If One Finger Brought Oil – Things Fall Apart part I: Crash Course Literature 208

Hi I’m John Green, this is Crash Course
Literature, and today we’re going to talk about Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.
Things Fall Apart is set in what is now Nigeria during the late 19th century, but it was written in 1958,
as the colonial system was falling apart in Africa. And one of the reasons Things Fall Apart is so important is that prior to it, most novels about Africa and Africans in English had been written by Europeans. Achebe
turned the traditional European notion of Africans as savages on its head, and confronted
the great failure of people to, quote, “see other human beings as human beings.”
With characters that you can feel with and think with and breathe with, layer after layer
of the reality of the colonial situation in Igboland is exposed, and we see the vicious,
cyclical realities that are produced by both individual and institutional power when it’s
based in fear and hatred and ignorance. [Theme Music] So things fall apart in Things Fall Apart not only
because of the outside pressures of colonialism, but also because of the interior pressures of the main
character, Okonkwo. Okonkwo is a man known, “throughout the nine villages and even beyond” whose
“fame rested on solid personal achievements.” He is known for his strength
and his wrestling ability. Like during his prime, in one of the community
festivals, before a crowd of 10,000 or more people, Okonkwo out-wrestled a man known as
the Cat in a match. The Cat! And we’re told of this match, “ the old
men agreed it was one of the fiercest since the founder of their town engaged a spirit
of the wild for seven days and seven nights.” We learn all of this, by the way, in the opening
paragraph of the novel, so we’re immediately drawn into this world of order and belief,
of competition and struggle, and of stories that are kept and passed down by elders.
And we know from the beginning that Okonkwo is a man held in high esteem not only for his
wrestling ability, but also because he had, quote “risen so suddenly from great poverty and
misfortune to be one of the lords of his clan.” But despite his status and his achievements, Okonkwo
is haunted. Now it’s not quite the ghost of the Hamlet’s father walking around at midnight brooding
about vengeance, but Okonkwo sees his father everywhere he goes. His father, Unoka, owed
debts all over town and spent like all of his time playing the flute and drinking palm
wine. Mr. Green, Mr. Green, that sounds pretty good
actually! I’m sure it sounds lovely, Me from the Past,
although we both know you can’t drink a bottle of Strawberry Hill without vomiting.
But the important thing here is that in 19th century Igboland, you couldn’t get ahead
in life if you weren’t willing to work. Which, come to think of it, is also true today,
Me From the Past. So Okonkwo grew up knowing that the whole
village thought his dad was a loser, and the pain of it stuck with him. Like, Achebe writes,
“his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness.”
And this isn’t like my fear of spiders or my fear of heights or my fear of air travel
or my fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of my mouth. This is serious fear.
For Okonkwo, “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.” Which quote allows me to mention something
really important about Things Fall Apart. That “red in tooth and claw” line is borrowed
from a Tennyson poem. And throughout the novel, Things Fall Apart
is conscious both of African storytelling forms and of European ones.
This exploration of connections and differences between two narrative traditions is really
interesting and it’s not something you find as much in, like, you know, Jane Eyre or Hamlet.
Anyway, Okonkwo is always running from this deep down fear of weakness and failure, and
it gives him the drive to go from being a sharecropper to power and status and wealth.
It also makes him into kind of a jerk. Okonkwo develops “one passion—to hate
everything that Unoka had loved. One of these things was gentleness and another was idleness.”
There’s a great moment in the novel where Achebe says Okonkwo, “seemed to walk on
springs, as if he was going to pounce on somebody.” And then notes, “And he did pounce on people
quite often.” This pouncing, and more generally just his
rage, eventually drive him to three transgressions that he can’t undo, and his punishment
is seven years of exile. And then, of course, his dreams of greater
power within his clan dissolve. So let’s look at Okonkwo’s first two big mistakes
in the Thought Bubble. Okonkwo’s world, much like the ancient Greek
world in Oedipus, is one where mistakes are always punished. and he does get punished
for his three mistakes. The first is his ferocious beating of one
of his wives during the Week of Peace, a week when all violence is forbidden, to honor the
Earth goddess and make sure that this year’s harvest will be bountiful.
Okonkwo doesn’t just break the Week of Peace, he shatters it. Not only does he beat his
wife for going to get her hair plaited rather than cooking, he tries to shoot her. Luckily
for all involved, he is a terrible shot, and he misses.
Side note, Okonkwo has a real problem with women throughout the book. He’s consistently
brutal and violent, and the description that he “rules his household with a heavy hand”
is an understatement. His brutality is closely connected to his
fear of anything that he perceives as gentle or weak and his ignorant belief that those
traits should be associated with the feminine, which the book itself later dispels by showing
one of his other wives and her courage and strength when it comes to protecting her daughter.
