In China Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Ibo proverbs reveal Okonkwo’s character, especially his ambition, self-reliance, and respect for elders. Throughout the village of Umuofia, a belief the villagers have, is the belief in the earth, sun and rain gods. The villager’s religious values are very sacred. If one does not abide by a ritual such as bringing a little kota to an elder or friend, one does not respect.
Other beliefs such as whistling at night, and creating violence in the village’s annual week of peace are meant to be a bad omen. The one who is at fault is believed to be cursed. During one harvest, Okonkwo has had a shortage of yam seedlings, so he looks to Nwakibie and older man of the village. Nwakibie says to Okonkwo the proverb,” En eke the bird says that since men have learned to shoot without missing, he has learned to fly without perching.” (Achebe 22) Nwakibie was reluctant to give his seeds away before because the borrower would plant the seeds and watch them rot away. The moral of the proverb is that one must learn to adapt to its environment. Okonkwo is a man of honor, and stands for a model of a hard worker, so Nwakibie has no problem lending Okonkwo 800 yam seedlings.
Okonkwo has to learn from the planting season, because the weather is the worst ever for raising crops. Okonkwo must learn to adapt and protect his crop. He must make rings of thick sisal leaves to place around the yams. Okonkwo shows the ambition to succeed through his hard work.
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After Nwakibie lends Okonkwo yam seeds, Okonkwo begins to talk about his self reliance through the proverb,” The lizard that jumped from high ir oko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did.” (Achebe 21) Okonkwo tells Nwakibie that he will succeed because he has learned the trait of harvesting yams since he was a young boy. Okonkwo believes that work brings its own reward. Okonkwo is a honorable man because he is a great fighter and warrior. He also shows respect towards his elders.
Before Okonkwo even begins to ask for a favor from Nwakibie, he first brings a little kola, to give to Nwakibie. The little kola represents respect. After giving his gift, Okonkwo brings up the proverb,” a man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness. Nwakibie feels honored by this statement. The proverb means a lot in all of societies. When you give respect to one who is older, you shall in return receive respect; this leads to a mutual friendship.
Okonkwo’s respect makes it quite easy for a man to say yes for a favor, but while showing respect he is only hiding behind a mask. Okonkwo wants to claim many titles and become the leader of the clan. Okonkwo shows respect only to get what he wants. This reveals Okonkwo’s dark side. Okonkwo’s respect and honor for elders, ambition to succeed and self-reliance makes him a successful man.
Okonkwo knows how to get what he wants. Hard work and determination bring out the best in Okonkwo; this is why he succeeds when a harvest goes bad.