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Chinua Achebe

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English Literature

Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian novelist who lived through times of extreme turmoil, including a military coup, civil war, and the genocide of the Igbo community. He was also greatly influenced by the impact of British colonialism.

His achievements include, but are not limited to, the authorship of essays, novels, short stories, children's literature, and poetry. He was tenured at three Universities, co-founded an academic journal, and was the director of two publishing houses. He remains the most translated African writer of all time.

Interesting Facts about Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe was given the name Albert Chinualumogu at birth. He was born in the Igbo community of Ogidi, in eastern Nigeria, approximately four decades after the first missionaries had arrived there. His parents were Christian converts. His formal education began at a local missionary school.

At fourteen, he attended the prestigious Government College at Umuahia, and in 1948 he won a scholarship place at the University of Ibadan to study medicine. In his second year, he changed his subject of study to a combination of English literature, religious studies, and history. This choice would influence his future literary works, which showcase his firm grasp of both history and religious practices.

Achebe served as an ambassador for Biafra in 1967 when it sought to become a state independent of Nigeria. He later worked as a tenured professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (1972), the University of Connecticut (1972-1976, 1987-1988), and the University of Nigeria (1976-1981). Achebe also worked as the director of two publishing houses in Nigeria, Nwankwo-Ifejika Ltd and Heinemann Educational Books Ltd.

Having made major contributions to literature and earned the accolade 'father of African literature', Achebe died aged 82 on 21 March 2013.

Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart (1958)

The following novels are known as the African Trilogy: Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God, and No Longer at Ease. The books offer an insight into the impact of colonialism on Igbo communities in Nigeria. The first in the trilogy offers a view into the social, cultural, and spiritual lives of those communities prior to colonisation.

Each novel is based - at least in part - in a rural Igbo community. Indeed, the main characters in Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease are grandfather and grandson. These characters share a community and a homeland.

The novels deal with a wide range of highly emotive topics, such as miscarriage, domestic violence, grief, love, polygamy, infanticide, and revenge killings. Despite this, the narrative voice holds itself slightly aloof, allowing for a completely non-judgmental insight into practices of the past, including the religiously motivated infanticide which can be the result of multiple pregnancies.

It is easy to draw parallels between Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease. In both novels, by placing one individual and his personal relationships under a microscope, Chinua Achebe grants his reader an insight into issues that affect the wider Igbo society.

"There is no story that is not true ...The world has no end, and what is good among one people is an abomination with others." - Things Fall Apart.

A brief overview.

Important themes.

Key settings.

Things Fall Apart

Follows the life of Okonkwo, his family, and community. As the novel progresses, we see how European missionaries disrupt their way of life.

Impact of British colonialism on the individual and wider Igbo community.

Pre-colonial Nigeria and the first wave of colonialism in the 1890's. Set predominantly in Umuofia and also a period of exile in Mbanta, a rural village.

Arrow of God

Follows the disastrous consequences of British interference in Igbo affairs. Most notable is the unjust jailing of a priest of Ulu which disrupted usual processes and led to delayed harvest and famine. Having lost faith in the God Ulu, the community undergoes mass conversion to Christianity.

Impact of British colonialism on the religious and social life of the Igbo community.

1920's colonial Nigeria. Set in and focused on the affairs of six rural Igbo villages in Umuaro.

No Longer at Ease

Follows Obi Okonkwo, who leaves for an education in Britain before returning to work for the Nigerian civil service. He later falls in love with a girl his parents do not approve of. Finding himself overwhelmed by spiralling loan repayments and financial responsibilities he accepts a bribe against his better judgment.

Impact of British colonialism on the individual. Conflicting values, love, and corruption. The main character, Obi, is the grandson of the main character of Things Fall Apart, providing continuity and a familial link.

1950's colonial Nigeria. Set in Britain, Lagos, and also refers back to the main character's home village of Umuofia.

Chinua Achebe : Books

While it is impossible to address all the themes in Chinua Achebe's contribution to literature, we can examine some common themes that are often found in his novels, poetry, and short stories.

Some common themes include love, family relationships, tradition and change, societal relationships, masculinity and femininity, justice and injustice, grief, religion, and spirituality. The most prominent theme, however, is the impact of colonialism and how it tore communities apart.

