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JackConnolly
ProfessorMunro
ModernAfricanLiterature&Film
12September2016
OralTraditioninThingsFallApart
OraltraditionsplayanimportantroleinChinuaAchebesnovelThingsFallApart

.Oral
traditionisculturalinformation,customsorstoriesthatarepasseddownfromgenerationto
generation.ThingsFallApart

issetinprecolonialNigeria,wherethevillagerscannotreador
write,sooraltraditionistheprimarymethodofteachingandspreadinginformation.Achebes
useoforaltraditionbothenhancesthemeaningofthenovelandhelpscreatearealisticcultural
backdrop.Thereareseveralexamplesoforaltraditionthroughoutthenovel,suchasthe
folktalesthatthewomentell,proverbs,songs,andwarstoriesthatthementold.Thewomens
folktalesgenerallyinvolveanimalsandservetoexplaintheoriginofstrangefeatures,suchas
whyvulturesfeedoncarcasses.Thesestoriesoftencarrydeepermeaningsandanoverall
moral,akintoAesopsfables.Thesestoriescontrastgreatlywiththemasculinestoriesof
violenceandbloodtoldbyOkonkwoandthemenofthetribe(33).Achebeutilizesthe
differenceintheseformsoforaltraditiontopaintemotionaldepthintohischaracters.
OneofthewomensfolktalesinvolvesavulturewhowassenttoappeasetheSkywitha
songofmercyaftersevenyearswithoutrain.TheSkygavethevulturerainwrappedincoco
leaves,whichthevultureaccidentallytorethroughwithhistalonsonhiswayhome,causingrain
tofallexcessivelyacrosstheland.Thevulturekeptflyinguntilhereachedadifferent,faraway
land,whereamanhadsacrificedhimselfthroughfire.Thevulturethenatetheremainsofthe
man.Thisstoryservesasanexplanationtobothwhyvultureshaveanappetitefordeadbeings,
andhowasevenyeardroughtwasstopped.Nwoyewastoldthisstorybyhismotherasachild,

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andreminiscesuponitlaterinlifewhenlisteningtoOkonkwosviolentstories:Nwoyeknew
thatitwasrighttobemasculineandtobeviolent,butsomehowhestillpreferredthestoriesthat
hismotherusedtotel(33).ThefollowingpassagedescribestheinnerturmoilNwoyeisfaced
withwhenreminiscingThatwasthekindofstorythatNwoyeloved.Buthenowknewthatthey
wereforfoolishwomenandchildren,andheknewthathisfatherwantedhimtobeaman.And
sohefeignedthathenolongercaredforwomen'sstories.(33).Nwoyeistaughttosuppress
hisemotions,astheyarenotconsideredmasculine,butindoingso,heisforcedtoabandon
hisloveforstorieslikethis.Thesestoriesareconsideredchildish,andwhilegrowingupIgbo,
theoraltraditionyouaresupposedtopracticeadvanceswithage.Achebeusesthecontrastof
oraltraditionsherethroughNwoyetodepicttheconflictingemotionsthatarisewithadolescence
andgrowingupingeneral.
Okonkwolaterrecallsadifferentfolktaleinvolvingamosquitoandanear.Amosquito
hadaskedtheeartomarryhim,atwhichpointtheearfellonthegroundinincessantlaughter.
Theearsaysthatthemosquitoisalreadyaskeletonandwillnotlivemuchlonger.The
mosquitowashumiliated,andinthefuturehewouldgouptotheearandinformherthathewas
stillaliveeachtimehepassedher.Thistaleservestoexplainwhymosquitosconstantlygo
towardspeoplesearsOkonkworecallsthestorywhenhehimselfisplaguedwithamosquitoin
hisearslateatnight.Ashereminisces,hethinkstohimself:Whenhewasachildhismother
hadtoldhimastoryaboutit.Butitwasassillyasallwomen'sstories.(46).Aswithmanyother
instancesinthenovel,Okonkwoissuppressinghisemotions(inthiscase,enjoymentofthe
story)inordertoliveuptohisideaofmasculinity.Thoughsubtle,AchebeusesOkonkwos
trainofthoughtonoldoraltraditionstostrengthentheongoinginnerbattlehefacesbetweenhis
trueselfandidealmasculinity.

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Laterinthestory,OkonkwoswifeEkwefitellsherdaughterEnzimaanotherfolktale,this
timeaboutatortoise.Inthisstory,thereisagrandfeastintheskypreparedforallthebirds.
Thetortoiseisverycunning,andconvinceseachofthebirdstogivehimafeathersohemay
createhisownwingsandjointheminthefeastinthesky.However,onthewaytothefeast,he
tricksthebirdsintounknowinglyallowinghimtoeatthefeastfirst,leavingthemwithonlyscraps.
Thebirdswereallveryangry,andastheyleft,theyeachtookbacktheirfeathertheyhadgiven
tothetortoise.Thetortoisepleadsforthebirdstotakeamessageforhiswife,andeventually
convincestheparrot.Tellmywifetobringoutallthesoftthingsinmyhouseandcoverthe
compoundwiththemsothatIcanjumpdownfromtheskywithoutverygreatdangerheplead
totheparrot(59).Buttheparrot,stillangrywiththetortoiseforhisdeception,insteadtellshis
wifetobringoutallthehardestthingsinhishouse.Whenthetortoiselands,hisshellcracksinto
manypieces,havingotputbacktogetherbythelocalmedicineman.Thistaleservesasan
explanationastowhytortoisesshellsarenotsmooth,butalsoholdsdeepermeaning.Itserves
asacautionarytaletonotbedeceitful,andhighlightstheprinciplesofhonestyandingenuity.
Thereisnosonginthestory,"asEnzimanotices(60).Noteveryfolktalecanbecompletely
lightheartedandpositive,buteachservesapurpose.Ekwefiusesthisstorytoteachtheyoung
andimpressionableEnzimaaboutthevalueofhonesty.Throughthispassage,Achebe
representshowtheIgbocommunityusesstorieslikethesetoestablishthebasicmoralpillarsof
acommunity.
Achebeusesoraltraditionthroughoutthenovelformanydifferentpurposes.Witheach
of
thesefolktales,AchebeispaintingawindowintotheIgbocultureandtheirideasforthe
audience,givingthereaderagreatersenseofimmersion.Heportraystheimportanceoforal
traditionintheIgboculture,andhowmanyoftheirbeliefsandmoralstandardsarederivedfrom

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suchstories.However,healsousesthetalestoportraythecomplexitiesofhischaracters
throughtheirthoughtsonthestories.Theinteractionshischaractershavewiththevarious
formsoforaltraditionhelptodevelopandadddepthtotheircharacter,whetheritbethrough
OkonkwoorNwoyedealingwithintrospection,Enzimadevelopinghervalues,orcountless
otherinstancesheusesthroughoutthebooks.OraltraditionisthebackboneofThingsFall
Apart,andAchebeusesitsmanydifferentformsandtheirsymbolicnaturetobringthenovelto
newheights.

WorksCited

Achebe,Chinua.ThingsFallApart.NewYork:Anchor,1994.Print.