Interpretation and Analysis of Proverbs in Things Fall Apart


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Interpretation and Analysis of Proverbs in Things Fall Apart

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Interpretation and Analysis of Proverbs in Things Fall Apart

  1. 1. Page 1 of 9Interpretation and Analysis of Proverbs in Things Fall Apart Interpretation and Analysis of Proverbs in Things Fall Apart
  2. 2. Page 2 of 9Proverbs are wise sayings that address the heart of the discourse in anygiven context, truthfully and objectively. In Africa and in Nigerian culturesespecially, they are considered the reliable horses, which convey meanings totheir destinations or hearts of the listeners. This study investigates aspects ofthe meaning of proverbs in the work of a Nigerian author, Achebe’s ThingsFall Apart. It is contended that meanings of Nigerian proverbs can be workedout within the semantic, referential, ideational, stimulus-response, realist andcontextual theories. Types of meaning and proverbs are addressed andsituated within the two works. It is advanced that proverbs play significantroles in clarifying, exemplifying, underscoring and influencing communication.With the broadly analyzed proverbs, the study attempts to furtherdemonstrate the vitality of semantics and pragmatics in negotiating meaningespecially in a second language context.Proverbs are common features of conversational eloquence in many Africancultures, especially in Nigeria. Such “wise sayings” are usually acquired andlearnt from listening to the elders’ talk. Given the vintage position that theelders occupy in various African traditions as the human repository ofcommunal or primordial wisdom, they are the masters of eloquence, rhetoricand meaning. They are the ones who know how to impregnate shortexpressions with vast meanings, implicating the proverb, “it is the elder’smouth that determines a ripe kola nut”.Several definitions of the term “proverb” abound in literature. The central ideain the definitions is that a proverb is “an adage, saying, maxim, precept, sawor any synonym of such that expresses conventional truth”. Interpretation and Analysis of Proverbs in Things Fall Apart
  3. 3. Page 3 of 9 From Things Fall Apart1. The sun will shine on those who stand before it shines on those who kneel under them p.6 Theory: Referential Type: Denotative/ConnotativeAnalysis: The proverb makes reference to a cosmic body, the sun, with a viewto evoking its sense – that those who strive and work (by remaining standing)will benefit from the fruit of their work before those who depend on them (bykneeling or deriving succor from them). While the inference of discouragingdependency can be made, the message is mainly that those who do not facethe challenges of life and work assiduously defying sunshine should satisfythemselves with the crumbs that fall from the table of the hardworking ones.The proverb discourages laziness and implies the need for everyone to behard-working.2. If a child washed his hands, he could eat with kings.p.6 Theory: Realist Types: Denotative, thematicAnalysis: The proverb portrays the honor and dignity attributed to cleanlinessand responsibility. It thematizes hands washing, a good character training andhygienic way of eating as a sine qua non to honor. We infer that if a persondoes the right thing at the right time, as the proverb entails good fortune, Interpretation and Analysis of Proverbs in Things Fall Apart
  4. 4. Page 4 of 9honor, reverence, esteem and credit will be his, just like eating together withkings. The pragmatic understanding of how really high the Nigerians rate theirtraditional rulers provides a further clue to the semantic import of the proverb.3. When the moon is shining, the cripple becomes hungry for a walk. p.9.Theory: ReferentialTypes: Collocative, StylisticAnalysis: Reference is made to another cosmic body, the moon, in thisproverb, as “shining” collocates with “the moon” and “cripple” collocatesmetaphorically with “walk”. The sense of the proverb lies in the cause-effecttheory that if motivation is given, action arises. In essence, night isconventionally taken as a period of rest but in a situation where there is moon-light, not only the able-bodied feels the need to walk or work in the night buteven the cripple does. Night is implied and not stated for stylistic purposeswhile “hungry”, a marked word that ordinarily does not apply to “walk”, is alsoused for stylistic effect. The underlining message is that a good cause ormotivation occasions a good effect or line of action.4 A man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness p.14. Theory: Stimulus-Response Types: Denotative, Affective.Analysis: There is a tact advice almost coinciding with the English proverb,“one good turn deserves another” here. If a person accords honor orreverence to the successful ones, it is likely that he is also going to besuccessful. In other words, the sense of the proverb is that a person whohelps another man helps himself indirectly as he gets familiar with what thatman engages in – and this will ultimately lead him also to greatness, directlyor indirectly. Interpretation and Analysis of Proverbs in Things Fall Apart
  5. 5. Page 5 of 95 A toad does not run in the daytime for nothing.15 Theory: Ideational Types: Denotative/StylisticAnalysis: The proverb tasks our mental conception or general knowledgeof the toad as a nocturnal animal. If such an animal therefore does “run” (alexical item preferred by the author for metaphorical or stylistic effect, againstthe normal collocative word, “jump”) in the day, there must be somethingamiss. The sense of the proverb is that there is a cause for anything strangethat happens; there must be a reason, at least “no smoke without fire”. A toadrunning in daytime is probably pursuing something or certainly something ispursuing it. It has to do with the “cause-effect” relationship.6. An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb.p.15 Theory: Stimulus – Response Types: Denotative/ThematicAnalysis: This proverb also exhibits “causes-effect” relationship as itthematises the old woman. It means that people who have negative featuresfeel disturbed when such features are being highlighted. There is the effect orresponse of uneasiness with reference to the dry bones because an oldwoman whose dry bones are signs of impending death is always scared ofdeath. The sense of the proverb, essentially, is that conscience worriespeople of negative attributes even when they are not addressed but theirexcesses (so to say) are being condemned. Interpretation and Analysis of Proverbs in Things Fall Apart
