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In Things Fall Apart, what is the meaning of the proverb "A man who pays respect to the...

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yellek | Salutatorian

Posted September 28, 2013 at 8:49 PM via web

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In Things Fall Apart, what is the meaning of the proverb "A man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 29, 2013 at 5:29 AM (Answer #1)

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This proverb is taken from Chapter 3 and is spoken by Okonkwo to explain why he has sought an audience with Nwakibie as a young man without a penny to his name and needing to make something of himself. Note what he says:

I have brought you this little kola. As our people say, a man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness. I have come to pay you my respects and also to ask a favour. But let us drink the wine first.

Okonkwo uses the proverb therefore to flatter Nwakibie, and also to anticipate the request he will make. The proverb reflects the reality of the world and can be summarised as meaning somebody who respects his betters will allow himself to be advanced in life through that respect. It is the use of this proverb, in part, that allows Okonkwo to persuade Nwakibie to give him the yam seeds he requests so that he can establish himself in his village and society. Okonkwo's story proves the truth of this proverb, as he has respected his betters in order to pave the way for his own advancement in society.  

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