Things Fall Apart
Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
[Okonkwo]: “I have cleared a farm but have no yams to sow. I know what it is to ask a man to trust another with his yams, especially these days when young men are afraid of hard work. I am not afraid of work. The lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did. I began to fend for myself at an age when most people still suck at their mothers’ breasts. If you give me some yam seeds I shall not fail you.” (3.25)
Here, Okonkwo uses language in a binding way, by making a promise. By putting his intention into words, he makes them true on some level and thus binds himself to Nwakibie’s service.
His father, Unoka, who was then an ailing man, had said to him during that terrible harvest month: “Do not despair. I know you will not despair. You have a manly and a proud heart. A proud heart can survive a general failure because such a failure does not prick its pride. It is more difficult and bitter when a man fails alone.”
Unoka was like that in his last days. His love of talk had grown with age and sickness. It tried Okonkwo’s patience beyond words. (3.36-37)
Even though Unoka’s words are given with a generous spirit, Okonkwo does not appreciate them. Indeed, Okonkwo doesn’t value words – he prefers action over speech. However, this renders him unable to appreciate the sincerity of others’ words and keeps him from expressing himself in a way that most people understand: through language.
Okonkwo did as the priest said. He also took with him a pot of palm-wine. Inwardly, he was repentant. But he was not the man to go about telling his neighbors that he was in error. And so people said he had no respect for the gods of the clan. His enemies said his good fortune had gone to his head. They called him the little bird nza who so far forgot himself after a heavy meal that he challenged his chi. (4.23)
Okonkwo is a man of actions, not words. But his neighbors aren’t mind readers and mostly understand emotions only when people verbally convey them. As a result of his tight-lipped nature, Okonkwo’s neighbors easily misread his character and his reputation harmed.