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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe
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What do yams represent in Things Fall Apart?  

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In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart , yams are by far the most important crop to the traditional Igbo farmers within Umuofia. They are a sign of a man’s wealth, and a family with yams is a family that can prosper in the region. More than that, however, yams...

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In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, yams are by far the most important crop to the traditional Igbo farmers within Umuofia. They are a sign of a man’s wealth, and a family with yams is a family that can prosper in the region. More than that, however, yams represent manliness:

“Yam stood for manliness, and he who could feed his family on yams from one harvest to another was a very great man indeed” (33).

A man who can grow yams successfully proves his virility. Yams are very labor intensive, and are crucial crops to the traditional Igbo culture. In one key scene that demonstrates how highly Okonkwo values yams and their signification of masculine qualities, Okonkwo threatens Nwoye and Ikemefuna with physical violence based on their treatment of yams:

“Sometimes Okonkwo gave them a few yams each to prepare. But he always found fault with their effort, and he said so with much threatening. 'Do you think you are cutting up yams for cooking?' he asked Nwoye. 'If you split another yam of this size, I shall break your jaw. You think you are still a child. I began to own a farm at your age” (32-33).

Thus, yams hold a valuable position in the Igbo culture because of its association with manliness and virility.  

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