Symbols in Things Fall Apart

THINGS FALL APART Symbols Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. Locusts Achebe depicts the locusts that descend upon the village in highly allegorical terms that prefigure the arrival of the white settlers, who will feast on and exploit the resources of the Igbo. The fact that the Igbo eat these locusts highlights how innocuous they take them to be. Similarly, those who convert to Christianity fail to realize the damage that the culture of the colonizer does to the culture of the colonized.

The language that Achebe uses to describe the locusts indicates their symbolic status. The repetition of words like “settled” and “every” emphasizes the suddenly ubiquitous presence of these insects and hints at the way in which the arrival of the white settlers takes the Igbo off guard. Furthermore, the locusts are so heavy they break the tree branches, which symbolizes the fracturing of Igbo traditions and culture under the onslaught of colonialism and white settlement. Perhaps the most explicit clue that the locusts symbolize the colonists is Obierika’s comment in Chapter Fifteen: “the Oracle . . said that other white men were on their way. They were locusts. . . .” Fire Okonkwo is associated with burning, fire, and flame throughout the novel, alluding to his intense and dangerous anger—the only emotion that he allows himself to display. Yet the problem with fire, as Okonkwo acknowledges in Chapters Seventeen and Twenty-Four, is that it destroys everything it consumes. Okonkwo is both physically destructive—he kills Ikemefuna and Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s son—and emotionally destructive—he suppresses his fondness for Ikemefuna and Ezinma in favor of a colder, more masculine aura.

Just as fire feeds on itself until all that is left is a pile of ash, Okonkwo eventually succumbs to his intense rage, allowing it to rule his actions until it destroys him. SYMBOLS · The novel is highly symbolic, and it asks to be read in symbolic terms. Two of the main symbols are the locusts and fire. The locusts symbolize the white colonists descending upon the Africans, seeming to augur good but actually portending troublesome encounters. Fire epitomizes Okonkwo’s nature—he is fierce and destructive.

A third symbol, the drums, represents the physical connection of the community of clansmen in Umuofia, and acts as a metaphorical heartbeat that beats in unison, uniting all the village members. Okonkwo is associated with burning, fire, and flame throughout the novel, alluding to his intense and dangerous anger—the only emotion that he allows himself to display. Chapter 1 describes Okonkwo’s principal accomplishments that establish his important position in Igbo society. These details alone provide insight into Okonkwo’s character and motivation.

Driving himself toward tribal success and recognition, he is trying to bury the unending shame that he feels regarding the faults and failures of his late father, Unoka. In Okonkwo’s determination to be a perfect example of manhood, he begins to reveal the consequences of his fear of weakness—his tragic flaw. Okonkwo hates not only idleness but also gentleness; he demands that his family works as long as he does (without regarding their lesser physical stamina), and he nags and beats his oldest son, Nwoye.

Yet the problem with fire, as Okonkwo acknowledges in Chapters Seventeen and Twenty-Four, is that it destroys everything it consumes. Okonkwo is both physically destructive—he kills Ikemefuna and Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s son—and emotionally destructive—he suppresses his fondness for Ikemefuna and Ezinma in favor of a colder, more masculine aura. Just as fire feeds on itself until all that is left is a pile of ash, Okonkwo eventually succumbs to his intense rage, allowing it to rule his actions until it destroys him.