Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a novel that deals with symbols in many different ways. The symbols are often found in the characters and their names, but they also appear as symbols of culture such as Ibo proverbs and folktales. In this essay, we will explore how symbols function within Things Fall Apart and what they mean to readers.
The book Things Fall Apart is significant in the changing system of contemporary African literature. The author debunks a widespread image that claims that before colonization, Africa had no culture. It depicts the political and social background in a realistic way, with regard to both politics and society. In this novel, mythology and symbols are frequently utilized as foundations for African oral tradition. The essay will explore symbolism in Things Fall Apart in greater depth.
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It’s a thrilling tale that employs a variety of literary devices, including symbolism and motifs, to illustrate African cultural erosion as a result of adopting Western culture. The author demonstrates how the African society was damaged by the European way of life when Christianity was embraced in it with the help of symbols. As previously stated, numerous symbols are utilized in this book.
Yams. Yam is a plant that is generally cultivated by men. This crop needs a lot of effort, and the work ethic of a guy can be judged by how much of the field and harvest he produces. The only purpose of growing yams in Africa is to make money and feed one’s family.
Bulk yams are a symbol of male fertility and the ability to provide. A man who had huge yams was shown in this book as being less of a failure than Unoka because he had a big barn full of yams (Chinua, 1958, p. 4). Nwakibie refuses to give the young men yams, reasoning that they would dispose of them rather than nurture them as a man would his family. Yams are quite rare and belong only to people who work hard.
The yam’s central location emphasizes the group’s distinct characteristics. Its role as a source of gratification is demonstrated by its usage as an icon of the tribe. Due to the amount of work necessary in growing it, large harvests represent yearly success won from nature. The image of yam is essential to sustaining culture.
Folktales. Most of the little creatures’ tales in the book, according to Okonkwo, represent women’s conduct, such as the one about the birds and the tortoise who was invited for a banquet in the sky. The tortoise was kept out because he didn’t have wings to fly; and aware of his unthankfulness and craftiness, the birds were unable to assist him.
The tortoise was undernourished and had to persuade the birds to feed him. The tortoise claims of a custom that forces them to take new names while on their journey, but the objective was to achieve the highest professional standing possible. Because all of the women were low-ranking, they gave in, allowing the devious tortoise to dine on the best food while leaving scraps for the birds. Though Okonkwo employs animal imagery in Things Fall Apart, his attitude toward females is critical.
Fire. Other characters compare Okonkwo to fire, and the narrator describes him as a “roaming flame in the village.” Fire is a sign of power, according to him. During a quarrel with his son Nwoye in his hut, Okonkwo gazed at a log fire and had an overpowering desire to get up, take up a machete, and hack Christians out of Nwoye’s life. When Okonkwo looked at the flames, he felt a wild sensation of strength flow through his body.
Mother of the Spirits. The clan of Umofia and the Mother of Egwugwu can be interpreted as personification by the clan of Umofia and the Mother of Egwugwu. The lifestyle of Umuofia is now completely neglected, with irreparable damage done. After the unveiling night, the Mother of spirits wails loudly for her son’s death. “…it appeared as if the soul of the clan wept for the terrible evil that was approaching its own demise,” says Chinua (1958, p. 145). It is critical that the Mother of spirits does not seek vengeance for her son’s murder. People of Umuofia would not take revenge for wrongs done to them.
Okonkwo. Okonkwo’s character in Things Fall Apart is also worth noting in this discussion. He represents manhood, a figure who is openly hostile to Christianity’s concept of love. His personality collectively embodies the spirit of African people. He is just as stubborn and strong as the Igbos, according to on Weinstock and Ramadan (1978): Okonkwo is constantly linked with manhood, and he generally distrusts, opposes, and attacks anything feminine or associated with femininity. Christianity emphasizes and embodies the qualities Okonkwo considers to be womanish, such as love affection and compassion, which he typically values (p.128).
His downfall is the result of his resistance to colonialism, as seen in the summary of the tale. Okonkwo’s death serves as a sort of metaphor for the decline of African culture. Rather than being killed and subsequently wiping out Africa’s culture, by committing suicide rather than dying, Okonkwo symbolizes Africans giving in to Christianity to take leadership. It’s a conspiracy that he wrote a whole book about the bad effects of colonialism since the closing statement in his essay might have been written by a Britain District Commissioner.
