Literary Devices in Things Fall Apart

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  • 0:00 Literary Devices
  • 0:38 Irony
  • 1:29 Foreshadowing
  • 2:25 Symbolism
  • 3:29 Imagery
  • 4:16 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.

Literary devices are the tools authors use to help their story. They can help in many different ways. In this lesson we'll look at the literary devices Chinua Achebe uses in ''Things Fall Apart.''

Literary Devices

Think about the last time you told someone a story, maybe about something that happened to you. What kinds of things did you do to make sure they got the full effect? Maybe you used imagery to help them picture what happened. Or maybe you used sarcasm, a form of irony, to emphasize a point. These are examples of literary devices. Literary devices are tools that help convey the author's ideas and points, and just as you use them in your stories, authors use them in their novels. One novel where we can see many different types of literary devices is in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart.


One literary device Achebe uses is irony. Irony is when what happens or what is said is the opposite of what you would have expected or are thinking. We can see an example of tragic irony in Okonkwo's suicide at the end of Things Fall Apart. Okonkwo is a proud and important man, so you might not expect him to commit suicide. His death is especially ironic when you consider what he regularly said after the terrible harvest year: ''Since I survived that year,' he always said, 'I shall survive anything.' He put it down to his inflexible will.'

After saying he could survive anything, you would obviously not expect him to commit suicide. Yet, in the end, it is his inflexible will that causes his suicide because he cannot deal with the change brought by the missionaries. So his death is even more ironic because the very thing that he says can get him through anything--his will--is what causes him to kill himself.


We can also see Achebe's use of foreshadowing when we look at Okonkwo's death. Foreshadowing is when an event or action hints at a future event or action. In Okonkwo's case, the foreshadowing occurs when he is exiled to his motherland for accidentally killing a fellow clansman. He does not deal with this change well, and falls into a depression. His family helps bring him out of it and set him back on track, but the fact that it happens is significant. It illustrates that Okonkwo doesn't deal well with change, and that depression is one of the effects that a major change has on him.

This event and Okonkwo's actions foreshadow his later death. It shows us that, despite what he says about surviving anything, he can't deal with change, and he becomes depressed. So when the biggest change any of them has ever seen occurs--the arrival of the missionaries--it is, somehow, less surprising that Okonkwo eventually kills himself as a result. This foreshadowing helps make sense of what might otherwise have been an incredibly surprising ending.


Another literary device Achebe uses is symbolism, where an object or action stands for something greater. In particular, we see many symbols of masculinity and femininity. One such symbol is the yam. We frequently see the yam referred to as a 'man's' crop. In this novel, a man's ability to grow yams and provide for his family is directly tied to his manhood and how others view him as a man. As a result, the yam is the major symbol of masculinity in the novel. There are also 'women's' crops, such as the cocoa-yam and melons, and these symbolize femininity. These symbols are not as strong as the yam, however.

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