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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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In Things Fall Apart, is silence characterized as positive or negative?

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Throughout the novel, Chinua Achebe characterizes silence as being ominous and negative. In Chapter 7, Okonkwo and the boys work in "complete silence" until the locusts descend onto the village. Shortly after, Ezeudu tells Okonkwo that Umuofia has decided to kill Ikemefuna. When Okonkwo receives the news, he tells Ikemefuna that he will be taking him home but does not say a word to Nwoye. The next day, the men of the village begin their journey with Ikemefuna. Achebe writes, "A deathly silence descended on Okonkwo's compound" (58). As the group of men travel nearer to the outskirts of Umuofia, they become "silent." As they continue their journey, Achebe describes their surroundings and writes, "All else was silent" (58). The silence provides an ominous mood before Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna.

Later in the novel, Obierika travels to visit Okonkwo and tells him that the village of Abame has been wiped out by white men. Obierika tells him that the villagers of Abame killed a messenger who spoke a strange language, which provoked the other white men to destroy the village. When Uchendu asks Obierika what the white man said before he was killed, one of Obierika's companions says, "He said nothing" (139). Uchendu responds by saying, "Never kill a man who says nothing" (140). Again, silence is associated with impending destruction.

In Chapter 23, the leaders of Umuofia are taken captive, and the villagers are frightened. Achebe writes, "It was the time of the full moon. But that night the voice of children was not heard. . . Young men who were always abroad in the moonlight kept their huts that night. Their manly voices were not heard on the village paths as they went to visit their friends and lovers" (196). Eventually, the elders return and Okonkwo makes the fateful decision to kill a white messenger. The silence in the village is associated with negative emotions and provides an ominous mood to the story. Silence almost always precedes a destructive event throughout the novel and would be characterized as negative.

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