He remarks on the suicide, stating that it was conceivable to write about Okonkwo in his book. This information contradicted Achebe’s intended message because depicting Africans as unsophisticated differs from what Achebe had intended to illustrate. By simulating Okonkwo’s death through suicide, Achebe emphasizes the need for blaming Africans for allowing foreign ideas to flourish in their country.
Nwoye’s Personality. “His father always opposed feminine conduct. His conversion to Christianity was intended to strengthen the symbol created by Achebe.” Okonkwo’s family was his pleasure and pride, while Nwoye’s conversion to Christianity proved to be his last agony. Due to his son’s refusal of his way of life, he had only one choice: quit living.
Nweoye’s Adoption of a New Name. Isaac’s decision to take up a new name, Isaac, with the significance it held, proves his faith in Christianity. Though the precise name he chooses implies a meaning beyond the immediate sense of personal salvation, it evokes memories from the Biblical tale of Abraham, where an animal was substituted for his son, Isaac. Nwoye’s adoption of this moniker demonstrates the full significance of his conversion: it was a crucial milestone on the road to freedom from parental family constraints.
Weather. The environment also has an important role in the lives of Nigerians, particularly the Igbos. The tribe’s dependence on weather for survival is demonstrated by whether or not it rains. Crops are limited by rainfall and river flow, which influence their water and food supplies. On sunny days, plants use the sun to warm up while also absorbing radiation. Excessive rain, however, or direct sunlight might cause damage (Rand, 1966).
Locust Invasion. Locusts signify a major assault with enormous devastation. There are two pivotal occasions connected to the locust connection. In the passage, “…At first, a very tiny swarm arrived…,” it’s suggested that they were the messengers sent to survey the territory (Chinua, 1958, p. 43). He mentioned how whites and others came on route for the first time. This connection of events was intentionally created.
The myth of the locust is linked to the creation of the unknown and known through the connection of cognition gaps. Insects were not a concern, despite their existence being a popular belief that threatened economic ruin. Allegorical phrases used to represent the locusts’ invasion foreshadowed white men’s arrival in African territory. They wanted to take everything from the Igbos. Because Igbo people eat locusts, it implies they are not harmful in any way.
People who were programmed to believe in Christianity overlooked negative consequences, such as the white people’s culture affecting their lifestyle. Achebe’s language in describing the locust infestation is metaphorical. The frequent use of a recurrent style emphasizes the ubiquity of locusts and implies how the white colonizers would come upon Igbos’ land by surprise. It’s mentioned that the bugs were too heavy, and as a result, they snapped a tree’s branches. This was an indication of how the Igbo culture and beliefs would break under colonialism and white settlement (Oyekan, 1993).
What Does Okonkwo Death Symbolize? The death of Okonkwo is an example of a brave demise, similar to that of a fighter who is devoted to his people. This reflects the terrible end that great men suffer. This is because committing suicide is shameful, unlike nature, thus it should not be interred by family members.
However, in keeping with African tradition, Okonokwo’s death may not be characterized as a brave demise; rather, it must be recognized as a dishonorable one. He behaves in the manner that leads to his own death, and he is solely responsible for this. Obierika’s acid words to the district commissioner held a certain ambiguity in Igbo’s recollection, recalling bravery and disgraceful suicide. He was allegedly regarded as the greatest individual in Umuofia and had to kill himself and be buried in an improper way (David, 1998).
Conclusion. The symbolism essay in Things Fall Apart demonstrates that the novel is an exciting piece that employs a symbolic literature style to illustrate Africa’s cultural erosion by embracing Western culture. The majority of Africans were not ready to give up their own customs for those of the white man, and as a result, Okonkwo preferred to die than submit to the white man’s way of life. Colonization has gotten more serious in society, and culture has taken center stage. To enhance the reader’s perception of society, symbols are utilized.
Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a narrative that explores the intriguing lives and misconceptions often associated with African culture. Achebe tells Things Fall Apart from an African perspective, which sees westerners as the outsiders and Africans as the insiders. Achewe profiles the clash of cultures that erupts when white Christians colonize and disseminate their religious beliefs in Lower Nigeria, focusing on a clan.
Achebe’s use of symbols like drums, locusts, and fire enables him to make his book so popular all over the world. These frequent symbols represented by drums signify the pulse of all civilization, locusts represent an invasion by an outsider, and fire represents devastation, all aiding Things Fall Apart in making it a classic that applies to everyone. Achebe achieved this by using drums, locusts, and fire frequency to illustrate the loss of heritage, white man invaders coming, and societal ramifications that can be devastating.
