A proverb is "a brief, memorable saying that expresses a truth or belief" (Proverb). “Proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten" (Achebe 7), and they enhance the meaning of all the conversations. “A proverb is [basically] a short sentence based on long experience” (.
In Things Fall Apart, proverbs are mainly used in the development of the important characters. Through proverbs used in character development, Achebe shows the distinct similarities and differences between the protagonist, Okonkwo, and two other important characters, Nwoye and Obierika.
Achebe uses the proverb "When a man says yes his chi says yes also" in the character development of Okonkwo. Okonkwo is a very successful man in his village of Umoufia, in fact an elder called him "one of the lords of the land" (Achebe 28) because of his strength in battle and because he takes many titles. He is also a very harsh man. One day,
“[Ekwefi murmurs] something about guns never shot... Okonkwo [hears] it and [runs] madly into his room for the loaded gun, [runs] out again and [aims] at her as [she clambers] over the dwarf wall of the barn. He [presses] the trigger and there is a loud report accompanied by the wail of his wives and children.”
This proverb sheds light on Okonkwo's tragic flaw which is he always suppresses his feminine side. The proverb means that when you balance your feminine and masculine sides, you will be successful. Okonkwo's problem is "he was afraid of being thought weak" so he always relies on his masculine side. Because he doesn’t listen to his feminine side, when he murders Ikemefuna, he is unbalanced. Because he doesn’t balance both sides, he is going against his chi which brings bad luck. If Okonkwo had listened to Ezued...
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...urns] his friends calamity”, he ponders why his friend had been punished. He also questions what his wife's twins had done to deserve being thrown out. “[He] was a man who thought about things” (Achebe 125), but he seldom shares those thoughts with others because he knows he could be severely punished for questioning the almighty Ani. Obierika does the will of Ani when it is necessary, but unlike Okonkwo, he questions some of the actions of his clan due to their religion.
Achebe uses proverbs in Things Fall Apart to develop the characters of Okonkwo, Nwoye, and Obierika. All of these proverbs show the similarities and differences between the protagonist, Okonkwo, and the other important characters, Nwoye and Obierika. They give the reader insight into the deep thoughts and explanations of their actions that cause families, relationships, and cultures to fall apart.
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