It doesn’t take much to notice that there’s something interesting about the way Things Fall Apart is written. Although Achebe writes in English, he captures the cadence of the Ibo people, particularly noticeable in the book’s dialogue. In the narration, Achebe keeps it simple, directly to the point, and centered on nature. His goal is to use language to depict how the Ibo view their world. You’ll also see a bunch of Ibo words and phrases pop up here and there. (Use the glossary in the back of the book when needed.)
In addition to the cadence and content choice, Achebe also uses a ton of proverbs – which is indicative of the Ibo’s traditional oral culture – as well as lots of tiny stories shared people and well known in certain villages, used to discuss everything. These stories are how the people communicate with one another; they’re used to explain acts of nature, traditions, history, why people act a certain way. Keeping all that in mind, let’s take a look at this interaction, a few paragraphs into Chapter 12:
Some of the women cooked the yams and the cassava, and the others prepared vegetable soup. Young men pounded the foo-foo or split firewood. The children made endless trips to the stream. […]
“The market in Umuike is a wonderful place,” said the young man who had been sent by Obierika to buy the giant goat. “There are so many people on it that if you throw up a grain of sand it would not find a way to fall to earth again.
“It is the result of great medicine,” said Obierika. “The people of Umuike wanted their market to grow and swallow up their market and their neighbors. So they made a powerful medicine […]
“And so everybody comes,” said another man, “honest men and thieves. They can steal your cloth from off your waist in the market.”
We’ve got sparse description, an Ibo word (foo-foo), some cadenced dialogue, a mini-story about medicine to explain why the Umuike market is so crowded, and men finishing each other’s thoughts and explanations. If you ask us, Achebe did an amazing job capturing the spirit of his native Igbo language in his second language, English.