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

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

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. severe
    causing fear or anxiety by threatening great harm
    He was tall and huge, and his bushy eyebrows and wide nose gave him a very severe look.
  2. stammer
    a speech disorder involving hesitations and repetitions
    He had a slight stammer and whenever he was angry and could not get his words out quickly enough, he would use his fists.
  3. improvident
    not supplying something useful for the future
    In his day he was lazy and improvident and was quite incapable of thinking about tomorrow.
    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.
  4. prowess
    a superior skill learned by study and practice
    To crown it all he had taken two titles and had shown incredible prowess in two inter-tribal wars.
  5. discern
    detect with the senses
    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.
    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).
  6. suppressed
    held in check with difficulty
    Okonkwo, who had been walking about aimlessly in his compound in suppressed anger, suddenly found an outlet.
    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.
  7. imperious
    having or showing arrogant superiority
    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.
  8. emissary
    someone sent on a mission to represent another's interests
    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.
  9. perpetual
    uninterrupted in time and indefinitely long continuing
    His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his little children.
  10. dominate
    be in control
    But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness.
    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.
  11. capricious
    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.
  12. resent
    feel bitter or indignant about
    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.
  13. incipient
    only partly in existence; imperfectly formed
    Okonkwo's first son, Nwoye, was then twelve years old but was already causing his father great anxiety for his incipient laziness.
  14. prosperity
    the condition of having good fortune
    Okonkwo's prosperity was visible in his household.
  15. contemptible
    deserving of contempt or scorn
    And indeed he was possessed by the fear of his father's contemptible life and shameful death.
  16. strive
    exert much effort or energy
    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.
  17. consolation
    the comfort you feel when soothed in times of disappointment
    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.
  18. despair
    a state in which all hope is lost or absent
    It always surprised him when he thought of it later that he did not sink under the load of despair.
  19. inflexible
    resistant to being bent
    "Since I survived that year," he always said, "I shall survive anything." He put it down to his inflexible will.
    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.
  20. poverty
    the state of having little or no money and possessions
    He was talking about Okonkwo, who had risen so suddenly from great poverty and misfortune to be one of the lords of the clan.
  21. industry
    persevering determination to perform a task
    Indeed he respected him for his industry and success.
  22. brusqueness
    an abrupt discourteous manner
    But he was struck, as most people were, by Okonkwo's brusqueness in dealing with less successful men.
  23. contradict
    deny the truth of
    Only a week ago a man had contradicted him at a kindred meeting which they held to discuss the next ancestral feast.
  24. fond
    having or displaying warmth or affection
    Even Okonkwo himself became very fond of the boy - inwardly of course.
  25. communal
    for or by a group rather than individuals
    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.
  26. provoke
    call forth, as an emotion, feeling, or response
    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.
  27. restraint
    discipline in personal and social activities
    Did she take them?" he asked with unusual coolness and restraint.
  28. repentant
    feeling or expressing remorse for misdeeds
    Inwardly, he was repentant. But he was not the man to go about telling his neighbors that he was in error.
  29. deft
    skillful in physical movements; especially of the hands
    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.
  30. subdue
    put down by force or intimidation
    He trembled with the desire to conquer and subdue.

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