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.
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.
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Book: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Penguin Books, 2017)
Excerpt: Igbo Culture and History by Don C. Ohadike
Book: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Book: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Algonquin Books, 2012)
Poem: “Mango Seedling” by Chinua Achebe
Poem: “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats
Article: “Chinua Achebe, African Literary Titan, Dies at 82” by Jonathan Kandell (New York Times, 2013)
Article: “How to Write about Africa” by Binyavanga Wainaina (Granta, 2006)
Speech: “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s 'Heart of Darkness'” by Chinua Achebe
This assessment accompanies Unit 2 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.
proverb, epigraph, theme, characterization, character motivation, conflict, mood, setting, tone, juxtaposition, foil, perspective, point of view, irony, satire, tragedy, tragic or fatal flaw
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)
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.
Purple Hibiscus — p. 1
Heart of Darkness — p. 8
“Chinua Achebe, African Literary Titan, Dies at 82”
Infer Achebe’s purpose(s) for writing Things Fall Apart.
Igbo Culture and History
Gather basic information about the Igbo people and the impact of European colonization on the Igbo.
“The Second Coming”
Things Fall Apart pp. 3 – 8
Predict the major themes of the novel.
Analyze the author’s characterization of the protagonist, Okonkwo.
Things Fall Apart — Chapter 2
Analyze the continued characterization of Okonkwo in chapter 2.
Describe how the author uses setting, nonlinear plot, and characterization to develop theme.
Things Fall Apart pp. 16 – 22 — Chapter 3
“An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s 'Heart of Darkness'”
Identify examples of techniques Achebe uses to counteract Europeans’ simplistic stereotypes of Africans.
Things Fall Apart — Chapter 4
Analyze Achebe’s portrayal of women in chapter 4.
Trace Achebe’s development of Okonkwo’s tragic flaw.
Things Fall Apart — Chapter 5
Students will analyze how Achebe further develops Okonkwo’s hyper masculinity as a fatal flaw in chapter 5.
Things Fall Apart — Chapter 6
Explain how the author establishes the significance of the wrestling match to the people of Umuofia.
Things Fall Apart — Chapter 7
Analyze Okonkwo’s decision to disobey the Oracle and how this decision develops theme.
Things Fall Apart — Chapter 9
Analyze the importance of children to the lives of women in Umuofia.
Things Fall Apart — Chapter 10
Explain the role of the egwugwu in the Umuofian judicial system.
Analyze the role of women in Umuofian society.
Things Fall Apart — Chapter 11
Explain how Achebe develops the theme of the individual and community in chapter 11.
Things Fall Apart — Chapter 13
Analyze how Achebe develops the importance of strong and harmonious ties to the Igbo community.
Explain the development of Okonkwo’s tragic flaw in chapter 13.
Things Fall Apart — Chapters 14 & 15
Trace the author’s continued development of the importance of strong harmonious ties within a community.
Things Fall Apart — Chapters 16 & 17
Analyze the shift in tone toward the missionaries over the course of chapter 16.
Analyze the symbolism of fire as it relates to Achebe’s characterization of Okonkwo’s relationships.
Things Fall Apart — Chapters 18 & 19
Analyze how Achebe develops both the theme of community and colonization in these chapters.
Things Fall Apart — Chapter 20
Analyze the disagreement between Okonkwo and Obierika, explaining how Achebe uses it to build theme.
Things Fall Apart — Chapter 21
Analyze Okonkwo’s reaction to his village and the village’s reaction to Okonkwo.
Things Fall Apart — Chapters 22 & 23
Students will be able to analyze how Achebe brings the conflict to a climax in these chapters.
Things Fall Apart — Chapter 24
Analyze how the author develops Okonkwo’s character in chapter 24.
Things Fall Apart — Chapter 25
“How to Write about Africa”
Analyze Achebe’s use of irony and narration to communicate theme at the end of the novel.