and other tribesmen mock the missionary who speaks to them of his God.

Nwoye feels he’s found the truth he’s been seeking all his life and becomes a convert. Okonkwo wonders how his son could have become so “degenerate and effeminate.” He calls him a great abomination and says he no longer has a son. When the missionaries ask for land on which to build their church, the leaders of Mbanta debate. They think they’re being clever and give the missionaries their evil forest, a dumping ground for the dead and a haven for sinister forces. When the church survives even on this unsacred land, more tribesmen become converts.

Seven years pass, and Okonkwo and his family return to Umuofia. The village has changed, largely because of the influence of the church and a white government. Okonkwo has lost the position he once held.

Prisons now hold tribesmen who have rebelled against the white man’s law. Okonkwo and Obierika lament the foolishness of the tribes for failing to drive out the white men when they first arrived.

When a zealous Christian convert is accused of killing a sacred snake, tribesmen dressed as ancestral spirits burn down the church building. The white men’s district commissioner calls in men from the Umuofia tribe, including Okonkwo, under the guise of hearing their grievances. He ends up imprisoning them and essentially holding them for ransom.

Shortly after Okonkwo and the others are released, village men meet to discuss the problem. Okonkwo wants a war. A messenger arrives with an order from the white men to end this meeting. Okonkwo draws his machete and beheads the messenger. Okonkwo knows that Umuofia will not go to war, so he hangs himself.

Christian Beliefs

Christian missionaries begin to evangelize in the tribal lands. The early church leaders, Mr. Kiaga and Mr. Brown, share Scripture and try to live peaceably with the tribesmen. They cause a stir by rescuing twins left to die and allowing village outcasts into their congregation.

Tribesmen don’t appreciate being told their gods are impotent and that there is only one true God. They debate Mr. Brown extensively on that issue and topics like man’s ability to know the will of God (or gods). Mr. Brown’s replacement, Mr. Smith, is much less willing to compromise with the natives and speaks about the world being a battlefield.

A zealous Christian, the son of a snake priest, is accused of having killed and eaten a sacred python. Upon hearing this, angry tribesmen burn down the church building.

Other Belief Systems

The Umuofia and other tribes pray to their ancestors. They believe in spirits and omens and perform many rituals. Surrounding tribes fear the Umuofia because of their powerful medicine men and priests, as the tribe has demonstrated success in war and magic.

Okonkwo has a shrine where he keeps symbols of his personal god (or chi) and ancestral spirits. He offers sacrifices on behalf of himself and his family. Okonkwo’s chi and his personal drive for success are credited with making him a mighty wrestler and leader.

The tribesmen consult the spirits of their departed fathers through an oracle called Agbala. No one has seen Agbala but his priestess, who is full of the power of her god and deeply feared. Twin babies are considered evil and left in the woods to die.

When women miscarry, their future children are sometimes considered ogbanje. This means they’re wicked children who, after dying, re-enter their mother’s wombs to be born again. Since Okonkwo’s wife, Ekwefi, has lost many babies, her daughter, Ezinma, receives this label. A medicine man tries to give Okonkwo advice about ways to break the cycle of Ekwefi’s miscarriages. The medicine man mutilates one of Ekwefi’s dead babies to make it think twice before coming back to haunt the family.

Authority Roles

Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, was a lazy, unsuccessful man who owed many people money. Okonkwo detests his father and wants to be completely opposite. Driven by his deep fears of failure and weakness, he works hard to become a successful farmer and leader. He is often harsh with his family members to appear strong. White men enter the land to evangelize. They eventually take the power from the tribal leadership.


Okonkwo beats his wives and children, even for minor offenses. He cuts Ikemefuna and the white man’s messenger down with his machete. He has collected several human heads as trophies for his prowess in battle. A medicine man mutilates a dead baby to make it think twice before coming back to haunt the family.


A young man is given the dregs of wine at a gathering. The tribesmen believe the dregs of palm-wine are good for men who are “going in to” their wives. The tribesmen’s visceral excitement about the wrestling tournament is likened to their desire for women.

A leader tells Okonkwo he shouldn’t have beat his wife during the Week of Peace even if he had come home and found her lover on top of her. Okonkwo is worried that his son, who is old enough to impregnate a woman, is not strong and industrious enough to be a warrior like him.

During a ceremony for a betrothed couple, relatives study the bride-to-be to ensure she is ripe. Her full, succulent breasts are mentioned. In a dispute between two tribesmen, a man is accused of beating his wife until she miscarries. He replies that she miscarried after she had slept with her lover. The husband eventually pays restitution and is told that his genitals will be cut off if he ever beats his wife again.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Suicide: A man hangs himself because of his failed crop. Okonkwo hangs himself.

Gender roles: In this culture, women are treated as property and fill servant roles. Okonkwo often grumbles that his tribesmen are acting like women or being effeminate when he thinks they’re demonstrating weakness. He always regrets that his wise daughter, Ezinma, was not a boy. Men in Okonkwo’s tribe are disturbed to hear about a tribe where women have more control. They liken this to a woman lying on top of a man when they are making children.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 to 19


Chinua Achebe






Record Label



Anchor Books, a division of Random House Inc., republished this story in 1994


On Video

Year Published



Time Magazine Top 100 Novels, 2010; Margaret Wong Memorial Prize, 1959


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