"Things Fall Apart," Vocabulary from Part One: Chapters 10-13

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. guttural
    relating to or articulated in the throat
    Then came the voices of the egwugwu, guttural and awesome.
  2. pandemonium
    a state of extreme confusion and disorder
    The house was now a pandemonium of quavering voices: Am oyim de de de de! filled the air as the spirits of the ancestors, just emerged from the earth, greeted themselves in their esoteric language.
    "Pandemonium" seems like an odd state for judges to be in right before they appear to hear cases. But the egwugwu are not actually confused or disorderly. They are deliberately making their voices sound that way in order to scare the villagers into believing that they are the ancestral spirits of the clan.
  3. esoteric
    understandable only by an enlightened inner circle
    The house was now a pandemonium of quavering voices: Am oyim de de de de! filled the air as the spirits of the ancestors, just emerged from the earth, greeted themselves in their esoteric language.
  4. spectacle
    an elaborate and remarkable display on a lavish scale
    And when, as on that day, nine of the greatest masked spirits in the clan came out together it was a terrifying spectacle.
    First, there was the pandemonium of voices, accompanied by a metal gong and shrill flute. Then the egwugwu put on a spectacle with huge masks and smoke. This is all to terrify and convince the clan into believing with their ears and eyes that the egwugwu are ancestral spirits, so that whatever decisions they make would be too sacred to be challenged.
  5. agitate
    move or cause to move back and forth
    Evil Forest then thrust the pointed end of his rattling staff into the earth. And it began to shake and rattle, like something agitating with a metallic life.
    The staff agitating on its own after Evil Forest thrust it into the ground could mean: 1) The egwugwu have a powerful staff, so their words should be obeyed; 2) Mother Earth is moving the staff to show that the egwugwu's justice comes from her since she'd allowed them to reemerge; 3) Achebe is alluding to the biblical Moses and Aaron's staffs that produced many miracles, including turning into a snake when cast down.
  6. subside
    wear off or die down
    When all the egwugwu had sat down and the sound of the many tiny bells and rattles on their bodies had subsided, Evil Forest addressed the two groups of people facing them.
  7. submission
    the feeling of patient humbleness
    Uzowulu bent down and touched the earth with his right hand as a sign of submission.
    Another definition of "submission" is "an agreement to abide by the decision of an arbiter"--this also fits the example sentence because Uzowulu is about to present his case of his runaway wife to the egwugwu.
  8. approbation
    official approval
    There was a loud murmur of approbation from the crowd.
  9. dispute
    have a disagreement over something
    We do not dispute it, but they are too young to leave their mother.
  10. consult
    have a conference in order to talk something over
    The nine egwugwu then went away to consult together in their house.
  11. trifle
    something of small importance
    "I don't know why such a trifle should come before the egwugwu," said one elder to another.
  12. cunning
    shrewdness as demonstrated by being skilled in deception
    Nothing that happened in the world of the animals ever escaped his notice--he was full of cunning.
  13. voluble
    marked by a ready flow of speech
    Tortoise was very happy and voluble as he flew among the birds, and he was soon chosen as the man to speak for the party because he was a great orator.
    Tortoise's volubility is connected to his cunning. While volubility is valued by the Ibos because it can bring people closer together, cunning is not because it destroys trust for individual gain. This is emphasized in the ending of the folk story, where Tortoise is justly punished for his deception and greed.
  14. potent
    having a strong physiological or chemical effect
    She remembered that night, long ago, when she had seen Ogbu-agali-odu, one of those evil essences loosed upon the world by the potent "medicines" which the tribe had made in the distant past against its enemies but had now forgotten how to control.
  15. undiminished
    not lessened
    The priestess' voice came at longer intervals now, but its vigor was undiminished.
  16. blunt
    not sharp (used of a knife or other blade)
    "Whether you are spirit or man, may Agbala shave your head with a blunt razor!
  17. sullen
    showing a brooding ill humor
    When the moon rose late in the night, people said it was refusing food, as a sullen husband refuses his wife's food when they have quarrelled.
  18. recoil
    draw back, as with fear or pain
    But at that very moment Chielo's voice rose again in her possessed chanting, and Ekwefi recoiled, because there was no humanity there.
  19. multitude
    a large indefinite number
    She greeted her god in a multitude of names—the owner of the future, the messenger of earth, the god who cut a man down when his life was sweetest to him.
  20. impose
    charge and collect payment
    When they saw it they drove it back to its owner, who at once paid the heavy fine which the village imposed on anyone whose cow was let loose on his neighbors' crops.
  21. tremulous
    quivering as from weakness or fear
    Now and again an ancestral spirit or egwugwu appeared from the underworld, speaking in a tremulous, unearthly voice and completely covered in raffia.
  22. transfix
    render motionless because of surprise, terror, or awe
    Many years ago another egwugwu had dared to stand his ground before him and had been transfixed to the spot for two days.
  23. inadvertent
    happening by chance or unexpectedly or unintentionally
    Okonkwo had committed the female, because it had been inadvertent.
  24. garb
    clothing of a distinctive style or for a particular occasion
    As soon as the day broke, a large crowd of men from Ezeudu's quarter stormed Okonkwo's compound, dressed in garbs of war.
  25. demolish
    destroy completely
    They set fire to his houses, demolished his red walls, killed his animals and destroyed his barn.
  26. calamity
    an event resulting in great loss and misfortune
    When the will of the goddess had been done, he sat down in his obi and mourned his friend's calamity.
  27. grievous
    causing or marked by grief or anguish
    Why should a man suffer so grievously for an offense he had committed inadvertently?
  28. complexity
    the quality of being intricate and compounded
    He was merely led into greater complexities.
  29. decree
    decide with authority
    The Earth had decreed that they were an offense on the land and must be destroyed.
  30. wrath
    intense anger
    And if the clan did not exact punishment for an offense against the great goddess, her wrath was loosed on all the land and not just on the offender.

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