Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe: Character Symbolism

In Achebe’s novel “Things Fall Apart,” the plot revolves around the relationships between the characters and what they represent. Symbolism, an important element in the book, is used greatly to describe how the characters develop and react to each other in the novel. Symbolism shows what the characters represent and what they can relate to as a result of their actions. Three major characters in the novel show symbolism by what they do in relation to their actions in the story.

Okonkwo symbolizes the fire, Nwoye symbolizes the wind, and Ikemefuna symbolizes a wilting flower.

Okonkwo, the main character in the story, can be described as fire for various reasons. For example, when Okonkwo shows that he is a hard worker by his many personal achievements that bring honor to his village, he is symbolizing the birth of the flame. This shows that Okonkwo did care about his beliefs in his culture, and also about gaining pride amongst his fellow villagers.

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Okonkwo’s flame began to rise in the beginning chapters as he gained wealth by working hard and sharecropping until he was able to afford his own land and crops. Yet, Okonkwo has his weaknesses and it is these weaknesses the ultimately destroy the life that he created for himself.

For example, his nickname “Roaring Flame,” is derived because he has much self-determination, and his rash fire like temper that makes him break many of his tribal laws. Okonkwo’s flame, then begins to weaken. When he returns to the village from his exile of the murdering of a sixteen year old, he finds that his son Nwoye, who symbolizes wind, has turned to Christianity as a result of missionaries.

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Knowing he has lost any place he might have in the new society, he goes to his compound and hangs himself. Thus, the flame has been blow out by the wind, and the new culture of the village has overridden Okonkwo’s real beliefs causing the tragedy.

Nwoye, Okonkwo’s eldest son, can be symbolized as wind because of how he quickly changes as it does. For example, when the missionaries came to the village to modernize it and change the religion, Nwoye became attracted to the new faith. His confusion about the Igbo customs such as killing his good friend Ikemfuna, are answered by his new faith that seems more tolerant. Thus, the direction of his faith has changed from old customs to new customs. In addition, Nwoye stands as a symbolic opposite of his father, who goes against everything Okonkwo stands for and accepts. For example, Nwoyes lack of masculinity, which is shown by his love of his mother’s folktales rather than his father’s manly stories of violence and bloodshed. Therefore there is a major difference between the two characters. Nwoye is symbolized as wind because he changes directions and flows without becoming too impulsive. Whereas Okonkwo, symbolizes fire which represents that he is rash tempered and shows his great self-determination that is controlled by internal and external forces.

Finally, there is Ikemefuna, who symbolizes a wilting flower because of how he suffers tragedy throughout the plot. For example, when Ikemefuna is brought from Mbanio as compensation, he suffers the fact that he has to leave his village and adjust to a new one. He is similar to a wilting flower because of how he starts adjusting to the new village and becomes unstable. Whereas a wilting flower is unstable, because of the environmental elements that affects it. Ikemefuna has no idea of his fate when he is placed in Okonkwo’s family. In addition, Ikemefuna suffers more because of his fate that is taken over by Okonkwo’s flame.

For Example, when the Oracle decides Ikemefuna’s fate, Okonkwo then goes with what he believes and draws his machete and kills Ikemefuna. This shows that even though Ikemefuna proved to be a hard worker, Okonkwo was not emotionally bound to him. Ikemefuna’s symbol displays that he was a tragic victim of his own fate that could not be stopped. Ikemefuna’s short life can also be related to a wilting flower, because of how he became unstable and was destroyed by harsh elements such as Okonkwo. Ikemefuna’s short life served as merely a pawn and then became a sacrificial lamb for the village.

The symbolism that served for each of the three characters played an important role in the plot. The relation between the characters and how they reacted to each other helped to build the plot. Okonkwo symbolized fire, Nwoye symbolized wind, and Ikemefuna symbolized a witling flower. Achebe’s novel “Things Fall Apart,” shows a great use of symbolism that can determine what the characters are. The plot revolved around the actions of what the characters chose to do, and that is how each of them got the symbols that they did.

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Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe: Character Symbolism. (2016, Jul 17). Retrieved from

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