Okonkwo’s second transgression is the killing of a boy with his machete, and it’s not
just any young man. It’s Ikemefuna, who Okonkwo raised in his house for three years,
a young man who called him Father. Ikemefuna had been turned over to the clan
as a sacrifice by another village in order to avoid war and he’d been sent to live
in Okonkwo’s compound, where he became a member of the family, and a great friend to
Okonkwo’s son. And we’re told, “Okonkwo was inwardly
pleased at his son’s development, and he knew it was due to Ikemefuna.” Of course
he never shows it, for “Okonkwo never showed any emotion openly, unless it was the emotion
of anger.” So eventually, the clan decided that Ikemefuna
should be killed to satisfy the Earth Goddess. And Okonkwo is advised not to participate,
due to his close relationship with the boy, but he ultimately does the killing himself, because
“He was afraid of being thought weak.” Thanks Thought Bubble. Oh man, this is a sad
book. But it’s sad on, like, 82 different levels; that’s what makes it so good.
So Okonkwo is finally exiled, not for beating his wife, not for killing Ikemefuna, but for
an accident. His gun explodes during a funeral, and a man is killed. This is called a “female
ocho,” or female murder, because it was not on purpose.
I’ll just briefly point to the irony of his avoidance of all things feminine and also
the association of a gun exploding with femininity. Although it was an accident, Okonkwo had killed
a clan member and had offended the earth goddess, and so he goes into exile. He and his family
flee the village and their home compound is burned to the ground.
Now Okonkwo’s best friend, Obierka, who helps Okonkwo during his exile, wonders, “Why
should a man suffer so grievously for an offense he had committed inadvertently?”
As is often the case in the village, the answer comes in the form of a proverb. “As the
elders said, if one finger brought oil it soiled the others.” Okonkwo had done wrong,
and he must be exiled, or else the whole community might be punished for what just he had done.
This attitude preys on the community’s fear of being entirely destroyed along with their
communal memory of elders and ancestors. And that desire to keep the community intact
at all costs is why the community ultimately doesn’t follow Okonkwo at the end of the
novel. But then of course even though they don’t
follow him, the community can’t stay intact. Why? Well, because missionaries. And the British
Empire. Which are really branches of the same tree. When the first missionaries appear before Okonkwo
and his family, during their exile, only one young person was truly captivated, Okonkwo’s first son, Nwoye.
And Okonkwo can sense his son slipping away, and filled with his tragic rage, he tries
to control him by pinning him down at the throat and threatening him.
And as you may know if you’ve ever tried threatening a teenager, threats only drive
them further away, and after this incident, Nwoye joins the missionaries for good.
What can I say, Okonkwo, you should’ve read more young adult novels.
And Okonkwo’s takeaway from this experience is not that he’s a jerk, but instead that
his son is weak. He sits, staring into a fire, and reflects upon his son’s departure and
remembers that people called him “the Roaring Flame.” And as he considers this, “Okonkwo’s
eyes were opened and he saw the whole matter clearly. Living fire begets cold, impotent
ash.” So Okonkwo decides that he was the roaring
flame and that his son is the cold, impotent ash. Oooh man, Okonkwo’s eyes get opened a lot in Things Fall Apart, but his eyes never actually get opened! By the time Okonkwo returns from exile, a
Christian missionary church has arrived in his own village, and many people have converted
to Christianity. The first converts are those outcasts from
society, they’re not even allowed to cut their hair.
And that reminds us that it’s not only the Europeans who at times have failed to see
human beings as human beings. So those outcasts are the initial converts
and it eventually leads to the arrival of the British Empire and radical change in Igbo
society. And in that we see how the community’s obsession
with strength and stability ultimately leads to weakness and instability. Just as it does
in Okonkwo’s life. So the British Empire follows on the heels
of the church and sets up courts and police and prisons and trading posts.
And then finally, Okonkwo’s world completely crumbles.
We’ll talk more about that next week but for today, I want to end with another author
who wrote about power in colonial Africa, Frantz Fanon, who talked about means of resistance.
In one of his most famous works about how power operates, his final invocation, his
gesture of resistance is, ‘O my body, make of me always a man who questions!’
And maybe that’s where Okonkwo fell down. He isn’t able to question a system that
discards individuals for the perceived greater good. And he isn’t able to question his
own narrow definition of strength. But let me submit to you that these problems
are not exclusive to 19th century Igboland. Like Okonkwo and his community, we both as
individuals and as communities also struggle to see other human beings as human beings
and just as in Things Fall Apart, the consequences are often disastrous. Thanks for watching.
I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is made by all of these nice
people and it exists because of our subscribers at Subbable. Subbable is a voluntary subscription
service that allows you to support Crash Course directly so that we can keep it free for everyone,
forever. By the way, I’m sorry about my cold. And you can also get great Crash Course perks. So thanks to all of our Subbable subscribers
and thanks to everyone for watching and as we say in my hometown, don’t forget to be

