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He [Okonkwo] had a slight stammer and whenever he was angry and could not get his words out quickly enough, he would use his fists. (1.3)
Okonkwo has no talent with words; in fact, they are something of a handicap to him. He stammers when he speaks, compromising his ability to express himself well in language, and loses his capacity to talk completely when angered. Fighting, to him, is a good substitute for words.
As the elders said, if a child washed his hands he could eat with kings. Okonkwo had clearly washed his hands and so he ate with kings and elders. (1.16)
This stylized proverb illustrates one of the Igbo’s highest values – personal responsibility. If a man “washes his hands” or pays off all his debts and is able to stand on his own, he may mingle with the most respected elders.
Having spoken plainly so far, Okoye said the next half a dozen sentences in proverbs. Among the Ibo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten. Okoye was a great talker and he spoke for a long time, skirting round the subject and then hitting it finally. (1.14)
Language is a very important part of Igbo culture and is highly stylized. Instead of just saying, “Unoka, give me my damn money back,” Okoye must steep his message in fanciful and well-known proverbs, only slowly getting to his point. Correct speech is a symbol of respectability among these people. Unoka reveals his lack of respectability by later responding by laughing and with the terse, straightforward information that Okoye won’t be getting his money back any time soon.