Throughout Things Fall Apart Achebe uses straightforward diction and simple sentence structures. His style creates a sense of formality befitting a historical narrative told from a third-person omniscient point of view. In keeping his language direct and to the point, Achebe invests his prose with the feeling of neutral reportage. Take, for example, the novel’s opening sentences:
Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements. As a young man of eighteen he had brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat. Amalinze was the great wrestler who for seven years was unbeaten, from Umuofia to Mbaino.
Although non-Igbo readers may stumble over the unfamiliar names, the sentences don’t pose particular difficulty in terms of grammar or vocabulary. Nor do the sentences contain unnecessary embellishments. Achebe uses simple verbs, with little variation. His tendency to rely on forms of the verb “to be” subtly underscores the sense of historical realism, encouraging the reader to believe in the Igbo cultural world the author so carefully depicts.
In contrast to Achebe’s use of basic grammar and vocabulary is his frequent incorporation of words, phrases, and even songs in the Igbo language. The inclusion of Igbo-language text demonstrates the specificity of the Igbo cultural world. Take, for instance, the term ogbanje, which refers to a child who dies over and over, only to return to its mother’s womb to be reborn. Or consider the egwugwu masqueraders who impersonate ancestral spirits. Both of these terms, along with many others in the novel, indicate specific beliefs and cultural practices that are not easily translatable and must appear in their original language. Aside from individual words, Achebe also includes longer sections of Igbo-language text. Sometimes he offers direct translations, as in the example of a proverb from chapter 12: “Oji odu achu ijiji-o-o! (The one that uses its tail to drive flies away!)” Other times the meaning of the text remains obscure, as in the example of a song from chapter 7:
Eze elina, elina!
Eze ilikwa ya
Ikwaba akwa oligholi
Ebe Danda nechi eze
Ebe Uzuzu nete egwu
Regardless of whether Achebe translates them, the presence of Igbo-language words, phrases, and songs has the overall effect of situating Things Fall Apart within the rich and culturally specific world of the Igbo people.