The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart. - Things Fall Apart (1958)

The historical context of Achebe's works

Chinua Achebe lived through tumultuous times, with political and cultural developments influencing many of his works. After his close childhood friend Okigbo was killed in the Biafran War, he composed the poem 'A Wake for Okigbo' (2002). This poem was inspired by traditional Igbo dirges and addresses the themes of grief and denial:

Who are we looking for?

Who are we looking for?

Okigbo is who we are looking for.

He's hiding in play.

The African Trilogy, as we said earlier, relates heavily to the colonisation of Nigeria by the British. Nigeria became a British protectorate in 1901 and gained independence from Britain on 1 October 1990.

The biographical context of Achebe's works

When Chinua Achebe was a schoolboy, he read texts such as Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness (1899). These texts portrayed Africans who had not come into contact with Europeans as uncivilised, backwards, dangerous, and savage, without societal structures such as criminal justice systems.

Through his works, most notably Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe challenged ignorant assertions by presenting pre-colonial societies as having their own thriving social, cultural, economic, and agrarian bases. He detailed village life and how families farmed together and lived in carefully maintained compounds.

Chinua Achebe, A crop of maize, Study SmarterA field of maize.pixabay.com

Chinua Achebe: facts and place in seminal world literature

Seminal World literature can be defined as texts from around the world that have had significant influence in the field of literature and enabled people to share common human experiences through the written word.

Through Chinua Achebe's English-language novels, stories and poems, he was able to express the authentic stories of Igbo communities. Furthermore, he was able to reach and enlighten a readership that had previously had greater exposure to stories about Africa and Africans penned by Western writers such as Joseph Conrad, whose stories were often mired in inaccuracies and prejudice.

Chinua Achebe, A globally read book, StudySmarter

A book and the globe, pixabay.com

Chinua Achebe chose to write in English, a global language, in order to broadcast African experiences to a wider readership. He interspersed his writings with untranslated Igbo words and phrases, broadening the lexis of his global readership.

Chinua Achebe - Key takeaways

    • Chinua Achebe was a renowned author, poet, academic, publisher, and diplomat.

    • Chinua Achebe's literary works belong in the canons of Seminal World Literature and African Literature.

    • Chinua Achebe lived through dangerous times, including a military coup, the Biafran War, and the Igbo genocide.

    • Chinua Achebe drew upon his personal life experiences for inspiration.

    • Chinua Achebe's African Trilogy showcases life in pre-colonial rural Igbo communities, examining the impact of European invasion and colonization on these communities.

    • Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart (1958) rewrote the narrative on pre-colonial African experiences.

Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe is important because his works form a part of the canon of Seminal World Literature. They also enable a global readership to better understand the historical experiences of the Igbo community in Nigeria during the British colonial period. 

Of all Chinua Achebe’s achievements he is best known for writing the three novels known as the African Trilogy: Things Fall Apart (1958), The Arrow of God (1964), and No Longer at Ease (1960).

The author stated that he wrote Things Fall Apart (1958) in order to educate a western readership about African society, to challenge perceptions of it as primitive. His novel depicts the complex self-governing society present before the arrival of white missionaries. 

The works of Chinua Achebe are characterised by an array of themes including culture and colonialism, conflict, masculinity and femininity, relationships, politics, and history.

Chinua Achebe died in 2013 at the age of 82.

Final Chinua Achebe Quiz

Question

Which of these best describes Seminal World Literature?

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Answer

Literature from across the world that has had significant influence.

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Question

Which ethnic group and community does the author Chinua Achebe focus upon in his writing?

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Answer

Igbo

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What did Chinua Achebe study for his first year of University before switching to English, Religious Studies and History?

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Answer

Medicine 

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Question

Which of these awards did Chinua Achebe not receive?


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Answer

Nobel Peace Prize.

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Question

Where was Chinua Achebe born?


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Answer

Ogidi, Nigeria. 

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Question

Which two novels in the African Trilogy have main characters who are related to one another?

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Answer

Things Fall Apart (1958) and No Longer at Ease (1960).

