‘Things Fall Apart’ contains many examples of symbolic and descriptive language. One example is the the Evil Forest. In this lesson, we will take a look at the Evil Forest and what it symbolizes in the story.
Basic on the Evil Forest
In the story Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the Evil Forest is mentioned 22 times.
Sometimes the Evil Forest is mentioned as a specific place, and other times it is mentioned as a type of spiritual village leader. In both references, the Evil Forest is full of mystery and darkness. We can examine the Evil Forest as a place and as the name of a religious elder. By doing this, we can gain a deeper understanding of how the Evil Forest represents fear, evil, and death.
The Evil Forest as a Place
The first time Evil Forest is mentioned in Things Fall Apart is when Okonkwo is remembering his father’s death. Since his father died from swelling of the limbs, it was forbidden to bury him in the earth so he was dragged to the Evil Forest to rot. As Okonkwo is remembering his father, he also remembers a story about a man who was led to the Evil Forest because he was dying. The dying man found a way back to the village because he did not want to die in the forest. The people forced him back to the forest and tied him to a tree.
This first example paints the Evil Forest as a place that is closely involved in the cultural norms of Igbo culture. Later in Chapter 17, this idea is restated when the Evil Forest is described as, ‘An evil forest was where the clan buried all those who died of the really evil diseases, like leprosy and smallpox.’When the missionaries come to convert the villagers, we see the Evil Forest again.
The missionaries want a piece of land to build on. We learn that they did not really want them near the clan, and so they made them that offer which nobody in his right senses would accept. The leaders offered the Evil Forest to the missionaries. Uchendu says ‘Let us give them a real battlefield in which to show their victory.
‘ Both of these comments reveal that the Evil Forest is a place of mysterious evilness. The fact that the elders want the missionaries to build on the Evil Forest reveals their negative feelings towards the missionaries as well as the worrisome nature of the Evil Forest.
The Evil Forest as a Symbol
The next few times Evil Forest is mentioned, it is the name given to one of the elders who represented Umueru village. These elders sometimes dressed up with masks to represent powers and spirits.
When the religious elders were dressed up, they were called egwugwu. One of the duties of the egwugwu is to settle legal disputes. Evil Forest hears a case where a woman runs away from her abusive husband. The husband argues that he should be repaid for losing his property/wife. The wife’s family argues that since the man was abusive, they do not need to repay him.
Evil Forest’s solution is for the abusive husband to apologize by bringing wine to the wife’s family, which settles the matter.Another way we can gain a deeper understanding of Evil Forest is by looking at what he says. For example, while he is settling the dispute between the wife and abusive husband, Evil Forest asks both sides if they know him and they each respond that Evil Forest is impossible to know. Evil Forest responds by saying, ‘I am Evil Forest. I kill a man on the day that his life is sweetest to him.
‘ With this statement, Evil Forest may be stating his identity as evilness, or even as death itself. Evil Forest is not simply a man in a mask, he is a symbol of death and power. To add to his image, Evil Forest also explains that he is, ‘I am Evil Forest, I am Dry-meat-that-fills-the-mouth, I am Fire-that-burns-without-sticks.’ In this example, Evil Forest describes himself as the mystery of magic fire and the discomfort of dry meat.
In Things Fall Apart, the Evil Forest is mentioned as a human-like character as well as an actual forest.
As a place, the Evil Forest is where cursed people and things are abandoned to rot or die. The Evil Forest is also given to the missionaries as a sort of trick. It is the name given to one of the elders who represented Umueru village. These elders sometimes dressed up with masks to represent powers and spirits. When the religious elders were dressed up, the were called egwugwu.
As a spiritual symbol, Evil Forest is a fearful being who assists in making decisions about village disputes. Both sides of the Evil Forest are important for understanding the idea of fear and evil in Things Fall Apart.