“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
Interestingly, Achebe uses a quotation form Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming” to open the novel. This sets the tone for what will unfold. That the center cannot hold is foreshadowing of the destruction of the Igbo culture as things fall apart. We also see the source of the title for the novel. The quotation is more than just and ironic statement.
The use of literature from the western literary tradition is evocative of how the west exerted its culture over the entire world through its colonial forces. Even as the novel is set in Africa and is about and African culture, the language of western colonial power sets the tone for all that will unfold.
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“And at last the locusts did descend. They settled on every tree and on every blade of grass; they settled on the roofs and covered the bare ground. Mighty tree branches broke away under them, and the whole country became the brown-earth color of the vast, hungry swarm.”
Though a significant event which has real impact on the characters in the novel, this is also evocative of the arrival of colonial forces in the form of the missionaries. Just as the locusts swarm over the land and destroy everything, so the coming of white men to Unofia will involve the swarm of missionaries and white Europeans who will destroy everything that is indigenous to African life and culture. They spread over the continent like the locusts spread over the Earth, and destroy what grows naturally from the land.
“Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.”
From Chapter 1, this is from an exchange between Unoka and a man who owed him money. The short quotation demonstrates the high value placed on rhetoric among the Igbo people. A matter of business calls for a specific type of rhetorical exchange which can be quite long and drawn out. The metaphor of words and food reveals the force of language for the Igbo. It has the cultural value of food.
This cultural marker is one that is profoundly misunderstood by the Christian missionaries who see language as a medium to be used with efficiency in order to accomplish a specific goal. The differences not only in language, but also the cultural value of language is one that leads to profound misunderstanding and even violence between the Igbo and the missionaries.