In the story ”Thing Falls Apart”, Chinua Achebe uses vivid language to make the story come alive. One way he achieves this is by using similes. In this lesson, we will look at some important similes from the novel.

What is a Simile?

If someone gives you really good instructions, you might say the instructions were ‘as clear as crystal’. Since a crystal is see-through, you are saying that the instructions were extremely clear or easy to understand. This is an example of a simile, is when someone compares two things using the word ‘like’ or ‘as’.

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In Things Fall Apart, similes enhance the storytelling and expand the reader’s understanding of Okonkwo’s world. Once you get the hang of similes they will be easier to find in life and literature.

Like a Bush-Fire

One of the first similes in Things Fall Apart is when the narrator is describing Okonkwo’s rise to fame. Okonkwo becomes famous after defeating a man named Amalinze (AKA ‘the Cat’) in a wrestling competition. The narrator explains ”That was many years ago, twenty years or more, and during this time Okonkwo’s fame had grown like a bush-fire.”

This phrase functions on a couple different levels. The most basic function is to make it clear that Okonkwo rose to fame rapidly, like how a bush-fire spreads rapidly. Also, a bush-fire is destructive and violent, so the comparison immediately paints Okonkwo as an aggressive and maybe dangerous person.

As Slippery as a Fish in Water

Achebe uses another vivid simile when describing the match between Okonkwo and Amalinze. ”Amalinze was a wily craftsman, but Okonkwo was as slippery as a fish in water.” This simile uses ‘as’ to compare the wrestler to a fish. This simile is a good example of how comparisons can be more concise and more interesting than straight explanation.

Instead of telling the reader that Okonkwo moved quickly and was hard to get a hold of, Achebe gives the reader a visual image and makes the writing more interesting and engaging than simply spelling out Okonkwo’s movements.

Corn Grains in a Bag Full of Holes

Another important simile comes when the reader learns about Okonkwo’s motivation to work. The reader learns that ”At a very early age when he was striving desperately to build a barn through share-cropping, Okonkwo was also fending for his father’s house. It was like pouring grains of corn into a bag full of holes.”

This simile paints a simple visual to help illustrate a complex idea. Okonkwo is working hard, but his work does not seem to be enough to keep his father’s house afloat. Just like if someone pours grains of corn into a bag with holes, the corn will leak out of the bottom and the work will be wasted.

Like the Desire for a Woman

Another simile comes later in the story when Okonkwo is older and is preparing to watch a wrestling match. The drums are beating and ”It filled him with fire as it had always done from his youth. He trembled with the desire to conquer and subdue. It was like the desire for a woman.”

This comparison mixes a few ideas. It reveals Okonkwo’s nearly sexual desire for violence. It also recognizes a beauty in something violent. On another level, the comparison also reveals how deeply Okonkwo needs and loves the clashing of powers.

Lesson Summary

A simile is when a comparison is drawn between things using the words ‘like’ or ‘as.’ In Chinua Achebe’s book Things Fall Apart, there are many examples of similes including:

  • Okonkwo’s rise to fame was like a bush-fire.
  • Okonkwo was slippery as a fish in his famous wrestling match.
  • Okonkwo tried to keep his father’s house alive even though it was like pouring grains of corn into a bag full of holes.
  • Okonkwo’s lust for fighting is like the desire for a woman.

Each of these examples offers multiple levels of meaning and also provide interesting imagery.