Places: Things Fall Apart

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1958

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Tragedy

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedUmofia

Umofia Things Fall Apart (oo-moh-FEE-uh). Area in southeastern Nigeria, comprising nine villages, where the Umofia clan live. “Umofia” is the Igbo word for “people of the forest.” The word “village” is a loose translation of a complicated concept in Igbo society and is used in Things Fall Apart to represent both the nine villages and the larger area; thus, the village of Umofia comprises nine villages. In Umofia at the end of the nineteenth century, homes are mud huts set in compounds. Each of the villages is advised by a male elder, and the nine elders meet to make decisions for the clan. The center of village life is the market. Okonkwo is known throughout Umofia for his strength and his success in warfare, unlike his father, who also came from Umofia. He is not an elder and has no official status as a leader, but he is relied upon as a man of action and he hopes one day to become a leader. In his father’s village, a male-dominated society, Okonkwo knows his place, and the place of his wives and his children. For him, social order is bound up in tradition and home.

When Okonkwo returns to Umofia after seven years in exile, he finds that the Christian missionaries have made several changes. New buildings–a church, a courthouse–have appeared in the village, representing new ideas and rules. For Okonkwo, the physical changes in the village symbolize the erosion of the Igbo culture–the things that are falling apart.

Okonkwo’s compound

Okonkwo’s compound. The home of Okonkwo and his immediate family. Okonkwo has a hut for himself and one for each of his three wives, a barn, and several yam fields, all enclosed in a red mud wall. None of this was inherited from his father, Unoka, who never prospered. Okonkwo has built up his wealth and his property through his own hard work and the work of his family. When it is determined that Okonkwo must be banished from Umofia, men storm his compound dressed as they would for a war. They burn Okonkwo’s buildings, kill his animals, and tear down his red walls. They do not do this out of anger or hatred (in fact, Okonkwo’s closest friend is one of them), but simply because a man’s land is inseparable from him, and to purify the village they must remove every trace of the offender. Okonkwo understands and accepts his punishment.

Mbanta

Mbanta (m-BON-tuh). Okonkwo’s mother’s village, just beyond Mbaino, where Okonkwo spends his seven years of exile. In his motherland, he is immediately accepted, and his relatives give him land and fields to begin a new life. As Uchendu the elder explains, “A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland.”

Mbaino

Mbaino (m-BI-no). Village bordering on Umofia. Umofia and Mbaino are traditional enemies. When a woman from Umofia is murdered at the market in Mbaino, Umofia threatens a war of vengeance. Rather than face a war with the stronger Umofia, Mbaino sends a young man (Ikemefuna) and a young virgin girl as payment. Throughout the story, Mbaino is referred to as a place where the people are weaker and less just, and the crops are poorer than in Umofia.

Abame

Abame (ah-BAH-may). Neighboring village where the white man on an iron horse is killed. After the people of Abame kill the white man, they are attacked by European soldiers. Many of the Abame clan are killed, and the rest are scattered. Crops and fish die. It is the end of the clan, for without their land the clan cannot endure.

*Great River (Niger River)

*Great River (Niger River). West Africa’s biggest river, rising in Guinea and flowing generally east before turning southward to flow through Nigeria. For Umofia, the Great River represents all that is far away and mysterious, since any travel over large distances would be by water. The missionaries establish their base at Umaru, on the Great River, because they are people who are not of the land and who will not stay in one place. They do not value land or land ownership, because they look to Heaven rather than to Earth.

BibliographyCarroll, David. Chinua Achebe. New York: Twayne, 1970. A general introduction to Achebe’s first four novels.Gikandi, Simon. Reading Chinua Achebe: Language and Ideology in Fiction. Portsmouth, N.H.: J. Currey, 1991. Study of the interplay of the creative process and the political situation in Achebe’s five novels. Devotes a chapter to Things Fall Apart, analyzing writing, culture, and dominance.Lindfors, Bernth, ed. Approaches to Teaching “Things Fall Apart.” New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1991. Suitable for students and teachers. Contains Chinua Achebe’s only essay on the novel, as well as articles of literary and cultural analysis and an excellent bibliographical essay.Wren, Robert M. Achebe’s World: the Historical and Cultural Context of the Novels of Chinua Achebe. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1980. Study of the historical and cultural setting of Achebe’s novels. Compares Achebe’s presentation of the Ibo world with archaeological and sociological research.
Categories: Places