How to write a literature essay: Things Fall Apart |


How to write a literature essay: Things Fall Apart


In the final Grade 12 literature examination you will need to answer an essay question. Good planning is the key to success in a literature essay but in an exam, you will seldom have the time to do this so you need to be well prepared.
It is important that you have read the novel more than once and have thought about it deeply, so that you will have all the information you need to construct a sound, well-supported response.
Using Things Fall Apart as an example, here are some guidelines to help you write your literature essay.
Let us look at a possible question:
Okonkwo’s tragedy is that he is unable to adapt to changing circumstances. How valid do you believe this statement to be in the context of the novel as a whole? In an essay of 350400 words, analyse the reasons that lead to Okonkwo’s tragic death.
First, study the topic carefully and underline the most important aspects as shown. Once you know what you must focus on in your answer, you can plan your essay. Spend a few minutes planning your essay, so that you know how your argument will develop before you begin to write the essay.
Structure of an essay: an introduction, a body and a conclusion.

Introduction Opening paragraph
  • Your introduction should restate the topic and indicate the type of argument you will develop.
  • Write out a short introduction that states clearly how you feel about the topic. Do you agree or disagree?
  • The introduction tells the reader how your essay will develop. It also clarifies in your own mind what you will need to focus on in your essay.
While is it certainly true that Okonkwo finds it difficult to adapt to changing circumstances, it is simplistic to think that this is the only cause of his tragic death. These multiple reasons lie deep within his character, as well as in the circumstances of the changing world in which he lives.
Development Body of essay
  • Jot down the main points that you will be arguing. Use a list of points or a mind map.
  • Number the points in the logical order in which you will use them in your essay so you can organise your paragraphs according to the development of your argument.
  • Make a note of useful quotations or references to support your points.
  • Avoid lengthy quotations.
  • Use connectors, such as nevertheless, however, thus, so, moreover and therefore.
  • Keep the style of your writing formal. Do not use ‘I’, but write in the third person. Do not use contractions, such as can’t, could’ve and won’t.
When writing the body of your essay, you should cover the following points.

Influences on Okonkwo’s character development:

  • His attitude towards his father
  • The development of his inflexible will
  • His value system, especially his belief in manliness
  • His inability to compromise or to understand those who are different from himself, including his son Nwoye

Changes in Okonkwo’s environment:

  • His exile and alienation from his clan
  • His mistaken belief that a strong, united stand is all that is necessary to rid the tribe of the missionaries
  • His mistaken belief that he can revive his former status in the clan

Okonkwo’s clash with colonial authority

  • His humiliation in jail
  • His belief that the clan has abandoned its principles and traditions
Conclusion Concluding paragraph
  • Write out your conclusion in full.
  • Summarise your main argument. Round off your essay in a strong statement. Do not merely restate the topic.
  • End your essay with a strong statement.
It is thus clear that Okonkwo’s tragic death is brought about by many different factors, which cause him to become increasingly despondent. Ultimately, his suicide is a choice. In removing himself from a world in which he no longer has a place, he is retaining the initiative and cheating the colonial authorities of their victory. However, the cost of this is great, as he has broken an important taboo and will thus be denied the traditional rituals that he has fought so hard to preserve.

Remember these 5 points:

  • Never misspell the names of the characters.
  • Remember to use quotation marks when you quote from the novel.
  • Never misquote. Paraphrase in your own words if you cannot remember accurately.
  •  Underline the question word as you go so that you know what to focus on in your answer.
  • After you have answered the question, reread your answers to check for careless spelling errors, and to see that you have written enough to justify the mark allocated.

Find more help in this great X-kit Achieve Literature Study Guide: X-kit Achieve Literature Series: Things Fall Apart
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