Achebe uses the image of tribal drums to illustrate the flourishing culture and liveliness that Umuofia enjoys before the Europeans arrived. Drums are a common sight at cultural gatherings and parties in Umuofia. The sound of “drums [is] still beating, persistent and unchanged,” during the festival, which marks a new harvest year.
“They have made it their own. Their sound [is] no longer a distinct entity from the living community” (104). Drums are intimately connected to village culture and customs. Furthermore, the “persistent and unvarying” beat of the drums reflects the society’s cohesion, as well as how the tribe is presently run (104). These traditions are unique to Umuofia and play an important role in African heritage.
However, these unchanging and only employed by Achebe to build upon the prevalent theme of cultural conflict, albeit they also serve as what makes Things Fall Apart a shared human experience that applies to everybody. Drums are recognized as a sign of culture, locusts are seen as destructive pests, and fire is seen as harmful.
The narrative of Things Fall Apart is told from an African perspective, and it demonstrates how Europeans have destroyed important aspects of African culture. Perhaps Achebe used ubiquitous symbols to make the book more relevant to people from diverse cultures not only as a means of emphasizing changes that Umuofia goes through but also as a means of challenging preconceived ideas about society.
Things Fall Apart is a book by Chinua Achebe that aims to illustrate the fascinating lives and misconceptions often associated with African society. Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart from an African perspective, seeing westerners as the intruders while Africans are seen as the insiders. In lower Nigeria, Achebe details the clash of civilizations that occurs when white Christians colonize and propagandize their religious beliefs.
The author’s use of symbols such as drums, locusts, and fire allows him to render his book so popular across the world. The usage of drums declines as the story progresses and focuses more on Okonkwo’s banishment and the arrival of the Europeans. This signifies a loss of culture in Umuofia as it is gradually subjected to external influences.
Achebe wants his readers to connect with him more deeply by using the locust symbol, which he uses to represent humanity, to help them better understand and appreciate human existence. While drums are associated with joy and culture across the world, Achebe employs this sign as a means of a closer connection with his audience. The icon of locusts represents white men coming, while drums represent the African clan’s culture.
Achebe frequently employs the image of locusts to symbolize and prefigure, as well as signal, the arrival of white men. The appearance of the locusts in Umuofia produces great happiness throughout the tribe since they are delicious to eat but detrimental to agriculture.
The harvest season had ended, however, this favorable and unfavorable parallel addresses the same concerns that would be asked when colonists arrived to the society. When the locusts first appeared in Umuofia, Achebe says, “the locusts came down. They settled on every tree and blade of grass; they even occupied the roofs and covered exposed ground.” “Tree limbs shook violently under them,” he adds (129).
To combat the preconceived notion of African people as lacking in culture, Chinua Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart. He met his objective in a variety of ways throughout the book, employing a variety of linguistic techniques. The distinctive and creative usage of symbolism was, however, the standout technique throughout the plot.
There are several distinctions between the culture of the Nigerians represented in the book and that of all other people throughout the world. Unfortunately, many other novels have misrepresented this distinct society, including Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, to name just one.
During the scene in which Okonkwo’s first crop is depicted, “Nothing occurred at its normal time; it was either too early or too late. It almost appeared as if the world had gone mad” (Achebe23), it is clear that even though Okonkwo worked hard, success was hampered by circumstances beyond his control. Something similar was said earlier in the narrative, “Okonkwo did not have a fantastic start in life like many other young males”
He didn’t get a barn, a title, or even a young wife when he inherited his wealth. The beginning of Okonkwo’s life was never set up for him to succeed easily, but it wasn’t entirely his fault. As a result, the beginning of Okonkwo’s life is representative through parallelism to the start of his existence.
The locusts symbolize the hard work this culture has put in. The individuals are deserving of what they get because they worked hard. This, combined with the symbolism of the locusts, demolishes the author’s initial notion of the Nigerian people, which was to be avoided.
In Things Fall Apart, the folk tales, particularly the story of the birds and the tortoise, were a bit more unusual. It serves a variety of functions in this narrative, including as foreshadowing, symbolism, and further illustration of the rich and complex culture. The last is perhaps the most apparent since it demonstrates how they may create and tell stories just like we do.