Study Guide

Things Fall Apart Chapter One

By Chinua Achebe

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Chapter One

  • We meet Okonkwo at age 18 during a wrestling match – the moment that he first becomes famous among the local villages.
  • Okonkwo is fighting against an undefeated wrestler called Amalinze the Cat, but in the end, Okonkwo throws the Cat and wins the contest.
  • This wrestling match actually happened twenty years ago, and since then Okonkwo’s reputation has grown and spread.
  • Achebe describes Okonkwo as a pretty intimidating guy. He’s physically huge, has an intense face, and tends to use his fists to settle his arguments. And he’s impatient with “unsuccessful” men – like his dad.
  • Okonkwo despises his late father, Unoka, for his laziness. Unoka died ten years ago, but essentially was totally irresponsible and was always blowing his money on booze (okay, gourds of palm-wine). He was a drink-and-be-merry kind of guy who enjoyed playing the flute, feasting, and celebrating.
  • As a youth, Unoka was a musician and his happiest moments were after the annual harvest, when the whole village would gather to feast and enjoy the music.
  • Later in life though, Unoka was a failure because he was too lazy to work. Instead, he borrowed money from all his friends and could barely afford to feed his family. He became the laughingstock of the village.
  • Flashing back to when Unoka was alive, we see a telling scene. Okoye, Unoka’s neighbor, comes to visit Unoka and offers him a kola nut, which is a ritual gift. Okoye goes through a long-winded, stylized discourse which is a polite way of asking Unoka to pay back the loan of 200 cowries he borrowed from Okoye.

  • Unoka laughs at Okoye and points at his wall, on which he has marked down all his debts. He owes a lot of people a lot of money. He snubs Okoye, saying he means to pay off his big debts first (because he’s in major debt) and Okoye is forced to leave empty-handed.
  • The flashback ends.
  • Unoka died in debt, which is why Okonkwo is ashamed of him. Okonkwo, unlike his father, established himself as a rich successful yam farmer with three wives and two tribal titles. He seems destined for great things.
  • At the end of the chapter, we are left with a tantalizing snippet of information – Okonkwo is somehow left in charge of an ill-fated boy named Ikemefuna.

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