Proverbs express key ideas and cultural values in "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe. The novel is about the downfall of a tribal leader in Nigeria following British colonization in the late 1800s. African oral traditions are rich in these sayings intended to impart wisdom or understanding. So is Achebe's novel, but he often uses them to establish the cruelty and lack of wisdom of his central character, Okonkwo.
Famous Proverbs From the Novel
So many sayings appear in "Things Fall Apart" that there is even one about proverbs themselves. Shortly after the novel opens, the narrator says that "proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten," because they make it easier to broach difficult subjects, such as asking for debt repayment. However, proverbs also act as sharp criticism in the novel, such as when Okonkwo calls a tribesman a "woman" and accuses him of being a poor worker by saying, "Those whose palm-kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble." Okonkwo is known for being arrogant, outspoken and derisive of anyone whom he considers weak. In chapter one of the novel, Achebe describes him as having "no patience with unsuccessful men" or weakness. Early in the novel, when his son, Nwoye, converts to Christianity, he says, "Living fire begets cold, impotent ash." So although Okonkwo is powerful, similar to fire, he considers his son weak. Yet at the end of the story, when Okonkwo is imprisoned, another tribesman compares him to a small, frightened creature by saying, "Whenever you see a toad jumping in broad daylight, then you know that something is after its life."
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