Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe
Contributed by Jack Shields
Chapter 3

As indicated by the story from Okonkwo's past, his father, Unoka, sought the Oracle of the Hills and Caves, inquiring as to why he had reaped terrible produces every year disregarding his sacrifices and strict adherence to the planting methods. Amid his story, Chika (the priestess of the Oracle) interjected irately and revealed to him that he hadn't insulted the spirits, however in his laziness, he took the path of least resistance by planting on land whose fertility had been depleted. She instructed him to go home and "work like a man."

In the second story from Okonkwo's past, the youthful Okonkwo was getting ready to plant his first ranch in yams — a man's crop — while his mom and sisters developed ladies' products, things as coco-yams and cassava. Since Okonkwo had gotten nothing from his father, he started his cultivation through 'share-cropping'. To get help in his planting, he visited Nwakibie, an extraordinary man of the clan, symbolized by his three horse shelters, nine spouses, and thirty kids. After the welcome and ceremonies, Okonkwo approached Nwakibie for seed-yams and promised his diligent work in developing and collecting them. As indicated by the share-cropping contract, Okonkwo would return 66% of what he developed to Nwakibie and get just 33% of the harvest for himself. Nwakibie recognized Okonkwo's sincerity and desire and gave Okonkwo double the number of seed-yams he'd sought after.


Chapter 3 describes a few conventional thoughts and beliefs that shape everyday Igbo life. These standards are regularly communicated through hidden language and images as demonstrated in the following proverbs:

  • "A toad does not run in the daytime for nothing."
  • "The lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said that he would praise himself if no one else did."
  • "[Because] men have learned to shoot without missing, [Eneke the bird] has learned to fly without perching."
  • "You can tell a ripe corn by its look."

These traditional thoughts exhibit the immense regard and politeness that the Igbo individuals show to each other in light of the fact that the speaker utilizes hidden dialect when making remarks about himself (Okonkwo in the lizard, and Nwakibie in the Eneke case); about others (Ogbuefi Idigo discussing Obiako in the frog case); about the individual he is tending to (Nwakibie addressing Okonkwo in the corn case); and about life in general and even to oneself (Okonkwo in the old lady case). The use of hidden language in this respect speaks of the complexity and sophistication of the Igbo.

A significant idea presented in this section is the faith in individual chi. At its most straightforward level, chi may be equated with the Western idea of a soul, in spite of the fact that chi is a more complex thought. The Igbo trust that a person's destiny and capacities for the coming life are controlled by the chi and every individual is given a chi by the Creator (Chukwu) at conception. Achebe says that chi becomes the personal god of all the individuals and it is responsible directing the lives of the community members towards their destiny. There are intriguing aspects of this aspect, though. On one hand, the chi is responsible for the direction that people take in life. On the other hand, it is upon the individuals to work hard and achieve the destiny that the chi has established for them.

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