100 thoughts on “If One Finger Brought Oil – Things Fall Apart part I: Crash Course Literature 208

  1. anyone else creeped out cause John Green never blinked in this video

  2. I find it offensive that you tried to draw comparisons between racism and the 'outcast' system as presented in the book. The 'osu' anglicized as 'outcast' is a punishment system reserved for people who had committed moral crimes or abominations. They are literally banished not drawn and quartered. They and their entire households are punished for 'committing a crime'. Much like the English hung many a criminal, the Igbo community chose to banish. This has zero connection to racial profiling because you see, the people who were racially profiled by the white man had done nothing at all to him and hereby was undeserving of the all out war declared on Africans. Racial profiling is brought about by an ignorant sense of superiority and bears no resemblance to the punitive order of an entire tribe. I also noticed that this summary and more importantly the insinuations and understanding herein are in sharp contrast to the author's notes. You might want to check that out. I found the tone here haughty and quite condescending. But I was not expecting better anyways. We still have a long way to go. Things Fall Apart is just one of many good African and cannot realistically give a full comprehension of the Igbo culture. It definitely cannot represent all of Nigeria or Africa for that matter. Just like I cannot assume to fully understand the English culture by reading 'The Great Gatsby'. Can you please skip the assumptions and generalizations and judge the book for its content and not for what you believe it should represent. Except you're an expert in African Literature and have a bunch of books to draw parallels from.BTW: Trying to blame colonialism and slavery on Christianity is whacky as we all know it was not the message but the bearers that were flawed.

  3. "…sad on like 82 different levels. That's what makes it so good." -YAS
    The depth and complexity!!

  4. I am just mentioning an error you made.

    Okonkwo did beat his third wife during the week of piece, however he did not try to shoot her.
    He did however nearly shoot is second wife ,Ekewfi and Ekamazenna's mother, when he accused her of killing a banana tree. He used it as an outlet as it had been after the harvest season and he was bored. He first beat her, but then she insulted him by saying basically he's a bad shot. He then gets his gun and tries to shoot her, but it turns out that she was right and he misses.

