Irony in Things Fall Apart Video

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  • 0:03 Irony
  • 0:48 Family
  • 1:46 The View From Outsiders
  • 3:04 Tragic Irony
  • 4:50 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.

Irony is a very common literary device that can help add depth to plot points and characters' actions. In this lesson you'll learn about irony and how it used in Chinua Achebe's novel ''Things Fall Apart.''

Irony

Did you know the Titanic, which sank on its first trip, was deemed 100% unsinkable when it was built? Or that the Great Dane who held the title of 'Britain's Biggest Dog' was named Tiny? These are examples of real life irony. Irony is when what happens is the opposite of what you specifically expected, just like you wouldn't expect an 'unsinkable' ship to sink, or for a Great Dane to be named Tiny.

In addition to being present in real life, irony is also a common literary device. We can see examples of this in Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart, which is about a tribe of Igbo in Nigeria, their culture, and the effects of the English missionary men who take over.

Family

A lot of the irony in the novel centers around the main character, Okonkwo. One place we can see irony in his life is with his oldest son, Nwoye. Okonkwo's father is broke, and leaves Okonkwo nothing to start his own farm. So Okonkwo works hard his whole life to build a successful farm, and to train his oldest son to farm well, so that when Nwoye starts out he will have all the things Okonkwo didn't.

The irony comes when Nwoye decides to convert to Christianity and go to school instead of becoming a farmer. Based on his actions earlier in the novel, following his father and helping him on the farm, and learning Igbo traditions, the reader might reasonably expect that Nwoye will follow in his father's footsteps. Certainly Okonkwo expects this. So it is ironic when Nwoye not only fails to follow in Okonkwo's footsteps, but completely abandons the Igbo traditions that his father has spent his whole life working to uphold.

The View From Outsiders

Another major irony in the novel comes from the Western District Commissioner who comes in to oversee the town of Umuofia. He knows nothing about these people, yet regards them essentially as savages. He overturns their whole way of life and imposes what he considers to be a better one. The irony comes through the reader's knowledge of the clan and the Igbo people. We have spent the entire novel learning about the complexity and details of their way of life, and yet this man dismisses it without a second glance.

It is really summed up in the very last paragraph of the novel. The commissioner is thinking about the book he is going to write about his experiences with the Igbo people, and has decided on a title for it: 'The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.' The commissioner has deemed these people primitive and in need of 'pacification' without ever learning anything about them.

The reader, of course, knows that these people are not primitive in the way the commissioner means, and they are certainly not in need of pacification. It is ironic because the commissioner believes he is helping them by pacifying them and bringing them under Western control, even while he is in the process of cutting down a man, Okonkwo, who hangs himself because of the commissioner's actions.

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