Things Fall Apart
Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
[Obierika]: “We are giving you our daughter today. She will be a good wife to you. She will bear you nine sons like the mother of our town.”
[The crowd]: “Ee-e-e!”
The oldest man in the camp of the visitors replied: “It will be good for you and it will be good for us.”
This is not the first time my people have come to marry your daughter. My mother was one of you.”
“Prosperous men and great warriors.” He looked in the direction of Okonkwo. “Your daughter will bear us sons like you.”
This exchange of words before at a wedding seems to have ritual significance. The words Obierika says have the weight of promises which, by vocalizing them, he hopes to make come true. The “Ee-e-e!” response of the crowd seems to be some sort of collective affirmation or approval of the ceremony that lends credence to Obierika’s words.
[Obierika on Okonkwo’s exile]: Why should a man suffer so grievously for an offense he had committed inadvertently? But although he thought for a long time he found no answer. He was merely led into greater complexities. He remembered his wife’s twin children, whom he had thrown away. What crime had they committed? The Earth had decreed that they were an offense on the land and must be destroyed. And if the clan did not exact punishment for an offense against the great goddess, her wrath was loosed on all the land and not just on the offender. (13.16)
The fact that the Earth can issue a “decree” shows that the Umuofia consider the land a living being. The words of the Earth, on which the Umuofia depend, cannot be ignored for fear of devastating consequences.
“What did the white man say before they killed him?” asked Uchendu.
“He said nothing,” answered one of Obierika’s companions.
“He said something, only they did not understand him,” said Obierika. “He seemed to speak through his nose.” (15.20-22)
The Umuofia speak a different language than the white men and neither side really tries to understand the other. Not understanding is akin to saying “nothing,” as Obierika’s friend points out. Obierika is more compassionate towards the foreigner. He realizes that he said something but the white man could not understand it.