  5. I watched this before I read the book, and now that i've read it, this video is so much better.

  6. I’m reading the book right now and I can barely tell what time period it takes place in because all African people still act exactly the same

  7. I'm about to read this book for my English class. This is going to be useful for that.

  8. We are reading this novel at school for my grade 11 and unlike my peers I loved it. And now we are close to finals. I was just looking for other people's opinions to further my knowledge and may I say this was a huge help and didn't disappoint. Although the pronunciation of names was kinda funny.

  9. Who else is here because they don’t want to look like a complete dumbass at Academic Decathalon

  10. Yo tbh, I hated this book. I appreciated the message, the fact that it is written unbiasedly and what it did for African people. But the book is written in such a predictable plot structure, a repetition of celebration and tragedy and the fact that some things randomly manifest. Yeah that “roaring flame” thing people so famously called him was thrown in just when Achebe needed it, not at the beginning or at some other time, just when convenient. Ultimately I think the way it is written makes the book easy to dislike which makes it easy to disregard and ignore the overall message. Just my opinion

  11. it is not Igbo it is (e-b-o) but that is not how you spell it is spelt igbo

  12. I happened across this book on the free shelf at college. Didn't now it was a classic until now.

  13. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee;
    blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
    Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

  14. I have a test on this tomorrow. Thank you so much! I couldn't get a grip of this book.

  15. Mr. Green could you give us a review of the 1966 Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol book by Okot p'Bitek? its a beautiful piece of literature that I can't find a review on.

  16. Guys, what do you think of the book? I'm planning to buy it when i visit the store in a few days.

  17. Thank you so much!! I have an IGCSE exam on this book- this will help so much!~

  18. Then why does Chinua Achebe acknowledge the brutality of Igbo people in the early stage of the novel before the missionaries arrive? That primitiveness seems to give a groundwork for the colonizer to educate the colonized.

  19. I love how John Green always references his books! Or maybe his books reference his life?😏

  20. I just finished re-reading Things Fall Apart, many years after first having read it for an anthropology class. I am also in the process of reading H. W. Brands’s American Colossus, a non-fiction history of the United States 1865-1900. In that latter book, we read about the last gasp of resistance from the Native Americans as they become victims of Manifest Destiny. With both books, we know how the colonization/modernization story has since played out, so we know Okonkwo’s battle is as doomed as the battles of Crazy Horse or Sitting Bull. Even though Okonkwo is not a sympathetic character, we sympathize with him.

  21. So if you fear being weak do that make you weak because of your fear?

  22. i love the presentation of the book for real you guys you make it lively…Jeremiah moinde.KENYA

  23. Please do the Book Thief. Thank you Green for having us The Fault in Our Stars.

  24. On the subject of the intersection of Igbo and European literature and the allusion to Tennyson: Did nobody else realize that the very title of the book is from W.B. Yeats' "The Second Coming"?

  25. Sir I'm Pakistani girl please speak slowly create problem to understand me

  26. I learned three things from this book
    if someone beats you and then asks for a gun dont tell them they are a terrible shot
    dont shoot guns at funerals
    and last but not least Y A M S

  27. Me and my friends had a literature exam based on things fall apart.
    They read the whole damn book while I watched this video.
    They failed, I passed.
    Thanks John Green Thanks cc literature

  28. we had to study this during my secondary literature class. cant say i liked it but i greatly appreciate now!

  29. A lot of the inspiration for this book was writing back to Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Would be interested to see a Crash course on that book too.

  30. FYI: IGBO’S HAVE NEVER KILLED TWINS!!! Not everything in the book is true depiction of the ancient igbo culture. However Achebe was a great genius of literature and may his soul Rest In Peace

  31. things fall apart, to me, is a perfect novel. it okonkwo is ruled by fear, and that is a strong part of what destroys him. but he is also a man caught in a changign world when all he knows is power and stability. maybe the next video will look into okonkwo's fears. and his son joining the missionaries is a real tragedy for him so he does take it very hard

  32. I read this book once before after getting it from the school library, and I never really got the point of the story until now. It just seemed like there was no growth, but now I realize there was character development in the story, and it was from becoming bad to even worse. And the whole point was to realize not to become Okwonko in our own lives, no matter how real and relatable he can be sometimes.

