Questions About Gender
- What characteristics are considered distinctly masculine and distinctly feminine? Do such stereotypes hold true in the actions of the actual characters?
- Which characters cross gender stereotypes? What are their occupations or roles in society? How does society react (if at all) to the break from normal gender roles?
- What is the purpose of gender-coding almost every aspect of society – right down to the crops?
- How might Okonkwo’s “sins” be seen as the results of an imbalance between nurturing feminine and aggressive masculine forces?
Questions About Family
- What role do women play in the family? What sorts of responsibilities do they have? In return, what kind of power or respect do they command?
- How are children represented as innocent and closely connected to the earth? Consider Ikemefuna and Nwoye in particular.
- What is the relationship between mother and child and how does this play into the idea of Nneka – ‘Mother is Supreme’?
- How might one view the clan as an extension of an individual’s family?
- Does Okonkwo’s family fit the model of an ideal family? In which ways does his family meet the ideal, in which ways does it deviate?
Questions About Respect and Reputation
- Does a man’s reputation in Umuofia usually accurately denote his personal value?
- On what factors are a man’s reputation based? Is reputation in Umuofia based on merit or based on some other qualities?
- What factors influence a woman’s reputation?
- Is Okonkwo’s desire for a strong reputation positive? Does it ever get in the way of his obligations, especially to his family and to the gods?
- Does Okonkwo’s reputation in Umuofia remain the same or does it change over the course of the book?
Questions About Fear
- What does Okonkwo fear? How does he (over)compensate for it?
- What is the difference, if any, between fear of external things – the gods, loss of family members, etc. – and fear of internal aspects of oneself or one’s nature?
- According to what we know about Ekwefi, what is a mother’s greatest fear?
- How can fear be a positive force? What useful things does fear push some characters to do?
- How does fear of the unknown and misunderstanding of different cultures affect the Umuofia and the Christians? Does either side ever really try to understand each other? If so, name the specific characters.
Questions About Religion
- What is the nature of the Igbo gods? What sorts of elements or concepts do they represent? What does this indicate about Igbo culture?
- Why do you think there is so much superstition surrounding children (abandoned twins, ogbanje children)?
- Are the Igbo gods vengeful? When compared to Christianity? What sort of justice do they carry out?
- Do the Umuofia truly believe that the egwugwu are ancestral spirits or do they realize that they are masked elders of the clan?
- Did all of the villagers and Mr. Smith actually hear a goddess crying? How is the reader supposed to interpret the scene in which the Mother of the Spirits is weeping?
Questions About Sin
- How is crime distinguished from sin? How are the two accordingly punished? Hint: consider the egwugwu trials.
- Do Umuofia punishments fit the crimes? Do they seem arbitrary?
- Why is offending the earth goddess such an enormous sin? What assumptions can we make about the role the earth goddess plays in Igbo society?
- In comparison to Igbo law, how does the white man’s justice system work? Are the same behaviors considered sins in both cultures? How and why do the punishments for the same crimes differ?
- Does Okonkwo sin when he aids in the murder of Ikemefuna?
Questions About Traditions and Customs
- In such ritualized events as weddings and funerals, what aspects of life do the Igbo people celebrate or mourn?
- Much of Igbo culture includes highly stylized speech. What purpose does the formal way of speaking serve? To another man? To an audience? To a family member? To the gods?
- Is the younger generation of Umuofia straying away from long-established customs? What impact does the arrival of the Christians have?
- Can the Umuofia be a unified group of people without shared traditions?
Questions About Man and the Natural World
- In terms of gender, how is the earth represented? Which of the earth’s qualities support this gender characterization?
- What role do folktales play in explaining natural phenomenon? How do they characterize animals?
- Are Umuofia people depicted as a harmonious part of nature or a disruption of it? How? And what about the white man?
- What emotions do the Umuofia feel toward the earth?
Questions About Fate and Free Will
- How is Okonkwo’s destiny viewed in the beginning of the book? Why is it seen so positively?
- To what extent is Okonkwo’s life governed by forces outside his control?
- What deliberate choices does Okonkwo make that further his path towards self-destruction?
- Consider Ikemefuna. How does he, as a character, epitomize a victim more than anyone else in the novel?
Questions About Language and Communication
- How do men of the Umuofia greet each other? How do they greet crowds of people when speaking? What is the underlying motivation of such speech?
- How is music – in particular drums – a language in itself? How does it set tones and convey information?
- Does Okonkwo communicate effectively with any of his family members or does he just expect to have his mind read? Does he like Ezinma so much because she understands him without him having to communicate verbally?
- How do gods and spirits address humans and how must humans greet these superior beings? What is the implication in each one’s address?
- Are important concepts of Christianity and Igbo beliefs lost in translation? Are important Igbo beliefs misunderstood by the Christians because of poor translation?
- Why is it dangerous to kill a man who is silent? Think about the Abame clan that was annihilated after killing a white man they were unable to communicate with.