Things fall Apart: Metaphors
The Roaring Flame
Okonkwo had been popularly known as “Roaring Flame” because of his quick temper and violent warlike way (153). As he thinks of his son Nwoye, who defected to the Christians, he wonders how a Roaring Flame could have begotten such an effeminate boy? Nwoye is gentle like Okonkwo’s father, and Okonkwo has striven all his life to be hard and masculine. The Roaring Flame is a good metaphor for his character, as he himself notes, because “Living fire begets cold, impotent ash” (153). In this story, Okonkwo is an angry fire that burns itself out.
Locusts and Water
The white man coming to the Igbo land is compared to a cloud of locusts or flooding water, metaphors of things that cannot easily be stopped. “Bale the water while it is ankle deep” (204) is a proverb that the Igbo repeat in terms of the white missionaries. Some think the white religion stupid and harmless and counsel ignoring it, while the wisest see the danger and warn that one cannot wait until the water is deep to try to contain it.
Agbala is the word for woman and also a man who has taken no titles, so for Okonkwo, womanish is the epitome of everything that is not honorable. It is a word he initially applies to the Christian religion that seems soft and accepting of all the failed people in Igbo society. Ironically, it is Agbala, also the name of the Oracle of the Hills and Caves, whose decrees come through the priestess, Chielo, and can command the whole nine villages of Umuofia, including Okonkwo. The female energy of the Earth is the main nourisher and arbiter for Okonkwo’s people. Uchendu tries to teach him “Mother is Supreme.”