  33. This was my first crash course video and I just loved it. Thankyou for rekindling my passion for reading

  34. I have a final exsam tomorrow ( after 5 hours) and I'm revising from this thank John 👍👍

  35. Fair play for not just doing American literature on this playlist. Great variety by country and era

  36. I'm proudly IGBO and it's pronounced I-GB-O not E-B-O nor H-E-B-O.

    We have 36 Alphabets in Igbo language and "GB" is one among them.

    Just like "Th" in "the" or "gh" as in Ghana but not pronounced as "G" just like in Ghana. they are called diphthongs.

    There is also KW as in Q-ueen.
    We don't have 'q' in our alphabet.
    There are also CH, KP, NW, SH, GH, GW, NY, and Ñ.

    From the KW above which is gotten from "k" and "w" simultaneous pronunciation that's how other letters are gotten.

    Nw is gotten by saying the n and w words simultaneously to form an alphabet. In Igbo Words Nwere(got) nwa(Child)

    Gw is gotten as in above too, in Igbo Words īgwé(king/Sky) ágwà(beans/character)

    Ny is gotten as in above too. In Igbo Words Nyere(gave) Nye m(give me) "m in Igbo is Me or I"

    Ch as in "ch" in church. In Igbo Words Ubochi(Day), chere(wait) Chukwu (God)

    gh as in "gh" in borou-gh, thorou-gh, throu-gh, Igbo Words Aghụghọ (cheating), Ghọta (pluck as in plucking fruits OR to understand) One word meaning different things. It has a sound of "h" like in "hi" but has a lighter weight like borough above.
    You remember That sound you get when you open your mouth to release vapour? THAT'S IT.

    Note: there are a lot of words with different meaning in Igbo language but you can identify them by their tone marks. The way you differentiate a question from a statement. Check (you went to school VS you went to school? Just by tone right?) E.g ákwá (cry) ákwà(cloth) àkwá(egg) àkwà (bed). Or ìsì(blindness) ísí(head) ísī(to cook).
    😂😂 Don't be confused.
    We don't always write them this way because we know which one is used contextually.

    Sh as in "sh" in Sh-atter. (This is understandable)

    Kp has a sound of "p" but a heavy p. Sound like kpa kpa like in banger sound. In Igbo Words Ukpaka(Oil bean), akpa(bag) kpakpando(star) etc

    We don't have "C" in our alphabet as "C" word is represented by "S".
    When C is pronounced as "C-urious" we use K.

    There are also use of " . "On Vowels only, which shows it's pitch level and hence adds meaning to it.
    Example Ụ́kwụ́(leg) is Different from Úkwú(big). Notice they have same tonal mark? But Different meaning.
    First one is leg while the later is big.

    full stop or kpọm(.) Is used under vowels alone. The only consonant(mgbochiume) with tone mark is the "ñ" letter used in Igbo Words like añụrị (joy) ñụ́ọ́(drink).
    It's gotten between the "n" and "g" in the "Bing" or "king" word which makes it a nasal sound.

    There are use of "-" and " ' "(hyphen and apostrophe) usually used to connect a verb with the "na" Word, "na" on its own means "and" , when used with hype becomes a helper to a verb.
    It is Usually called "enyemaka ngwa"(linking verb and helping verb). For example "to think" as is in "na-eche" or "to wait" as in " n'eche"

    You noticed there was no "a" in the last "n'eche" example? We call it olulo udaume(Vowels dropping or literally vowel swallowing) Where 2 vowels meet and one swallows the other, as in "Receivable" 'a' in "able" swallowed the 'e' at the end of "receive". however it doesn't always happen as you can see the "Udaume" I wrote above like in "lineage" called (digraph) in English.

