A proverb is "a brief, memorable saying that expresses a truth or belief" (Proverb). “Proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten" (Achebe 7), and they enhance the meaning of all the conversations. “A proverb is [basically] a short sentence based on long experience” (.
In Things Fall Apart, proverbs are mainly used in the development of the important characters. Through proverbs used in character development, Achebe shows the distinct similarities and differences between the protagonist, Okonkwo, and two other important characters, Nwoye and Obierika.
Achebe uses the proverb "When a man says yes his chi says yes also" in the character development of Okonkwo. Okonkwo is a very successful man in his village of Umoufia, in fact an elder called him "one of the lords of the land" (Achebe 28) because of his strength in battle and because he takes many titles. He is also a very harsh man. One day,
“[Ekwefi murmurs] something about guns never shot... Okonkwo [hears] it and [runs] madly into his room for the loaded gun, [runs] out again and [aims] at her as [she clambers] over the dwarf wall of the barn. He [presses] the trigger and there is a loud report accompanied by the wail of his wives and children.”
This proverb sheds light on Okonkwo's tragic flaw which is he always suppresses his feminine side. The proverb means that when you balance your feminine and masculine sides, you will be successful. Okonkwo's problem is "he was afraid of being thought weak" so he always relies on his masculine side. Because he doesn’t listen to his feminine side, when he murders Ikemefuna, he is unbalanced. Because he doesn’t balance both sides, he is going against his chi which brings bad luck. If Okonkwo had listened to Ezuedo and followed his feminine side when the village men took Ikemefuna to be killed, his spirit would never have disappointed him therefore he would not have been exiled from Umoufia for seven years.
Another important character is Nwoye, who is Okonkwo's first son. Unlike Okonkwo, Nwoye has no work ethic and is constantly "[causing] his father great anxiety for his incipient laziness" (Achebe 13). Okonkwo tries to beat Nwoye into being more hardworking but it does nothing. Nwoye is more womanly than Okonkwo's because "he [prefers] the stories that his mother [tells]" (Achebe 53). "When a mother-cow is chewing grass its young watch its mouth" is used in the development of the one characteristic both Nwoye and Okonkwo share. The proverb means children learn from what their parents do. Okonkwo follows in his father’s footsteps by not being the father figure his son needs. Nwoye follows in his father’s footsteps by forsaking Okonkwo. Okonkwo forsakes his father, Unoka, because he is weak by showing affection and he “[is]… a debtor” (Achebe 4). Nwoye forsakes his father because Okonkwo is too harsh. Both Okonkwo and Nwoye try to lead very different lives than there...