How are music and food important in Things Fall Apart?

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Things Fall Apart, two aspects of culture that are often taken for granted by the reader are the ceremonies involving food and music.  Together, they stand for the Igbo themselves, their heart (drums), blood (wine), and hospitality (kola nuts).  In part I of the novel, the drums beat often; much wine flows; and many kola nuts are offered.  By the end of the novel, however, the drums have ceased, the wine has spilled, and the kola nuts, like their culture, have forever fallen apart.

In Part I, the drums are a symbol of the tribe's heart:

The drums were still beating, persistent and unchanging. Their sound was no longer a separate thing from the living village. (44)

The drums bring the tribesmen together for war and the wrestling ceremonies, and they sound when a male member has died.  More specifically, they symbolize the war-like past for Okonkwo, his strength and vigor.  But, as he the culture has strayed away from war, the drums have beaten less frequently.  This bothers Okonkwo to no end: domestic life does not suit his past aggressive warrior tendencies.  The drums, then, are reminders of Okonkwo's glory days passing him by.  His pulse beats less and less as the novel progresses, until, by the end, it stops.

In terms of food, the yams, palm wine, and kola nuts are most significant.  The yams are farmed and harvested by males, so the tuber is a symbol of the male anatomy (his manhood).  The more yams he grows, the more his status grows in the tribe, the more his family grows.  The yam is very hard to grow in Nigerian conditions, and so the livelihood, sustainability, and future of the entire tribe rests in its delicate tendrils.

Palm wine and kola nuts are offered to guests during ceremonies.  According to Enotes, during the uri (wedding ceremony):

The host presents kola nuts to the in-laws and proclaims friendship between the two families.

Two pots of wine arrive from the in-laws for the women to use in cooking. The ground in front of the hut is swept clean. The in-laws arrive, each with a pot of wine on their head.

So, kola nuts symbolize the hospitality and hierarchy of the tribe.  The guest-host relationship is sacred to the Igbo.  Their culture is based on social propriety.  The hosts must defer to the guests; females must defer to males; and the young must defer to the young.  When the culture stops breaking kola nuts, it must signify the breaking apart of the culture itself, hence the title, Things Fall Apart.

The wine is the life-blood of the patriarchy.  It is tasted in the order of male status: from eldest to youngest.  Notice the wine is drunk from a horn (a male symbol of virility).  Then, after the males have had their fill, the wives drink in order from first wife to last.  So, like the yam, the palm wine is an archetypal symbol of virility: it is the life-blood, the seed, the future of the tribe.

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Things Fall Apart

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