"Things Fall Apart," Vocabulary from Part One: Chapters 1-5

March 22, 2013
Immerse yourself in the words of Chinua Achebe's 1958 novel, which has been hailed as a milestone for African literature.

Here are links to all our word lists for the novel: Part One: Chapters 1-5, Part One: Chapters 6-9, Part One: Chapters 10-13, Part Two: Chapters 14-19, Part Three: Chapters 20-25
He was tall and huge, and his bushy eyebrows and wide nose gave him a very severe look.
He had a slight stammer and whenever he was angry and could not get his words out quickly enough, he would use his fists.
The pronoun "he" refers to Okonkwo's father Unoka, and this description is the opposite of Okonkwo's nature. Okonkwo is the man he is because Unoka was not the man he should've been.
In his day he was lazy and improvident and was quite incapable of thinking about tomorrow.
To crown it all he had taken two titles and had shown incredible prowess in two inter-tribal wars.
In describing how Okonkwo "discerned a clear overtone of tragedy," Achebe is emphasizing that his character is a human with reason and emotions (which deliberately contrasts with the Africans described in Conrad's Heart of Darkness).
He had discerned a clear overtone of tragedy in the crier's voice, and even now he could still hear it as it grew dimmer and dimmer in the distance.
Okonkwo finds an outlet to release his anger by beating his wife and shooting a loaded gun at her, and "in spite of this incident the New Yam Festival was celebrated with great joy in Okonkwo's household." But when the British colonize Umuofia, Okonkwo will struggle with suppressing his own anger at being suppressed, and the consequences of his failure to do so will not be as forgiving.
Okonkwo, who had been walking about aimlessly in his compound in suppressed anger, suddenly found an outlet.
And so when Okonkwo of Umuofia arrived at Mbaino as the proud and imperious emissary of war, he was treated with great honor and respect, and two days later he returned home with a lad of fifteen and a young virgin.
And so when Okonkwo of Umuofia arrived at Mbaino as the proud and imperious emissary of war, he was treated with great honor and respect, and two days later he returned home with a lad of fifteen and a young virgin.
His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his little children.
Note that "dominate" is being used passively in the example sentence. Although Okonkwo likes to actively dominate others, he cannot control his own fear of weakness and failure. His fear of being dominated by failure and weakness drives him to dominate others so that they wouldn't have the strength to notice or point out any of his weaknesses or failures.
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 the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw.
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.
Okonkwo's first son, Nwoye, was then twelve years old but was already causing his father great anxiety for his incipient laziness.
Okonkwo's prosperity was visible in his household.
And indeed he was possessed by the fear of his father's contemptible life and shameful death.
And so at a very early age when he was striving desperately to build a barn through share-cropping Okonkwo was also fending for his father's house.
He had one consolation. The yams he had sown before the drought were his own, the harvest of the previous year. He still had the eight hundred from Nwakibie and the four hundred from his father's friend. So he would make a fresh start.
It always surprised him when he thought of it later that he did not sink under the load of despair.
Okonkwo is using "inflexible" as a positive adjective to describe his strength. But Achebe is also hinting at the definition of "incapable of adapting or changing to meet circumstances"--a quality that will end up breaking Okonkwo.
"Since I survived that year," he always said, "I shall survive anything." He put it down to his inflexible will.
He was talking about Okonkwo, who had risen so suddenly from great poverty and misfortune to be one of the lords of the clan.
Indeed he respected him for his industry and success.
But he was struck, as most people were, by Okonkwo's brusqueness in dealing with less successful men.
Only a week ago a man had contradicted him at a kindred meeting which they held to discuss the next ancestral feast.
Even Okonkwo himself became very fond of the boy - inwardly of course.
Sometimes when he went to big village meetings or communal ancestral feasts he allowed Ikemefuna to accompany him, like a son, carrying his stool and his goatskin bag.
Okonkwo was provoked to justifiable anger by his youngest wife, who went to plait her hair at her friend's house and did not return early enough to cook the afternoon meal.
Did she take them?" he asked with unusual coolness and restraint.
Inwardly, he was repentant. But he was not the man to go about telling his neighbors that he was in error.
Sometimes he decided that a yam was too big to be sown as one seed and he split it deftly along its length with his sharp knife.
He trembled with the desire to conquer and subdue.

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