Important Quotes from Things Fall Apart

Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

In 'Things Fall Apart' by Chiuna Achebe, language creates images that help us see the characters, the land, and the struggles of the Igbo people as they fight colonialism. We will look at quotes that show how language enhances our understanding.

Language Provides Clarity

In all good writing, we learn about the characters and themes by the language used. We are able to see who they are, what is important, and what the author is trying to get us to understand. It is with this insight that we are able to understand the subtleties of the novel, and this is most definitely the case in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.


We come to understand the characters and what makes them tick. It is no different than how we make judgements about people we meet. We listen to them, we watch their actions, and we decide if they are who we think they are.

Okonkwo is a proud man. His accomplishments are innumerable, he is revered in many ways, and his future looks bright. He has acquired land, livestock, and his third wife; he is in charge of his destiny.

'Age was respected among his people, but achievement was revered. As the elders said, if a child washed his hands he could eat with kings. Okonkwo had clearly washed his hands and so he ate with kings and elders.'

While Oknokwo seemed to have it all, he lets fear run his life. He worries that he will end up being weak like his father, and that would be devastating to him. He is described as having a fear worse than that of gods of magic: 'Okonkwo's fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself.'

Okonkwo suffers from guilt because he took part in the killing of his adopted son. He uses a old Igbo proverb to help us understand that he hopes the guilt won't overtake him: 'The Earth cannot punish me for obeying her messenger,' Okonkwo said. 'A child's fingers are not scalded by a piece of hot yam which its mother puts into its palm.'

Nevertheless, his involvement in the death of his adopted son plays a role in Okonkwo's downward slide. He suffers because he considered Ikemefuna as a son, and he feels as though he has failed his family:

'Even though social structure dictates that Okonkwo had the right to kill Ikemefuna since the boy was neither a blood relation or a clan member, Okonkwo feels horribly guilty. Okonkwo's lack of appetite for two days gives away his guilty conscience.'


The battle between Christianity and the tribal practices are epic in Things Fall Apart. We watch as Okonkwo slips into a downward spiral as the missionaries take a greater hold on the Igbo people.

Okonkwo is in a struggle against the Christian influence that is attempting to overtake the traditional values of their tribal customs. When he finds out that his son had converted, he disowns him and threatens to do the same for any of his other children who might have similar ideas:

'You have all seen the great abomination of your brother. Now he is no longer my son or your brother. I will only have a son who is a man, who will hold his head up among my people. If any one of you prefers to be a woman, let him follow Nwoye now while I am alive so that I can curse him.'

We can see the Igbo dedication to their gods when Okonkwo forgets that it is a sacred week of peace and beats his wife. The priest severely admonishes him: 'The evil you have done can ruin the whole clan. The earth goddess whom you have insulted may refuse to give us her increase, and we shall all perish…'

The Igbo believed that the gods could be angered by things done and because of that the earth goddess will make sure the crops fail. In order to keep this from happening it is important to bring gifts to appease the goddess.

The earth goddess was all important to the people of Igbo. She was the link between the living and the dead. Because she was also responsible for new life she became the problem solver for the generations. A festival of crops is described as 'an occasion for giving thanks to Ani, the earth goddess and the source of all fertility. Ani played a greater part in the life of the people than any other deity.'

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