Imagery in Things Fall Apart

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  • 0:01 Imagery
  • 0:51 Animal Imagery
  • 2:36 Nature Imagery
  • 3:29 Human Imagery
  • 4:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

Imagery is a very common literary device, and it can serve a number of purposes in literature. In this lesson, you'll learn about imagery and how it is used in Chinua Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart.'


Think about the last time you saw a sunset, or visited a place you thought was really beautiful. How would you describe that place or sunset to someone else? Probably you would use some kind of imagery. Imagery is descriptive language that helps paint a picture of what is being described, including things like how something smelled, sounded, or looked. Imagery is a very common literary device, and we can see quite a bit of it in Chinua Achebe's novel, Things Fall Apart.

Achebe uses imagery to help you get a clear picture of what is going on in the scene, so you can almost hear or feel or see it yourself. He also uses it to enhance his descriptions so you can get a better idea of what a character is feeling, or what they are trying to convey.

Animal Imagery

One type of imagery Achebe uses is animal imagery. This is basically any type of imagery involving animals. In the novel, animal imagery is most often used to enhance human characteristics or help describe aspects of human life.

One place we see this is when Okonkwo is young and has gone to visit Nwakibie. Nwakibie is a rich man in the village, and Okonkwo hopes to get yam seeds from him. During his conversation and request, Okonkwo uses this imagery to describe himself: 'The lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did.' Okonkwo uses this imagery to illustrate that he has had to fend for himself for a long time and can succeed even without someone, specifically his father, there to help or praise him. The animal imagery helps Okonkwo make his case and convince Nwakibie that he will be successful and can be trusted with the yam seeds.

Animal imagery is also used throughout the novel in the stories that the Igbo mothers tell their children. These stories always center around animals and explain different aspects of why things are the way they are. For example, we see the story of Tortoise's shell. The story is full of animal imagery describing how Tortoise tricks birds into giving him wings, but when he steals food from them they take away his wings and he falls. The fall breaks his shell and it has to be glued together, which is why it looks the way it does. Animal imagery is abundant in these stories, and helps paint a clear picture of whatever the story is explaining.

Nature Imagery

Imagery is also used in the novel to give the reader a clearer image of an event that is happening. For the most part, this involves storms or other weather phenomena. We can see a good example of this with the terrible harvest year Okonkwo experienced when he was young. The weather that year was described using intense imagery: 'The blazing sun returned, more fierce than it had ever been known, and scorched all the green that had appeared with the rains. The earth burned like hot coals and roasted all the yams that had been sown.'

This imagery illustrates how intense the drought was, and it gives the reader a better image of the situation than simply saying it was hot, or that there was a drought. This type of imagery is used to intensify a description, so you can almost feel the heat of the sun, or see the situation being described.

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