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Things Fall Apart Symbolism Essay

Achebe uses symbolism throughout the book to strengthen its central themes and ideas.


Fire represents Okonkwo's rage and combustible nature. Okonkwo's nickname, "Roaring Flame," refers to these defining traits.

Okonkwo's rage is never far from the surface. The narrator mentions that "whenever he could not get his words out quickly enough, he would use his fists."

As Okonkwo reflects on the loss of Nwoye in Chapter 24, he acknowledges that even the most powerful fire produces cold, useless ash. In this statement Okonkwo refers to himself as a fire—both strong and fierce—while he sees Nwoye as ash—weak and lazy. At the end of the novel, Okonkwo succumbs to his rage and kills the court messenger, leading to his own downfall.


Yams are grown by Igbo men and symbolize masculinity, wealth, and respect. Okonkwo begins to increase his stature in the clan after he borrows and plants yam seeds in Chapter 3.

Growing yams is thought of as a man's job because it is challenging. This is noted in Chapter 4: "Yam, the king of crops, was a very exacting king." A clansman who succeeds at growing yams proves his masculinity and earns the respect of those around him.


The locusts represent the arrival of the white man and missionaries. In Chapter 15, the Oracle states directly that the white men are locusts.

In Chapter 7, actual locusts arrive in the village, appearing as a cloud blocking the sunlight. Throngs of them descend, and "the whole country [becomes] the brown-earth color of the vast, hungry swarm." Okonkwo and the others view the locusts as a delicacy and munch on them happily. This appearance—and enjoyment by the clansmen—of the real insects strengthens the symbolism used in Chapter 15.

In Chapter 15, one white missionary comes to the area. Told by the Oracle that the white man will spread destruction, the people kill the man. He is soon followed by many more foreigners, until their presence is felt in all the villages. Like locusts, they bring benefits—education and medicine—yet they also devour the clan's traditions and culture.

Things Fall Apart Character Symbolism Essay

In Achebe's novel "Things Fall Apart," the plot revolves around the relationships between the characters and what they represent. Symbolism, an important element in the book, is used greatly to describe how the characters develop and react to each other in the novel. Symbolism shows what the characters represent and what they can relate to as a result of their actions. Three major characters in the novel show symbolism by what they do in relation to their actions in the story. Okonkwo symbolizes the fire, Nwoye symbolizes the wind, and Ikemefuna symbolizes a wilting flower.

Okonkwo, the main character in the story, can be described as fire for various reasons. For example, when Okonkwo shows that he is a hard worker by his many personal achievements that bring honor to his village, he is symbolizing the birth of the flame. This shows that Okonkwo did care about his beliefs in his culture, and also about gaining pride amongst his fellow villagers. Okonkwo's flame began to rise in the beginning chapters as he gained wealth by working hard and sharecropping until he was able to afford his own land and crops. Yet, Okonkwo has his weaknesses and it is these weaknesses the ultimately destroy the life that he created for himself. For example, his nickname "Roaring Flame," is derived because he has much self-determination, and his rash fire like temper that makes him break many of his tribal laws. Okonkwo's flame, then begins to weaken. When he returns to the village from his exile of the murdering of a sixteen year old, he finds that his son Nwoye, who symbolizes wind, has turned to Christianity as a result of missionaries. Knowing he has lost any place he might have in the new society, he goes to his compound and hangs himself. Thus, the flame has been blow out by the wind, and the new culture of the village has overridden Okonkwo's real beliefs causing the tragedy.

Nwoye, Okonkwo's eldest son, can be symbolized as wind because of how he quickly changes as it does. For example, when the missionaries came to the village to modernize it and change the religion, Nwoye became attracted to the new faith. His confusion about the Igbo customs such as killing his good friend Ikemfuna, are answered by his new faith that seems more tolerant. Thus, the direction...

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