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 2

11th Grade

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 deep understanding 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


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

Key Knowledge

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

Future Fishtank ELA Connections

Lesson Map

Common Core Standards

Core Standards

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Unit 1

The Glass Menagerie


Unit 3

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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