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The Village of Umuofia in Things Fall Apart

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  • 0:04 Umuofia, Achebe & Village Life
  • 1:02 Umuofia as Community
  • 1:39 Umuofia & Other Villages
  • 2:12 Religion
  • 3:11 Social Hierarchy
  • 3:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
The village of Umuofia is at the heart of the action in Chinua Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart.' Umuofia can be seen as a microcosm of Nigerian society, an archetypal village. This lesson describes and analyzes the village's rituals and social customs.

Umuofia, Achebe, & Village Life

Things Fall Apart is a novel in which much is implied, rather than stated explicitly, following the age-old writing teacher's mantra: ''Show, don't tell.'' The author, Chinua Achebe, is a master of illustrating important themes in the novel, and truths about the society it portrays. The novel's title and epigraph, taken from W.B. Yeats, suggest the book's theme. As things fall apart, Umuofia, the village, is the symbolic center that cannot hold.

Achebe suggests that many things that are true of Umuofia are true throughout the villages of precolonial Nigeria. Umuofia can thus be seen as representative of the tribal societies that have not yet been altered by colonialism. Within Things Fall Apart, this view of life in Umuofia as reflecting larger patterns is shared both by Okonkwo, the novel's protagonist, and by the British District Commissioner, who decides to use events in Umuofia to illustrate his book about the process of colonization.

Umuofia as Community

''Umuofia kwenu!''

''Umuofia ya!''

This ritual exchange calls public gatherings to order in the village of Umuofia, a ceremonial way of uniting the people before decision-making, religious observance, or celebration. Like many of the Igbo phrases in the book, it is not directly translated, but its meaning is clear in context. ''Umuofia kwenu'' is a shout of greeting and affirmation, which is then joyously echoed by all those assembled. The expression encapsulates the great pride that the villagers, particularly Okonkwo, feel in their identity as members of the community of Umuofia.

Umuofia & Other Villages

While Umuofia serves as a representative village, the plot of Things Fall Apart clearly differentiates it from its neighbors. Everyone who's experienced a school rivalry will understand the kind of strong rivalry with other small communities that characterizes Umuofia's public life. In the first part of the novel, the taking of Ikemefuna as a hostage from another village is a fateful episode in Okonkwo's life. When Okonkwo is banished from Umuofia for the crime of accidental manslaughter, it marks a turning point in his fate, and the fate of the village.

Religion

Religion is a crucial part of Umuofia's communal identity, and the conflict between Christianity and traditional religion is a major plot point in the novel. Spirits tied to nature are very important to Umuofia's religion, as is illustrated by the Evil Forest, and the cave from which the prophetess delivers her pronouncements. Another element of Umuofia's religion is the concept of chi, or a personal god or fate influencing an individual's actions.

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