The Locusts in Things Fall Apart

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  • 0:04 What Are Locusts?
  • 0:36 Literal Locusts
  • 1:51 Allegorical Locusts
  • 3:22 Cultural Famine
  • 4:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kimberly Myers

Kimberly has taught college writing and rhetoric and has a master's degree in Comparative Literature.

This lesson is a discussion of the locusts in Chinua Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart.' Achebe includes the locusts as an allegorical representation of the white missionaries that will soon disrupt the traditional Igbo way of life.

What Are Locusts?

Locusts are large, flying grasshoppers. They're usually found on their own, but periodically, population explosions cause locusts to migrate in swarms. These swarms can cause severe damage to crops as the locusts land and eat the vegetation.

Swarming locusts are described as one of the twelve plagues the Bible says were set against Egypt when Pharaoh refused to let the Hebrew slaves go free. In the Bible and other texts, locusts are often associated with destruction and famine.

Literal Locusts

In Things Fall Apart, Achebe uses a swarm of locusts on both literal and allegorical levels. On the literal level, an actual swarm of locusts descends on Umuofia. The villagers are just living life as usual when it happens. ''In this way the moons and the seasons passed. And then the locusts came.''

The insects gave no warning, they just arrive suddenly, from where exactly, no one knows. This phenomenon is met with delight. Most of the villagers have never seen a locust swarm. They've only heard stories from the elders. Locust swarms tend to arrive suddenly and then disappear for years upon end.

Even though locusts' eating abilities are well known by the villagers, there isn't alarm. The harvest is over, and there is enough for the people to eat. The locusts eat up the wild grasses, and the villagers actually eat the locusts. Because of their rarity, the locusts are quite the delicacy.

So, that's the literal level. What about the allegorical one? Despite the seemingly harmless nature of this event, it foreshadows, or warns, of a future event that doesn't turn out to be so harmless. This foreshadowing helps move the plot forward and create anticipation in the reader's mind.

Allegorical Locusts

An allegory is a literary device that conveys meaning through symbolic figures, objects, imagery, or events. In other words, allegory figuratively treats one subject through the inclusion of another subject. In Things Fall Apart, the locusts are an allegorical representation of the white missionaries that are about to descend on the village.

The locust swarm seems to come out of nowhere. The village is basked in a ''hazy feeling of sleep,'' but then ''suddenly a shadow fell on the world.'' A small swarm arrives first, ''harbingers sent to survey the land.'' But then the rest descend ''like a boundless sheet of black cloud drifting towards Umuofia.''

Similarly, the white missionaries appear out of nowhere, and they too show up in small numbers. A solitary white man is the first ''locust'' to arrive and survey the land. No one in the tribe had ever seen a white man like this, and they consult their oracle. It tells them ''that the strange man would break their clan and spread destruction among them.'' This doom and gloom prophecy sounds a lot like the destruction that's often associated with swarming locusts themselves.

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