Things Fall Apart

Symbolism in Things Fall Apart

Chinua Achebe’s novel “Things Fall Apart” is an exceptional work of literature that delves into the intricacies of Igbo culture and society in pre colonial Nigeria. The book is rich in symbolism and imagery, which deepen our understanding of the themes and characters. In this article, we will explore the various symbols utilized in the novel and their significance, shedding light on the diverse cultural tapestry that Achebe portrays.

The Yam: Symbol of Wealth and Masculinity

One of the most notable symbols in “Things Fall Apart” is the yam, a staple crop within Igbo society. Cultivating yams symbolizes wealth, status and masculinity. Characters like Okonkwo gauge their success and reputation based on the size and quality of their yam harvests. Additionally, yams play a significant role in the New Yam Festival—a celebration marking the start of a new agricultural cycle while fostering community unity.

However, yams also represent vulnerability amidst success and highlight life’s impermanence. When Okonkwo experiences crop failures, his reputation suffers, leading to his exile. The symbolism behind yams emphasizes that achievements and social standing within Igbo society are fleeting—subject to nature’s whims and fortune.

The Palm Tree: Interconnectedness and Regeneration

Another crucial symbol in the novel is the palm tree—an embodiment of communal values within Igbo society as well as interconnectedness among all living beings.

Palm oil and wine, which come from the palm tree, have been utilized in a wide range of social and religious rituals. Additionally, the palm tree serves as a source of nourishment and refuge for various animals, while its roots and branches find purpose in construction projects.

The Locust: Colonialism and Disruption

The locust is a powerful symbol in “Things Fall Apart,” representing the destructive force of colonialism and the upheaval it brings to traditional ways of life. The locusts’ arrival foreshadows impending disaster, and the villagers are powerless to prevent the swarm from decimating their crops and livelihoods. The locusts serve as a metaphor for the white colonizers who descend upon the Igbo community, disrupting their culture.

Exciting Topic: The Themes of Cultural Conflict and Individual Identity in Things Fall Apart

This symbolism highlights the unstoppable nature of colonialism and the powerlessness of traditional societies like the Igbo to resist. The locusts also embody chaos and disorder, disrupting the natural order of the community and instilling a sense of unease and uncertainty.

Fire: Destruction and Renewal

Fire is a recurring image in the novel, symbolizing both destruction and renewal. It can consume homes and crops, but it also provides warmth and light. In Igbo culture, fire represents purification and is integral to many rituals and ceremonies. The symbolism of fire suggests that destruction and renewal are intertwined, and that change often entails upheaval and chaos. Fire also signifies transformation, as the destruction of the old allows for the emergence of the new.

The Oracle: Spiritual Beliefs and Social Order

In “Things Fall Apart,” the Oracle, also known as the “Agbala,” assumes a powerful symbol with multiple meanings. The Oracle embodies the spiritual beliefs and customs of the Igbo people, serving as their connection to the divine and the voice of the gods. The pronouncements and divinations of the Oracle carry immense weight and influence over the villagers, providing a framework for dispute resolution, justice enforcement, and the upholding of communal values.

The Oracle symbolizes the shared norms and customs that bind the community together. However, with the encroachment of European colonialism, the authority of the Oracle gradually diminishes. The arrival of the missionaries and their rejection of the Oracle’s pronouncements signifies the erosion of traditional beliefs and the disruption of the village’s way of life.

The African Landscape: Beauty and Cultural Identity

The image of the African landscape itself holds significant symbolism in the novel. The lush forests, rivers, and hills of the Igbo homeland represent the richness and beauty of traditional African culture. In contrast, the barren and desolate landscape of the missionary compound signifies the cultural emptiness and spiritual poverty of European culture. The symbolism of the African landscape emphasizes the unique beauty and value of traditional African culture, while denouncing the imposition of European values as a form of cultural violence and erasure. The landscape also underscores the importance of cultural identity and the need to preserve one’s heritage.


Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” employs symbolism and imagery to convey deeper meanings and themes. The yam, palm tree, locust, fire, Oracle, and African landscape are just a few examples of the rich symbolism woven throughout the novel. Each symbol sheds light on different aspects of Igbo culture, society, and the impact of colonialism. By exploring these symbols, readers gain a deeper appreciation for the complexities of the narrative and the profound messages Achebe conveys. “Things Fall Apart” remains a timeless work that invites reflection on the consequences of cultural clash and the resilience of traditional societies.


I'm a well-rounded individual who combines technical expertise with creative writing skills to provide comprehensive and compelling content to the readers. My passion for technology, literature, and writing drives them to stay up to date with the latest trends and developments in these areas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button