Things Fall Apart: Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11-15

Things Fall Apart: Chapter 11 Summary

Ezinma is recovered from her sickness and she and her mother are telling stories. Chielo appears and says that the god Agbala would like to see her. However, Okonkwo and Ekwefi are afraid of the meeting, but they cannot refuse a god’s will. Chielo walks with Ezinma to the Oracle’s cave. Despite Chielo’s strict warning, the parents follow them and Ekwefi is ready to step into the sacred cave if anything happens with her precious daughter, even if it meant challenging a god.

Analysis

The priestess of Agbala is a mysterious and frightening figure. Remember that in normal life she is Chielo, a widow who is slight and getting on in years. Yet even with a large child on her back, as the Oracle, she moves at an astonishing rate.

Ekwefi’s love for Ezinma is touching. She is determined to protect her child. The relationship between them is special, almost a bond between equals. Unlike Okonkwo, who constantly wishes that Ezinma had been born a boy, Ekwefi seems thankful for the female companionship her daughter provides. Igbo society may be patriarchal, but Achebe is determined to show the relationships between women as central to Igbo life. The wives of Okonkwo, for example, do not seem to compete with one another. Rather, they support and comfort each other; in this chapter, Okonkwo’s first wife tries to reassure Ekwefi when the priestess takes Ezinma away.

And the relationship between Chielo and Ekwefi also seems important here. The Oracle’s interest in Ezinma turns out to be benevolent. Remember that Chielo is a friend of Ekwefi, and the old widow is also particularly fond of Ezinma. Given Ezinma’s health troubles, we can infer that the priestess is seeking some kind of spiritual protection for the child. And indeed, in later chapters, we learn that Ezinma ceases to be a sickly child after this strange night with the Oracle.

Ezinma is loved by her father, also. Okonkwo follows the priestess, too, as determined as Ekwefi to protect the child if need be. But on his appearance outside the cave, we are reminded of Okonkwo’s character and limitations: he is carrying a matchet as if a mortal weapon could protect him against gods and spirits. Okonkwo approach to problems never varies. He has one set of reactions: willpower and the strength of his muscles are his only weapons. Later, this single-minded approach will cost him his life.

Things Fall Apart: Chapter 12 Summary

Fortunately, nothing happens with the girl: Chielo takes Ezinma back to Okonkwo’s hut. Okonkwo does not let anyone know that he was extremely worried about his daughter, and had made several trips to the cave before Ekwefi, who was following Chielo, had even reached the cave.

Obierka holds uri, a betrothal ceremony for Obierika’s daughter. The ceremony is an enormous celebration, every woman helps in the cooking of the gigantic meal. Everyone attends the ceremony. Everything goes well, and the entire village is happy.

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Analysis

Okonkwo considers any show of feeling to be a weakness. He did not follow the Oracle immediately but instead waited for a suitable “manly” interval. But his feelings for Ezinma are strong: despite his desire to appear manly and detached, he returns to the cave four times, gravely worried for his favourite daughter.

The festival illustrates the bonds of Umuofia’s community. The gift-giving is generous, on both sides. Even the interruptive incident of the loose cow is resolved quickly and peacefully. Achebe highlights the strength of the social fabric of Umuofia. The social order and customs of the tribe are not the barbaric practices of a primitive people, but rather a rich system of tradition and wisdom that preserves peace and harmony between the people of Umuofia. Possible sources of conflict (loose cows, runaway brides) are resolved reasonably and honestly. The Igbo delight in festivals and generous gift-giving. Holidays like the URI involve the whole community.

Things Fall Apart: Chapter 13 Summary

At the funeral of the old clansman, Ogbuefi Ezeudu, who advised Okonkwo about not killing Ikemefuna, a tragedy happens: during the salvo, Okonkwo’s firearm blows up and takes the life of Ezeudu’s son.

Okonkwo must atone for this act, so he and his family are exiled from the village for seven years. Once they leave Iguedo for Mbanta, the native village of Okonkwo’s mother, clansmen destroy everything that was related to the ex-leader of the clan in order to cleanse the village of the sin.

Analysis

Achebe has shown the great social mobility of the Igbo. A man’s worth is not at all determined by the wealth of his father: with hard work and determination, a man can rise to greatness. Okonkwo is proof of that. Consequently, one of his central belief’s is faith in the fairness of the world. A man gets what he merits.

But the beginning of Okonkwo’s tragedy is a complete accident. It is a moment of blind chance that drives Okonkwo from his homeland. The greatest loss is more than material: Okonkwo’s faith in the power of hard work is shaken. His will and a strong arm are unable to prevent this disaster. As a middle-aged man, Okonkwo is being forced to start over again.

