The Concept of Chi in Things Fall Apart

Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

The Umuofia clan believe in a personal god called chi in 'Things Fall Apart' by Chinua Achebe. This lesson focuses on the effects of good and bad chi on the clan in the novel.

What Is Chi?

Wouldn't it be nice to blame all our mistakes on some outside force? In some ways, this is how the chi, or personal god, is used by the Umuofia clan in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. They believe that if a person has a bad chi, he experiences misfortune. The opposite doesn't always hold true, however, for it's only human nature to claim responsibility for our own personal successes.

Bad Chi

Unoka is the father of Okonkwo, the main character in the novel. Unoka is said to have 'a bad chi or personal god, and evil fortune followed him to the grave, or rather to his death, for he had no grave.' Unoka actually brings about his own misfortune by spending his days drinking and relaxing rather than working.

Ekwefi, Okonkwo's second wife is also said to have a bad chi is because she has given birth to many children, but only one has survived. At the celebration of a new birth, however, others speculate that Ekwefi 'did not blame others for their good fortune but her own evil chi who denied her any.'

Okonkwo, exiled from the clan and disappointed that his son has joined forces with the white missionaries, also blames his chi. 'Clearly his personal god or chi was not made for great things. A man could not rise beyond the destiny of his chi. The saying of the elders was not true--that if a man said yea his chi also affirmed. Here was a man whose chi said nay despite his own affirmation.'

The Chi Says Yes

Unoka leaves nothing behind for Okonkwo, and though Okonkwo is a self-made man, the clan thinks otherwise. They claim that Okonkwo's 'palm-kernels had been cracked for him by a benevolent spirit' when in reality he has labored for his success. At the most one could say that his chi or personal god was good. But the Ibo people have a proverb that when a man says yes his chi says yes also. Okonkwo said yes very strongly; so his chi agreed. And not only his chi but his clan too, because it judged a man by the work of his hands.' The chi is also described as 'awake' in several passages of the novel. The chi seems to awaken to offer protection when a member of the tribe is endangered.

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