Things Fall Apart

Students read Chinua Achebe's widely acclaimed Things Fall Apart as they examine themes of identity, culture, and colonialism, analyzing the author's careful choice of words and symbolism.

Unit Summary

Chinua Achebe, often called the father of modern African literature, has had an impact on readers around the world and on a generation of novelists who have come behind him. His tragic novel, Things Fall Apart, is one of the most widely-read books in the world. The novel’s message about colonialism is echoed and built upon by many of the non-European authors students will read throughout 11th and 12th grade English.

In this unit, students will examine how Achebe develops the complex themes of identity, culture and colonialism, and the individual and community throughout the novel. They will analyze his craft by looking deeply at character development, word choices, and symbols, examining how the author uses these devices to comment on the devastating impact of European colonialism on the culture and peoples of Africa. Along with the novel, students will read several articles and poems that will help to deepen their understanding of the author, the text, and the themes. They will be required to show their mastery of both the content and skills of the unit through a mid-unit essay and a unit test.

Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials

See Text Selection Rationale


This assessment accompanies Unit 2 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Intellectual Prep


  • Read and annotate the novel.
  • Take the final exam, including writing the essay.
  • Read all of the supporting texts for this unit.

Build Background Knowledge

  • A suggested article to build your background knowledge on Chinua Achebe is "After Empire" by Ruth Franklin (The New Yorker)

Essential Questions


  • Identity: In what ways are human beings similar across culture? In what ways does culture impact identity?
  • The Individual and Community: What is community? What holds it together? What tears it apart? What is the relationship between the individual and community? Why is maintaining balance in this relationship so important?
  • Culture and Colonialism: What is the impact of European colonialism on the characters in the novel? On the people and cultures of Africa?

Writing Focus Areas


Spiraling Literary Analysis Writing Focus Area

  • Developing a unique thesis statement to convey an idea about a text
  • Selecting the most relevant pieces of text to support an argument
  • Explaining accurately how the evidence supports the argument



Literary Terms

proverb, epigraph, theme, characterization, character motivation, conflict, mood, setting, tone, juxtaposition, foil, perspective, point of view, irony, satire, tragedy, tragic or fatal flaw

Roots and Affixes

ora- (orator, oracle) and ex- (exile, expedient), im- (impenetrable, impotent)


chapter 1: plaintive (6), prowess (8, 38); chapter 2: amiss (9), discern (9), potent (11), capricious (13); chapter 4: benevolent (26), repentant (31), abomination (31); chapter 5: morality (36), subdue (42); chapter 6: frenzy (47), taut (48); chapter 7: harbinger (56), copiously (56); chapter 8: valor (65), succulent (71); chapter 9: malevolence (79), specious (80); chapter 10: trifle (94); chapter 11: impenetrably (95), benumbed (107); chapter 12: prominent (119); chapter 13: lamentation (12), inadvertent (124), calamity (125); chapter 14: requisite (130); exile (133); chapter 15: fugitive (138), harbinger (139), abomination (141); chapter 16: derisive (146), callow (147); chapter 17: fetish (149), miscreant (152), effeminate (153), annihilation (153); chapter 18: convert (154), heathen (157), ostracize (159); chapter 20: indignity (175), wrath (177); chapter 21: dispensation (178), zeal (178), prestige (182); chapter 21: desecrate (186, 190), imminent (188), pacified (191); chapter 23: palaver (193), ominous (196), sonorous (196); chapter 24: vengeance (199), valor (203); chapter 25: superfluous (206)

Idioms and Cultural References

Text: colonialism (for context), harmattan (1, 5), share-cropping (22) 

There are a number of Igbo words and phrases used in the novel. Students should use the glossary at the back of the book for these Igbo words—they are italicized in the text.

Content Knowledge and Connections


  • European colonization of Africa
  • Igbo culture
  • Chinua Achebe as a writer and social commentator

Lesson Map


  • Things Fall Apart — Chapter 8

Analyze Achebe’s use of Obierika as a foil for Okonkwo.


  • Things Fall Apart — Chapter 9

Analyze the importance of children to the lives of women in Umuofia.



Craft an essay that answers the prompt.


  • Things Fall Apart — Chapter 24

Analyze how the author develops Okonkwo’s character in chapter 24.



Review major themes and events of the text in order to review for tomorrow’s exam.



Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.11-12.4 — Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 11—12 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

  • L.11-12.5 — Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

  • L.11-12.6 — Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.11-12.2 — Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RI.11-12.3 — Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.

  • RI.11-12.6 — Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness, or beauty of the text.

Reading Standards for Literature
  • RL.11-12.1 — Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

  • RL.11-12.2 — Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RL.11-12.3 — Analyze the impact of the author's choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

  • RL.11-12.5 — Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

  • RL.11-12.6 — Analyze a case in which grasping point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.11-12.1 — Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11—12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

  • SL.11-12.2 — Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.

  • SL.11-12.3 — Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.

Writing Standards
  • W.11-12.1 — Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • W.11-12.10 — Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

  • W.11-12.9 — Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.