Study Guide

Things Fall Apart Fear

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Chapter Two

Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo’s fear was greater than these. It was not external, but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father. Even as a little boy he had resented his father’s failure and weakness, and even now he still remembered how he had suffered when a playmate had told him that his father was agbala. That was how Okonkwo first came to know that agbala was not only another name for a woman, it could also mean a man who had taken to title. And so Okonkwo was ruled by one passion – to hate everything that his father Unoka had loved. One of those things was gentleness and another was idleness. (2.12)

Despite all of Okonkwo’s showy manliness, he is ruled by fear – a profound fear of being deemed weak and feminine, like his father. Essentially, Okonkwo fears nothing but himself.

[…] he [Okonkwo] was not afraid of war. He was a man of action, a man of war. Unlike his father he could stand the look of blood. In Umuofia’s latest war he was the first to bring home a human head. (2.4)

Okonkwo, unlike his father, has no fear of violence, but actually revels in it. Fearlessness in war is a highly respected quality in Umuofia.

As for the boy himself, he was terribly afraid. He could not understand what was happening to him or what he had done. How could he know that his father had taken a hand in killing a daughter of Umuofia? All he knew was that a few men had arrived at their house, conversing with his father in low tones, and at the end he had been taken out and handed over to a stranger. His mother had wept bitterly, but he had been too surprised to weep. (2.20)

Ikemefuna’s fear stems from deep disorientation, unfamiliarity, and uncertainty about what the future will hold. With a child’s limited understanding of the social world around him, he cannot begin to comprehend the series of events that led to his sudden and painful separation from his family. All he knows is that he wants to go home.

Chapter Four

When Okonkwo heard that he [Ikemefuna] would not eat any food he came into the hut with a big stick in his hand and stood over him while he swallowed his yams, trembling. A few moments later he went behind the hut and began to vomit painfully. (4.5)

Okonkwo rules his household based on fear. Not only does he scare Ikemefuna into eating, but his wives have to tip-toe around him for fear of a beating.

Chapter Five

Okonkwo was specially fond of Ezinma. She looked very much like her mother, who was once the village beauty. But his fondness only showed on very rare occasions. (5.60)

Okonkwo is afraid of showing his emotions too openly, unless they are feelings of anger or aggression. Because he fears being effeminate and losing community respect, he shies away from showing even his favorite child affection.

Chapter Seven

One of the men behind him cleared his throat. Ikemefuna looked back, and the man growled at him to go on and not stand looking back. The way he said it sent cold fear down Ikemefuna’s back. His hands trembled vaguely on the black pot he carried. Why had Okonkwo withdrawn to the rear? Ikemefuna felt his legs melting under him. And he was afraid to look back.

As the man who had cleared his throat drew up and raised his machete, Okonkwo looked away. He heard the blow. The pot fell and broke in the sand. He heard Ikemefuna cry, “My father, they have killed me!” as he ran towards him. Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak. (7.27-28)

It is not only Ikemefuna who feels fear when hearing the man so mysteriously clear his throat; Okonkwo, too, we know, fears what is about to come. Every nerve in Okonkwo tells him this is wrong, but when the moment comes, he kills his adopted son. Ikemefuna and Okonkwo’s fears are contrasted here. Ikemefuna fears the men with machetes and death, both of which he has no control over. Okonkwo, on the other hand, fears losing his sense of masculinity – an internal fear which he could control, but instead gives into.

Chapter Eleven

She had prayed for the moon to rise. But now she found the half-light of the incipient moon more terrifying than darkness. The world was now peopled with vague, fantastic figures that dissolved under her steady gaze and then formed again in new shapes. At one stage Ekwefi was so afraid that she nearly called out Chielo for companionship and human sympathy. What she had seen was the shape of a man climbing a palm tree, his head pointing to the earth and his legs skywards. But at that very moment Chielo’s voice rose again in her possessed chanting, and Ekwefi recoiled, because there was no humanity there. It was not the same Chielo who sat with her in the market and sometimes bought beancakes for Ezinma, whom she called her daughter. It was a different woman – the priestess of Agbala, the Oracle of the Hills and Caves. Ekwefi trudged along between two fears. (11.62)

The unfamiliar and unseen environment intensifies and exaggerates Ekwefi’s imagination and her fear. So Ekwefi is trapped between two fears – one of the unknown darkness around her and the other of the possessed Chielo abducting her daughter.

And then the priestess screamed. “Somebody is walking behind me!” she said. “Whether you are spirit or man, may Agbala shave your head with a blunt razor! May he twist your neck until you see your heels!”

Ekwefi stood rooted to the spot. One mind said to her: “Woman, go home before Agbala does you harm.” But she could not. (11.56-57)

Chielo’s threats of horrible physical injury at the god’s hostile hands understandably mortify Ekwefi. However, her love for Ezinma gives her courage to conquer her fear of the gods.


But Ekwefi did not hear these consolations. She stood for a while, and then, all of a sudden, made up her mind. She hurried through Okonkwo’s hut and went outside. “Where are you going?” he asked.

“I am following Chielo,” she replied and disappeared in the darkness. (11.50-51)

Out of Ekwefi’s intense fear that her only daughter will be hurt, Ekwefi finds the desperate courage to follow Chielo and risk the gods’ disapproval.

Chapter Nineteen

“But I fear for you young people because you do not understand how strong is the bond of kinship. You do not know what it is to speak with one voice. And what is the result? An abominable religion has settled among you. A man can now leave his father and his brothers. He can curse gods of his fathers and his ancestors, like a hunter’s dog that suddenly goes mad and turns on his master. I fear for you; I fear for you the clan.” (19.24)

The elders fear, rightly, that the younger men have forgotten their bonds of kinship and that has led to their downfall. Because the younger generation hasn’t held the clan together, their future is unknown, which is terrifying.

Chapter Twenty-Two

The leaders of the Christians had met together at Mr. Smith’s parsonage on the previous night. As they deliberated they could hear the Mother of Spirits wailing for her son. The chilling sound affected Mr. Smith, and for the first time he seemed to be afraid. (22.13)

Mr. Smith naturally fears something with which he is unfamiliar – the mourning and raging cry of a foreign god. This is also the first time that he has not been in complete control of the situation in Umuofia.

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