Elements Contributing to the Success of Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" (3)

3. Proverbial Wisdom

The glory of Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart is his use of proverbs and adages of oral culture. What sets him apart from other African writers is the fact that he is, by far, more successful than others in flawlessly translating his working of African terms from one medium to another, from an oral tradition to an alien form of European origin without obliterating the freshness and vigor of the former, and despite the vast difference separating the two cultures. His characteristic mode of writing, in other words, fulfills Achebe’s own idea that the ”English of the African will have to be a new English, still in communion with its ancestral home but altered to suit its new African surroundings. “In his own fiction, he succeeds in creating an English that is not only, as critics have pointed out, “detached”, “stately”, and “impassive”, but also singular in its ability to bring a whole range of human experience before our mind’s eye by his consummate use of imagery drawn from both native and alien sources. He makes use of devices like proverbs, folktales, and religious tenets conveyed through prayer, speeches and song sequences. The first proverbial wisdom can be found when Okonkwo visits Nwakibie in order to get some help. When Nwakibie serves his guests he says:

Let the kite perch and let the eagle perch too. If one says no to other, let his wing break.’
(Achebe, 1958: 14)

The possible meaning of this proverb is, people do their pray and their work for the life of their family and for happiness. No matter what other people say if they work hard for their intention, they will get what they want (happiness).
Another situation that indicates the proverbial wisdom can be found when Okonkwo utters his intention to Nwakibie.

The lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did.
(Achebe, 1958: 16)

The possible meaning of this proverbial wisdom is that no one will care you best except yourself. We should do some effort for our own success.
The next proverbial wisdom can be found on the same situation in the next conversation,

Eneke bird says that since men have learnt to shoot without missing, he has learnt to fly without perching.
(Achebe, 1958: 16)

The possible meaning of this proverb is that when men do something wrong at the first time, men should not make the same mistake for the second time.
Another proverbial wisdom can be found on Ibo’s beliefs about spirituality as seen in the following quotation:

But the Ibo people have a proverb that when a man says yes his chi says yes also.
(Achebe, 1958:19)
From the quotation above it can be seen that Igbo people believe that “Chi” is the guardian who guides individual. Chi has responsibility for the fortunes and misfortunes of the individual. It is one of the mythologies of Ibo people.
The other proverbial wisdom that can be found in this novel is that when Okonkwo has a conversation with Uchendu, his sons, daughters, and his cousins in Uchendu‘s obi

And yet we say Nneke – “Mother is Supreme”. Why is that?’
(Achebe, 1958: 94)

The meaning of the proverbial wisdom, “mother is supreme” in the above quotation is that a child usually will belong to his father when everything is fine, but when a father beats his child, the child will seek sympathy in its mother’s heart. This situation prevails not only to a child but also to a man. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. However, when there is sorrow and bitterness, he finds refuge in his motherland. It happens to Okonkwo when Okonkwo is exiled from Umofia, he finds refuge in his motherland in Mbanta.


Anonymous said…
On Achebe's proverb "Let the kite perch, and let the eagle perch too. If one says no to the other, let his wing break" it has nothing to do with, if they work hard. The proverb is about, for example: Two cultures have different ideas, your culture should let in other cultures ideas but in moderation, if you say no than your culture should fall. Obviously you have never read the book, because the book is clearly about this idea when the English missionaries come and try to convert the Nigerian tribes and cultures to Chritianity.
One of the novels central concerns is that of balance and moderation, thus balance and moderation of cultures. Please read the book before you write what these mean.
Purwarno said…
Thanks for your comment on my essay which blindly claims of my carelessness in interpreting the proverb. But, you did a great mistake saying that I should have never read the novel, as I've read it many times and have written some essays on it. You cowardly said so and did not let me discuss with you the matter as you left no email address or sent me personal message. You've your own interpretation and I do too. I know that the book is about the things in Nigeria falling apart due to the coming of the white, but when you interpret the proverb, you should also refer to the context. If your knowledge of the novel is still shadow, don't judge other's interpretation with it. I passed this subject with with A mark when doing my M.A. in English Literature. Thanks.

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