Chinua Achebe wrote the book, Things Fall Apart, to fight against the stereotypical image of African people lacking in culture, which is what had been assumed by many people. He accomplished his goal in many different ways throughout the book, using a variety of linguistic devices. However, the device that stood out to throughout the storyline was the interesting and creative use of symbolism. There are many differences between the culture of the Nigerian people who are represented in the book and the culture of all the other people in the world.
Sadly this unique culture had been portrayed badly by many other works, included the book, Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad. Achebe wanted to show the culture in the positive light it deserved. One way he did this was once again, with symbolism. This is when his use of symbolism to show cultural differences was used. The biggest instance of this was when the locusts came to the village. “‘Locusts are descending,’ was joyfully chanted everywhere” (Achebe55).
In most societies, Locusts are seen as a bad thing, and are associated with plague. However here we see that their arrival is greeted with joy, and the more we read we see that they have taken the phrase ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ seriously. Before the locusts have a chance to destroy all of the crops, these people collect them, roast them, and eat them. So locusts are symbolic of the differences in culture.
However, if that incident was not enough information to show that, this idea was later reinforced when the missionaries arrived and killed the village of Abame, the oracle referred to these white missionaries from a different culture as , “…locusts, it said, and that first man was their harbinger sent to explore the terrain” (Achebe139). Locusts in their actuality were acknowledged positively, yet when put in context with the missionaries whose culture would not see them as a reason for joy; the comparison has a negative effect.
Locusts are therefore symbolic of the difference viewpoints in regards to culture. Achebe also has parallelism relate itself to symbolism. During the passage when Okonkwo’s first crop was depicted, “Nothing happened at its proper time; it was either too early or too late. It seemed as if the world had gone mad” (Achebe23), it is seen that even though Okonkwo worked very hard, due to things beyond his control success was made difficult for him. Earlier in the book something of similar nature was mentioned, “…Okonkwo did not have the start in life which many young men had.
He neither inherited a barn nor a title, nor even a young wife” (Achebe18). Likewise to his first crop, the beginning of Okonkwo’s life was never setting him up for easy accomplishment, though it was by no means his fault and he did work hard. So Okonkwo’s original yam crop is representational through parallelism to the beginning of his life. This symbolism shows that this culture works very hard, and the individuals deserve what they get through hard work. This combined with the symbolism of the locusts pushes back the primitive idea of the Nigerian people, which was the author’s goal.
An interesting place in Things Fall Apart where more typical symbolism was used was in the folk stories, specifically the story of the birds and the tortoise. It has many purposes for being in this storyline, such as foreshadowing, symbolism, and further showing of the deep and rich culture. The last one is the most obvious, as the story shows how they can make and tell tales much like we do. It makes it easier for the reader to compare the Nigerians to themselves, and no one wants to think of themselves as primitive.
By the end of the book, Okonkwo has hanged himself after rebelling against the missionaries. Mr. Smith snidely reflects that Okonkwo’s uprising and suicide could make an interesting paragraph in his book. This really makes the reader think. Here is this deep and rich book full of intricate symbolisms that Chinua Achebe has written about the fullness of Okonkwo’s life, culture, and religion; yet this typical European see’s the same book’s subject as a measly paragraph. Mr.
Smith oversimplifies all of Okonkwo’s being, and in this is the most effective symbolism of all. Mr. Smith’s thoughts on Okonkwo are symbolic of the general population’s thoughts on the native Africans. His one comment on the title of his previously mentioned book, “The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger” (Achebe209), sums up the ignorance that Achebe wanted to fight with Things Fall Apart, and he fought it well with symbolism by varying how he used it, and when.