    Igbo is vast, I can't go into all at once. But when you learn it, it's so sweet.

    PS: the Igbos have different dialects from one community to the next till the state and Igbo land in general just like English but we have a central Igbo Know as Igbo izugbe.

    Igbo na-asụ n'onu n'onu, mana ha kwaa ụkwara ọ bụrụ ótù.

    Meaning: Igbos speak in different tongues but when they cough, it's always ONE.

    Just like you can prefer American or British English, you can always prefer Anambra, Ikwere, Delta, Imo, Abia, Enugu or Ebonyi Igbo.

    They are all great and unique in their different ways.

    A bụ m Nwaada(Miss) Amaka nke si (from) Anambra Steeti (State(it was anglicised))
    Daalụ nụ(Thank you)

  37. I raise my cup of palm wine to you Mr. Green. Happy you have counted my brother Chinua among the giants. The book is really great, notice how Okonkwo's friend was a deep thinker? He predicted the future when he told Okonkwo that he might come to grief for killing Ikemefuna. Ikemefuna means ''May my strength not be wasted or may I never be weak'' by the way. I pray you grow from strength to strength. Please keep the videos coming.

  38. I'm not sure I should read this book. I couldn't even understand his summary and analysis.

  39. Saw a fela kuti army arrangement cover

    Book was a political statement

  40. This was one of my favorite readings in high school. After watching your analysis of this work (and several others), I feel disappointed that the treatment of the literature parts of English class was just so shallow in my high school. Well, an in-depth analysis would've flown over my then 13 year old head though, so I can't complain.

  41. Whether we like it or Not Colonization did Make The Igbo and all of Africa Better Off. Seriously if you were an African or Now an Amazon living in the jungle, or Savanaha would you really want to be left out in exile, and in ignorance to the affairs, the possibilites, the cultures, the technology, the romances, the great conflicts and resolutions, of the rest of the world?

  42. 8:00 – "Living Fire begets cold, impotent Ash". Ah! I see why Dads are so disappointed with their sons at times.

  43. @Ella Samurai
    I think I agree with you. I'm of the opinion that likely Chinua Achebe did create some serious confusions in the understanding of certain elements of Igbo culture with this fictional work. People use Things Fall Apart as though it was an Igbo cultural bible instead of a fiction set in traditional Igbo society. Being a work of fiction, not everything in it is accurate. There are even others areas I have observed similar misrepresentations.

    Take for instance the ''osu'' issue. He backdated the post colonial ''osu caste'' and used it to replace the precolonial ''osu elites''(the best way I can depict it but not necessarily very accurate).

    The traditional ''osu'' I would say, was more like some sort of cultural elites of various forms whose gifts,talents, calling, crafts etc, whatever you can call them, were much greater than ordinary and by that position were highly revered by the normal people and by that also exerted visible control on the traditional society in their own way.

    This was a major problem to the colonial powers in trying to put the people under their total control. So they had to find a way and that's how they began to empower and use those already under their control to ostracize the ''osu'' class and move the people away from them( especially Christian converts). With time, as the colonial powers and Western influence in general were gaining more control over the people, the ''osu'' class were completely deserted and with time, it got so complicated and distorted to what people see ''osu'' to be today. This later picture of ''osu'' was what Chinua Achebe used in his precolonial setting instead of the rightful precolonial version.

    He also mentioned slaves alongside ''osu''s, joining the Christians but the term ''slave'' here has a different meaning from what the traditional Igbo ''slave'' I know in most cases were. He imported the Western slave notion into the traditional Igbo society. A good representation of the Igbo slave in his book was Ikemefuna. People don't really know that Ikemefuna was really a slave and that was a good example of what Igbo ''slavery'' was.

    Chinua Achebe did great in his writings but couldn't totally escape the powerful negative influence of Western education in distorting the original understandings of African cultural concepts.

  44. Omg, I finally found the name of this book, thank you. I really did like it, even if it was messed up sometimes.

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