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Question

Which of the following is not an achievement of Chinua Achebe?


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Answer

He wrote two award winning plays. 

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Question

Which of the following best describes Umuofia?


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Answer

A farming community. 

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Which of the following did Chinua Achebe not write?

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Answer

Screenplays.

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Which of the following accolades belongs to Chinua Achebe?


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Answer

The most translated African author to date. 

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Question

What inspired the structure and form of 'A Wake For Okigbo' (2002)?

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Answer

Traditional Igbo Dirges. 

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Question

How old was Chinua Achebe when he died?

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Answer

82

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Question

What was the purpose of the academic journal Chinua Achebe co-founded?

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Answer

To create a place for African creative writing and intellectual debate. 

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Question

What was Chinua Achebe the Director of?


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Answer

Two publishing houses.

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Question

What is the name of Chinua Achebe's children's book?


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Answer

How the leopard got his claws. 

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Question

Which of these best describes historical fiction?

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Answer

A work of fiction set in a past time period which may involve real historical figures and events

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Question

What a division between the people of causes the nine villages? 

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Answer

religion

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Question

How does Chinua Achebe incorporate the Igbo language into his novel? 

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Answer

Untranslated Igbo words and phrases, and translated proverbs and folktales 

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Question

The novel Things Fall Apart (1958) forms a part of which collection?


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Answer

The African Trilogy 

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What narrative style is used? 


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Answer

Third-person narration

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How does the structure of the novel correspond to real historical events?


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Answer

The traditions, laws, and religious practices that unified the rural Igbo communities 

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Question

Following the gendered roles of pre-colonial Igbo society which of the following is considered to be a boy's job?


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Answer

Carrying their father's stool and goat skin bag

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Question

Following the gendered roles of pre-colonial Igbo society which of the following is considered to be a girl's job?


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Answer

Carrying their father's evening meal

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Question

Which of Okonkwo's children does he favor?


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Answer

His daughter Ezinma 

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Why is Okonkwo exiled from Umuofia for seven years?


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For the accidental killing of a clansman

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How many wives does Okonkwo have?


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3

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Question

Which best describes Okonkwo's reaction to Nwoye's conversion to Christianity?


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Answer

Betrayal and rage

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Question

Which best describes Okonkwo's reaction to Nwoye's conversion to Christianity?


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Answer

Betrayal and rage

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Question

Which of these is considered to be a man's crop?


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Answer

Yams

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Question

What did Achebe study at University?

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Answer

Medicine and English literature, Religious Studies, and history.

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Question

What was the catalyst for the Nigerian Literary Renaissance of the 1960's?

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Answer

Nigerian Independence.

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Question

How were Africans presented in Mister Johnson (1939), A Heart of Darkness (1899), and Prester John (1910)?


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Answer

Negatively.

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Question

From which of the following poems does the novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), get its name?


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Answer

The second coming

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Where did Achebe learn to read and write in English?


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Answer

Church Missionary Society's School.

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Where did Achebe learn about traditional Igbo folktales and religious practices?


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Answer

From his extended family and neighbours, 

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Question

Which of the following best describes Mbari?


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Answer

A celebration through the art of the world and of the life lived in it.

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Which cultural event in Things Fall Apart involves feasting, sporting events, family reunions and music?


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Answer

The Feast of the New Yam.

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What religion did Chinua Achebe's parents practice?


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Christianity.

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To which canons of literature does Things Fall Apart belong?


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Answer

Seminal World Literature and African Literature.

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What reason is given for the Osu being drawn to Christianity?


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Answer

A means to escape their oppressed condition and low status in Igbo society. 

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The Nigerian Literary Renaissance took part in which decade?


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Answer

The 1960's.

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Question

Which of the following does the omniscient third-person narrative give the reader?


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Answer

The contextual knowledge needed to understand certain traditions and ceremonies. 

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How many languages has Things Fall Apart been translated into?


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Answer

Over 50.

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Question

In addition to English, which language is used in Things Fall Apart?


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Answer

 Igbo / Ibo.

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Question

The reader is meant to be able to understand the meaning of the untranslated Igbo words and phrases.

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Answer

True

Show question

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