Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" is an example of the use of narrative proverbs to convey the distinctive quality of African fiction. The proverbs are used to define communally shared values and traditional west African life. Each embedded narrative enhances characterisations, enriches the setting and clarifies the action taking place. The novel's hero, Okonkwo Unoko, struggles to resist British imperialism and the loss of his way of life, which is expressed through many of the proverbs.
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The Locust Swarm
A cosmic quarrel between the earth and sky occurs on the eve of Okonkwo's death. "The elders said locusts came once in a generation, reappeared every year for seven years and then disappeared for another lifetime." The locusts then retreated to their caves, where they protected a race of men. They microscopically represent an invasion filled with omen. It marks the phase of European imperialism on a grand scale.
Art of Conversation
Okonkwo recounted the quote of how a tribe member calmly interacted with someone to whom he owed money. The narrator stated, "among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten." The formalities among Okonkwo's clan offers insight into the agrarian society as well as the differences of opinion that occur between the Europeans and the Igbo. Westerners consider the Igbo's cultural traditions inefficient.
A Man's "Chi"
The Igbo clan believes that "when a man says yes his 'chi' says yes also," as stated in Chapter 14. "Chi" is an individual's personal god in Igbo culture. The proverb succinctly explains that individuals are masters of their own destinies. It sums up the essence of strong will and determination. An equivalent English saying is that "God helps those who helps themselves."
A Running Toad
The proverb, "A toad does not run in the daytime for nothing," states that there is a cause for anything strange that takes place. Toads are nocturnal creatures, so the animal would not run against its circadian clock for no reason. The toad running in the daytime must have been provoked or disturbed into action contrary to its normal nature.
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