Gain a better understanding of important themes in the novel by analyzing these quotes.
Quote: He was a man of action, a man of war…On great occasions such as the funeral of a village celebrity he drank his palm-wine from his first human head (10).
Analysis: Just in case the reader was not aware of the cultural gap between himself and the Ibo, he is introduced to Okonkwo’s custom of drinking palm-wine out of a human skull. This short passage shows what Okonkwo values in a man. A man works hard, fights well, and honors the dead by drinking wine from a dead man’s skull.
Quote: Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness (13).
Analysis: Okonkwo fears turning out like his father, whom he thought effeminate and weak. Okonkwo’s mistaken concept of masculinity leads him to commit foolish acts and ironically causes his oldest son to embody the characteristics Okonkwo despises.
Quote: An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb. Okonkwo remembered his own father (21).
Analysis: One of many insightful Ibo proverbs shows the intensity with which Okonkwo despises his father.
Quote: Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.
Analysis: The importance of rhetoric among the Igbo is established early in the novel, a characteristic misunderstood by the colonialists who prefer directness.
Quote: He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger (209).
Analysis: The District Commissioner shows his ignorance of the situation and his arrogant, racist attitude towards the indigenous tribes, mistakenly thinking he's bringing peace to the region.
Quote: The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.
Analysis: Obierika laments the arrival of the white man. He also recognizes his own people's falult for allowing it. Mr. Brown understands the need to act peaceably, as his religion teaches, in order to win converts. The Reverend Smith replaces him and oppresses the natives and polarizes the clan.
Themes of Masculinity
Being a real man is an important theme throughout the book.
Quote: Yam, the king of crops was a man’s crop.
Analysis: In Things Fall Apart masculinity rested on one’s ability to support a family. Okonkwo, who considers himself the ultimate man of the tribe, naturally prospers as a Yam farmer. Okonkwo is motivated by fear of others thinking he is like his effeminate father. Okonkwo reminds me of my 4′ 10″ neighbor, in denial of his shortness, who drives a giant red truck, owns two pitbulls, wears a Superman shirt, and lifts weights 4 hours a day.
Quote: Okonkwo never showed any emotion openly, unless it be the emotion of anger. To show affection was a sign of weakness; the only thing worth demonstrating was strength.
Analysis: Okonkwo, like many modern day troglodytish men, mistakes bravado for bravery, machismo for manliness, and anger for leadership. These mistaken concepts allow him to succeed for a season; when times change, however, he is unable to adapt.
Quote: No matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and his children (and especially his women) he was not really a man… Nwoye knew that it was right to be masculine and to be violent, but somehow he still preferred the stories that his mother used to tell, and which she no doubt still told to her younger children.
Analysis: Things Fall Apart masculinity is based on more than prosperity. A man must control his family. Okonkwo rules his family with force, but he cannot control them. Nwoye rebels. It’s the modern day equivalent of a football player’s son becoming a figure skater, ballet dancer, or soccer player.
Quote: He drank palm-wine from morning till night, and his eyes were red and fierce like the eyes of a rat when it was caught by the tail and dashed against the floor (63).
Analysis: Okonkwo turns to alcohol while mourning the death of Ikemefuna, who Okonkwo killed. Okonkwo shows his inability to deal with tragedy, much like the modern day ruffian who hides his insecurities and deficiencies by imbibing large amounts of alcohol. The imagery of a rat caught by the tail and dashed against the floor highlight Okonkwo's inability to escape tribal customs, customs he must uphold to validate his status as a man
Quote: Obierika was a man who thought about things. When the will of the goddess had been done, he sat down in his obi and mourned his friend's calamity. Why should man suffer so grievously for an offense he had committed inadvertently? He remembered his wife's twin children, whom he had thrown away. What crime had they committed? (125).
Analysis: Obierika questions the customs of his clan, something he had done previously after Ikemefuna was killed. If a great man such as Obierika questions tribal traditions then there are probably others. It is these others who eventually accept the new religion of the white man.
- Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books. 1959.
- Image in the Public Domain courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
This post is part of the series: Things Fall Apart Study Guide
- Summary of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
- Characters in Things Fall Apart
- Things Fall Apart Quotes with Analysis
- An Analysis of Important Themes in Things Fall Apart
- Things Fall Apart Essay Questions