“There is nothing to fear from someone who shouts:” Folk Tales in Things Fall Apart
The folktales scattered though out Things Fall Apart demonstrate a central aspect of Igbo culture, reveal the values essential to the Igbo, and their abrupt stop reflects the destructive relationship between the Igbo and the Christian missionaries.
There are five different folk tales in Things Fall Apart: Vulture and the Sky, Mosquito and Ear, Leaves and the Snakelizard, How Tortoise Got His Bumpy Shell, and Mother Kite and Daughter Kite. These folktales are an important aspect of the text because they demonstrate a vital aspect of Igbo culture: storytelling and the oral tradition. The fables, like the proverbs throughout the text, reflect Igbo culture not only into the content of the book but also into the style and structure of storytelling.
Each of the stories serves a slightly different purpose. Some, like Mosquito and Ear, are practical and explain daily phenomena. Others demonstrate values that are important to the clan and serve as a warning for the consequences of bad behavior. How Tortoise Got His Bumpy Shell is a great example of this second kind of fable. In this tale, Tortoise’s greed and self-interest end up hurting him more than they help, which both dissuades greed and also reinforces the importance of the clan.
What is most interesting to me is the placement of the final folktale in the text. The final folktale is Mother Kite and Daughter Kite. Mother Kite is a practical story, which attempts to encourage knowledge before action, beware a lack of protest. Uchendu, Okonkwo’s maternal kinsman, tells the tale of Mother Kite after Obierika tells Uchendu and Okonkwo about the arrival of a white man and the carnage in Abame. At this point in the text, the plot of Things Fall Apart shifts and becomes a story about the interaction between the two cultures. Because this last story is told right after the entrance of the Christian missionaries, symbolically, from this moment on in Things Fall Apart the characters have already lost their culture to colonialism.