Selected Proverbs from Things Fall Apart

    Proverbs are an very important part of African oral culture, and therefore prominent in Things Fall Apart.

Here are few sample  proverbs and some questions. Proverbs are the glue that binds the whole book together, and their

significance often spreads above and beyond their original context.

- p. 19. "A man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness."

Okonkwo explaining why he has come to Nwakibie.

    How does this sound in retrospect to Okonkwo's downfall?

- p. 21. "An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb."

Okonkwo remembering his own father. In context of a joke about someone who refused to honor

his fathers shrine with a fowl.

    Is there any fear in Okonkwo? Does he ignore his own proverbs?

- p. 21. "The lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said he would praise

himself if no one else did." – Okonkwo, explaining his capacity for hard work before

Nwakibie, his sons and neighbors.

    What is the role of honor and praise in this novel? Is this a good or bad feature of a culture?

- p. 26. "Those whose palm-kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be

humble." - Okonkwo's arrogance in calling Osugo a "woman" at the meeting of the people.

    Is Okonkwo himself humble? Who is the most humble character in the book? What relationship does humble have

with femininity and death?

- p.67. "The Earth cannot punish me for obeying her messenger." "A child’s fingers are not scalded

by a piece of hot yam which its mother puts into its palm.  Okonkwo's role in Ikemefuna’s


    What role does guilt and punishment play in this story? Can you relate this to Okonkwo's later crimes also?

- p. 125. "As the elders said, if one finger brought oil it soiled the others." Obierika’s mourning over

Okonkwo's exile, but his rationale that one could not ignore offenses against the earth.

    How does this relate to Okonkwo's own family situation? To Africa and Europe as a whole?

- p. 151. "Living fire begets cold, impotent ash." Okonkwo's analysis of the conversion of his

"degenerate and effeminate" son, Nwoye.

    In final analysis, is there any irony in this quote? What does this say about Ibo civilization?

- p. 185. "A man danced so the drums were beaten for him."  Rev. Smith’s intransigence and

hostility towards anything traditional.

    What does this say about cause and effect? Who is the cause or effect of the story - Okonkwo or the colonizers?

- p. 203. "Whenever you see a toad jumping in broad daylight, then you know that something is after its

life." Said at the meeting of Umuohia after the imprisonment of the six elders.

    Who is doing the metaphorical jumping in this quote?

- p. 204. "Eneke the bird was asked why he was always on the wing and he replied: "Men have learned to

shoot without missing their mark and I have learned to fly without perching on a twig."

    How does this relate ot Okonkwo's life? Is there any problematic assumptions in this proverb?

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