In Things Fall Apart, how do the oral traditions, proverbs and Igbo wisdom, and language used add to the effect of the novel's tragic ending and the downfall of Okonkwo?

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dashing-danny-dillinger eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The language, customs, and proverbs Chinua Achebe uses in his seminal novel Things Fall Apart all contribute to Okonkwo's tragic outcome in many ways. Indeed, the ending is rendered more devastating because Achebe uses this Igbo wisdom throughout the story to allow Okonkwo’s friends and colleagues to warn him against his staunch, prideful nature that leads to his eventual downfall. Early in the novel, Okonkwo’s lazy father Unoka foreshadows Okonkwo’s demise when he gives his son this key piece of advice:

“Do not despair. I know you will not despair. You have a manly and a proud heart. A proud heart can survive a general failure because such a failure does not prick its pride. It is more difficult and more bitter when a man fails alone” (24-25).

The novel is filled with moments like this, moments that foreshadow Okonkwo’s suicide. What makes this passage even more devastating is the fact that Okonkwo does in fact fail alone. His region has been completely altered by European influence brought about by Christian missionaries. In Achebe’s world, Okonkwo is inextricable from traditional Igbo values, and the fact that Achebe uses so much of the language and wisdom of the tribal Igbo gives the story a further sense of depth. Igbo values are under attack by Western colonialism, and the face of the entire region has been changed. When Okonkwo dies, so, in a way, does the traditional Igbo way of life. The rich language that Achebe uses ties Okonkwo to his traditions and values, and provides the tale a melancholic feel.