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Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

Man and the Natural World Quotes

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Quote #4

Yam, the king of crops, was a very exacting king. For three or four moons it demanded hard work and constant attention from cock-crow till the chickens went back to roost. The young tendrils were protected from earth-heat with rings of sisal leaves. As the rains became heavier the women planted maize, melons and beans between yam mounds. The yams were then staked, first with little sticks and later with tall and big tree branches. The women weeded the farm three times at definite periods in the life of the yams, neither early not late.

And now the rains had really come, so heavy and persistent that even the village rain-maker no longer claimed to be able to intervene. He could not stop the rain now, just as he would not attempt to start it in the heart of the dry season, without serious danger to his own health. The personal dynamism required to counter the forces of these extremes of weather would be far too great for the human frame.

And so nature was not interfered with in the middle of the rainy season. Sometimes it poured down in such thick sheets of water that earth and sky seemed merged in one gray wetness. It was then uncertain whether the low rumbling of Amadiora’s thunder came from above or below. At such times, in each of the countless thatched huts of Umuofia, children sat around their mother’s cooking fire telling stories, or with their father in his obi warming themselves from a log fire, roasting and eating maize. It was a brief resting period between the exacting and arduous planting season and the equally exacting but light-hearted month of harvests. (4.35-37)

Yams require a good deal of attention to grow successfully. But the planting season is not all hard work and no play; the advent of the rainy season brings lots of eating, storytelling, and enjoyment of family company indoors. Rain is so crucial to their survival that the Umuofia associate it with the godly world.

Quote #5

For three years Ikemefuna lived in Okonkwo’s household and the elders of Umuofia seemed to have forgotten about him. He grew rapidly like a yam tendril in the rainy season, and was full of the sap of life. (7.1)

Because he is so closely tied to the earth, Ikemefuna’s growth and development are described in terms of youth present in the natural world – yam tendrils and sap.

Quote #6

Nwoye knew that it was right to be masculine and to be violent, but somehow he still preferred the stories that his mother used to tell, and which she no doubt still told to her younger children – stories of the tortoise and his wily ways, and of the bird eneke-nti-oba who challenged the whole world to a wrestling contest and was finally thrown by the cat. He remembered the story she often told of the quarrel between Earth and Sky long ago, and how Sky withheld rain for seven years, until crops withered and the dead could not be buried because the hoes broke on the stony Earth. At last Vulture was sent to plead with Sky, and to soften his heart with a song of the suffering of the sons of men. Whenever Nwoye’s mother sang this song he felt carried away to the distant scene in the sky where Vulture, Earth’s emissary, sang for mercy. At last Sky was moved to pity, and he gave to Vulture rain wrapped in leaves of coco-yam. But as he flew home his long talon pierced the leaves and the rain fell as it had never fallen before. And so heavily did it rain on Vulture that he did not return to deliver his message but flew to a distant land, from where he had espied a fire. And when he got there he found it was a man making a sacrifice. He warmed himself in the fire and ate the entrails. (7.3)

Nwoye is inexplicably drawn to stories that anthropomorphize nature and its creatures. The implication here seems to be that children – being innocent and pure in their youth – are naturally drawn to mother earth in all its wonder, even when it is only in words. There is something fantastic about imagining the natural elements and animals with human personas, it seems to draw connections between man and the natural world. These stories, to Nwoye, are more fascinating than the completely human-centered stories of violence and bloodshed.

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