Things Fall Apart is full of figurative language (like similes and metaphors) and proverbs. Achebe, a Nigerian writer who is critical of British colonialism in his work, has been called out by some reviewers for writing in English, the colonizer's language. However, his use of figurative language and proverbs helps...
Things Fall Apart is full of figurative language (like similes and metaphors) and proverbs. Achebe, a Nigerian writer who is critical of British colonialism in his work, has been called out by some reviewers for writing in English, the colonizer's language. However, his use of figurative language and proverbs helps Achebe express cultural beliefs and capture the speech patterns of Igbo people.
Here are some examples from early in the novel, though Achebe consistently incorporates figurative language and proverbs throughout the work.
And so at a very early age when he was striving desperately to build a barn through share-cropping Okonkwo was also fending for his father’s house. It was like pouring grains of corn into a bag full of holes. His mother and sisters worked hard enough, but they grew women’s crops, like coco-yams, beans and cassava. Yam, the king of crops, was a man’s crop. (22-23)
The bolded phrase is an example of simile. In this simile, the narrator compares Okonkwo’s work trying to establish himself as a farmer while also supporting his mother and sisters as “like pouring grains of corn into a bag full of holes.” The comparison conveys the frustration and uselessness of Okonkwo’s work. He cannot establish his own planting success quickly enough because he is also having to provide for his mother and sisters since his father’s yam planting has not been productive. Therefore, his work does not have the stabilizing effect on his own career to match the energy he is devoting to that work.
Having spoken plainly so far, Okoye said the next half a dozen sentences in proverbs. Among the Ibo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten. (7)
In this example, the bolded portion is a metaphor comparing proverbs to palm-oil. The implicit comparison is between proverbs and spices or seasoning. As a good cook will season his or her meal appropriately to make the food taste appealing, the skilled conversationalist will pepper his or her speech with proverbs to “spice up” the language and provide a more entertaining experience. Here, Okoye moves from speaking “plainly” to using proverbs to communicate ideas in his next several sentences. Conversation is described as an “art” in this quote, and since Okoye likes to talk, he takes pride in practicing his art by incorporating proverbs. This metaphor could also be applied to Achebe’s writing of the novel as a whole, since the narrator sprinkles the prose with evocative proverbs.
Finally, here is one example of the many proverbs in the novel:
A toad does not run in the daytime for nothing. (20)
This proverb is preceded by the line “There must be a reason for it.” The proverb means the same: the toad will not take an action that does not have a specific purpose. The men are having a conversation in this scene a man named Obiako who has stopped tapping palm-wine suddenly, even though that was his given trade. The men assume there must be a good reason for him to do so. The proverb suggests that the people use natural elements, like animals, to understand and describe phenomena in the human world.