  6. 6. Page 6 of 97. The lizard that jumped from the high Iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did. p.16.Theory: ReferentialTypes: Denotative/ConnotativeAnalysis: The proverb elicits the self-contentment and joy of good work. Agood work, we can infer, is itself commendable whether people appreciate itor not. Reference is made to the lizard which nods after any activity itengages in, implicating its self-praise. The animal is personified for poeticeffect. The English equivalent of “if you don’t blow your trumpet, nobody willblow it for you” may further illustrate the sense of the proverb – that if you donot appreciate your worth and dignify yourself, people may not bother to do itfor you.8. Eneke the bird says since men have learnt to shoot without missing, he has learnt to fly without perching. p.16.Theory: ReferentialTypes: Denotative/ConnotativeAnalysis: Like the previous proverb, this proverb derives its message fromfolklore, in which human attributes are given to animals/non-human creatures.The meaning is both literal and figurative as well as multi-dimensional inscope. Changing situations give birth to innovations. If students, for example,develop novel means of cheating in the examinations, referentially, theauthorities also devise ipso facto, new strategies of apprehending or detectingthe cheats.9. When a man says yes, his Chi says yes also. p. 19Theory: IdeationalTypes: Denotative/Connotative.Analysis: The proverb aptly sums up the essence of determination and strongwill, within one’s psychological context. Reference to chi, a person’s personalgod in Igbo culture, is of connotative import. The message interpreted is thatman must always take decisive decisions for himself and resolve to dowhatever he tasks himself to do for that will always be the will of his supposed Interpretation and Analysis of Proverbs in Things Fall Apart
  7. 7. Page 7 of 9“god”. A possible English equivalent is that “heavens help those who helpthemselves”, and as such, man should always be responsible for all hisactions.10. A chick that will grow into a cock can be spotted the very day it hatches. p.46Theory: RealistTypes: Denotative/Connotative.Analysis: The proverb explores the logical sequence of things/ phenomena:that a general analysis can be made from specific traits. In the real world,from the initial stage, from countenance and appearance, one is able toidentify the good, the bad and the ugly. The reference to the chick in ourpsyche is illustrative: the chick that will not live long will probably look frail andsickly, right from the day it is hatched. Our actions, at particular times, areindices of our character, the proverb tells us.11. A child’s finger is not scalded by a piece of hot yam which its mother puts into its palm. p.47Theory: ContextualTypes: Denotive/CollocativeAnalysis: Given the contextual/pragmatic knowledge of a mother’s love forher child especially in the Nigerian cultures, it is implied that whatever shedoes, even if such superficially appears harmful, will be of benefit to the child.This is because it is presupposed that nobody loves a child better than his/hermother. Thus, the sense of the proverb, which for effect parades“child/mother”, “finger/palm”, “a piece of hot yam” etc collocates, is that lovebears no harm. If there is love, there is no need for reservation in taking abeloved’s piece of advice, whether one considers it good or not, because abeloved person will not recommend a harmful antidote for whom he loves. Interpretation and Analysis of Proverbs in Things Fall Apart
  8. 8. Page 8 of 912 If one finger brought oil, it soiled the others. p.87.Theory: IdeationalTypes: Denotative/Connotative/StylisticAnalysis: The proverb underlines the concept of collective responsibility: whatone does implicates the involvement of the others. With tact reference to ourknowledge or ideas of the world, if a finger is dipped into the oil, other fingersget smeared alongside since they are together. In other words, a shameful actby a person brings shame, odium and opprobrium to him and by extension, tohis family and community. Stylistic considerations impinge on the choice of“brought” and “soiled” from the existing alternatives – which could furthercommunicate the same idea.13. A child cannot pay for its mother’s milk. p.117Theory: RealistTypes: Connotative/Collocative.Analysis: This proverb anchors an axiomatic fact: certain things areunquantifiable or priceless. No matter how much the child gives the motherlater in life, such is not worth her milk, given the child at infancy. By extension,kindness, love (and such virtues) cannot be fully reciprocated, as they areinestimably valuable. Collocates like “child, mother, milk” enhance the senseof the meaning.14. An animal rubs its aching flank against a tree, a man asks his kinsman to scratch him p.117.Theory: Realist/Stimulus-ResponseTypes: Connotative/Stylistic.Analysis: By drawing our attention to the real world of human-animalbehavioral patterns, the proverb draws a line between a human being and ananimal. The proverb is suggestive of the social nature of man, and the factthat “no man is an Island”. The proverb suggests that it is love that Interpretation and Analysis of Proverbs in Things Fall Apart
  9. 9. Page 9 of 9distinguishes men from animals. People who do not seek their fellow humanbeings’ help when in danger or difficulty are therefore animalistic. Markedword patterns like “aching”, “flank”, “kinsman”, “rubs”, “scratch”, that onewould ordinarily prefer other words for, are used for stylistic purposes,engendering the connotative, figurative sense.15. Living fire begets cold, impotent ash.p.118Theory: IdeationalTypes: Connotative/StylisticAnalysis: The sense engendered by this epigrammatic statement is the vanityof arrogance. By creating the image/idea of fire in our mind, we are implicitlytold that fire flares up in pride but its consequence is cold, impotent ash. Theconnotative meanings of “cold” and “impotent” are quite essential and theirstylistic association with ash lends credence to the force of the meaning. Bothfire and “ash” conjure in us human qualities – the fire gives birth to a cold andimpotent child in ash. The sense of the proverb or its message is that peopleshould be good and level-headed when they are opportune (to be in aposition) or alive; for, when they lose such position and die, they becomeuseless and unwanted – subsequently becoming objects of public disdain.Related RBG Learning Resource: The Art of Fiction, A Paris Interview with Chinua Achebe Interpretation and Analysis of Proverbs in Things Fall Apart