Although the event is an accident, it should also be remembered that Ezeudu was the man who warned Okonkwo not to take hand in Ikemefuna’s death. The disaster, a seeming accident, seems to confirm the fears of Obierika, who warned Okonkwo that the earth goddess did not smile on Okonkwo’s participation in Ikemefuna’s murder. However, the incident here is as literary as it is mystical; the calamity taking place at Ezeudu’s funeral is a kind of poetic justice more than it is an example of divine punishment. It is one of many incidents in the novel where tribal ceremonies and rites resonate with the novel’s central action.

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Things Fall Apart: Chapter 14 Summary

The exiled family is received warmly by the relatives of Okonkwo’s mother. With the help of the villagers, they start a new life. They build huts and start growing yam. Of course, Okonkwo is very disappointed – he wanted to be the greatest leader of his clan, and now he is an exile – but seeing that his family is trying to work hard for their new life, he surrenders himself to his fate.

Uchendo, Okonkwo’s uncle, tries to encourage Okonkwo: he also lost everything several years ago and yet ‘I did not hang myself, and I am still alive’.

Analysis

Here as elsewhere, Achebe’s digression into the rituals and celebrations of the Igbo in some way echo what is going on in the central story of the novel. In addition to fleshing out Achebe’s portraiture of Igbo life, the parallels here between the ceremony and central action are strong. The ceremony welcoming the new bride is dominated by the women: it is the husband’s sisters who subject the new bride to scrutiny, with the eldest sister taking on a protective role for her brother. Not coincidentally, Uchendu’s lecture centres on the important role of a mother and maternal bloodlines. Okonkwo, so proud of manhood and obsessed with masculinity, is being asked to accept a mother’s comfort. He is also asked by Uchendu to be a source of tenderness and comfort to his wives; Okonkwo has always associated such conduct with weakness. Uchendu is reminding his nephew that strength is not synonymous with force and violence. He is also reminding Okonkwo that strength is not a uniquely male domain.

Things Fall Apart: Chapter 15 Summary

Two years later Obierika brings cowries to Okonkwo: he is selling Okonkwo’s yams until he returns to his village. He also tells a story about a destructed village, Abame. A white man appeared recently in Abame on an ‘iron horse’ (bicycle), and out of fear of the Oracle’s warning that more would come and destroy the village, the villagers killed the white man – despite the fact that he didn’t do anything but speak to the villagers in a foreign language. Once the other white men found their mate’s bicycle and guessed his fate, they murdered the entire village. Uchendu and Okonkwo call Abame’s people fools because they should have been prepared for the attack and otherwise, they shouldn’t have killed a man who did nothing but talk.

Analysis

This grim chapter foretells the future that approaches Umuofia. The whites send a few men to explore the terrain, and on the slightest provocation retaliate with terrible force. Although the people of Abame were wrong to murder the white man (and notice that Uchendu stresses this point), the retaliation of the white man is excessive. For the ignorant and fearful murder of one man, the whites respond with a brutal massacre that destroys a whole village. Although we are not given the exact number of deaths, Abame probably had a large population: remember that Umuofia has some ten thousand adult males. The effects of European colonialism are finally beginning to penetrate into Nigeria. Although Obierika mentions old legends of white men who took slaves from distant parts of Africa, these stories have always been discarded as myth.

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The other ominous bit of foreshadowing comes with the two very different reactions of Uchendu and Okonkwo. Uchendu described always as a wise and thoughtful man, says that the mistake was to kill the stranger. Okonkwo, characteristically, says that the mistake was failing to prepare for war. Okonkwo will later try to defy the white man, with tragic results.

Fear is one of the primary sources of tragedy in the novel. We are constantly shown how Okonkwo’s fear of failure and effeminacy drives him to ill-considered acts. The village of Abame is destroyed because of fear. The men hear the prediction of the Oracle and panic. They kill the Scout,

Once again, we see the uncanny insights of the Igbo oracles. The Oracle of Abame correctly predicted that the white man was the harbinger of destruction. She even carefully described the scout-and-conquer methods of the white man; remember that the Igbo have a very different concept of war. On the theme of tribal belief, Achebe is not out to prove that Igbo religion is “true.” But he does show that the oracles often have uncanny insights. The use of oracles in the novel also contributes to the theme of fate, which is always a significant part of the tragedy. One could argue that the Abame oracle’s prophecy was self-fulfilling, which is another common aspect of tragedy: the more one tries to elude a foretold fate, the faster one reaches it. However, the Oracle’s prophecy would have come true regardless of the townspeople’s actions. European imperialists brought death and destruction on all of their subjects, innocent and guilty alike. In the same way, the tragedy that befalls Okonkwo is in part his own making, but also comes from predetermined forces.

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