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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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Why does the simile “as slippery as a fish in water” successfully describe Okonkwo's wrestling in Things Fall Apart?

Quick answer:

The simile “as slippery as a fish in water” is successful in describing Okonkwo during the wrestling match in that it suggests how Okonkwo eluded the grasp of the other wrestler, whose nickname is “the Cat.”

Expert Answers

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A simile is a comparison between unlike things for effect using like or as. In chapter 1 of Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo participates in a wrestling match against Amalinze, who is nicknamed “the Cat.” The novel’s narrator describes Okonkwo with a simile comparing him to a fish: he “was as slippery as a fish in water.” This simile successfully evokes the image of an agile, slick animal eluding capture by a larger predator. The comparison further suggests that Okonkwo was in his natural element.

Chapter 1 begins with a story about this wrestling match, which had occurred at least twenty years prior to the main action in the novel. The chapter serves to establish the personality and early exploits of Okonkwo as a gifted and ambitious young man. The paragraphs on the wrestling match convey that Okonkwo was either unafraid or was good at conquering his fears. He deliberately challenged an established, respected champion. During the match, he showed his skills in strategy as well as his physical strength.

Achebe’s narrator introduces Amalinze as a formidable opponent in being undefeated for seven years. They explain the nickname of “the Cat” as based on his ability to keep his back off the ground. By first establishing an animal comparison—in this case a metaphor—for one competitor, Achebe provides a foundation for using another animal comparison for the challenger. In this way, he evokes a visual image of the match that suggests a cat trying, but failing, to catch a swimming fish.

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