Significant Allusions

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Last Updated on August 21, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 369

Literary Allusions: Achebe was influenced by well-known European texts—and critical of them, too. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe often uses allusions to European literature alongside Igbo proverbs.

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  • The title and the epigraph are both taken from the poem “The Second Coming” by W. B. Yeats. The last phrase of the novel’s epigraph, “loosed upon the world,” is repeated in the story. When Ekwefi follows the priestess who carries her daughter through the night, she describes “those evil essences loosed upon the world” by the medicine and witchcraft practiced by the villagers. A variation of this phrase occurs when Okonkwo is exiled from Umuofia. Obierika reflects on the banishment, believing that if Okonkwo didn’t leave, the wrath of the earth goddess would be “loosed on all the land.”
  • The narrator describes Okonkwo’s life as dominated by fear of failure and weakness. The narrator goes on to describe this fear as deeper than his fear of nature, despite seeing nature as “malevolent, red in tooth and claw.” This phrase originates from Canto LVI of Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam A. H. H.

Biblical Allusions: In the novel, biblical allusions foreshadow the arrival of Christian missionaries and give context to their theology.

  • The plague of locusts that occurs in chapter 7 alludes to the plague of locusts that blights Egypt in the book of Exodus. The allusion can be read as a foreshadowing of the missionaries’ disruptive arrival. In chapter 15, Obierika tells Okonkwa of the destruction of Abame. After the first white missionary arrived, the local Oracle called the white men locusts and claimed that more of them would come and destroy the town. The prophecy proved true, and Abame was later massacred by white men.
  • In chapter 16, the missionaries in Mbanta describe the Christian God and his son, whom they refer to as Jesu Kristi. They also refer to the Holy Trinity, comprised of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
  • The character Enoch in Things Fall Apart is a recent convert to Christianity. Enoch becomes zealous about the Christian faith and disrupts the spiritual traditions of Umuofia. In the Old Testament of the Bible, Enoch, the grandfather of Noah, is known for his devotion and service to God.

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