Title: Commensality and culture: a semiotic reading of Igbo tribal life in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.


Vol. 11(3), 2023, pp. 130-147.



Author: Sreelakshmi K P

About the author: Sreelakshmi K P is currently a research scholar at the Department of English and Cultural Studies, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru, working on her thesis titled “Narrating Cultural Identity through Food: A Reading on Select Tribal Narratives from Kerala” under the supervision of Dr. Vidya S. Her areas of interest include Cultural Studies, Tribal Studies, Dalit Writings, and Critical Food Studies. She has contributed her creditable share to knowledge generation by presenting papers at national and international conferences.

e-mail: ;  

ORCID iD:   



Citation (APA style): Sreelakshmi, K P. (2023). Commensality and culture: a semiotic reading of Igbo tribal life in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Studies in Linguistics, Culture, and FLT, 11(3), 130-147.

Abstract: Food in literary production signifies the cultural and cross-cultural relations from which it is produced. The emergence of Literary Food Studies engages food as a signifier to magnify human relations and emotions. Food is a mosaic system of signs symbolising diasporic, class, caste, racial, and gender relations. The paper focuses on commensality, one of the mushrooming trends in literary food studies. Commensality is the act of eating together that helps to build relationships and create conviviality, the social pleasure among people. It helps to reinforce the identity and sense of belongingness among the community members. Drawing on the theoretical readings from Mary Douglas and Arjun Appadurai’s semiotics of food, the paper explores the possibilities of commensality in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The paper tries to argue that, commensality and its food practices along with representing togetherness could also symbolise the complex cultural functioning of the Igbo tribal community. The ingredients of the commensality, the culinary tools, and the order of eating convey cultural meanings. It throws light into the hierarchy and various power relations existing in the community.

Key words: Igbo tribal community, food, commensality, culture, power relations



  1. Achebe, C. (2001). Things fall apart. UK: Penguin Random House. 
  2. Adams, C. J. (2010). The sexual politics of meat. New York, NY: The Continuum International Publishing Groups Inc.
  3. Appadurai, A. (1981). Gastro-politics in Hindu South Asia. American Ethnologist, 8(3), 494–511.
  4. Barthes, R. (2013). Toward a psychosociology of contemporary food consumption. In C. Counihan & P. V. Esterik (Eds.), Food and culture: A reader (3rd ed., pp. 23-30). New York, NY: Routledge. (Original work published in 1961).
  5. Belasco, W. (2008). Food: The key concepts. Berg: Bloomsbury Publishing.
  6. Bentley, A. (2008). Introduction. Food and Foodways, 16(2), 111–116.
  7. Bourdieu, P. (2010). Distinction: A social critique of the judgment of taste. (R. Nice, Trans.). Taylor & Francis. (Original work published in 1979)
  8. Chandler, D. (2007). Semiotics: The basics. New York, NY: Routledge.
  9. Douglas, M. (1972). Deciphering a meal. Daedalus, 101(1), 61–81.
  10. Eco, U. (1976). A theory of semiotics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  11. Goldstein, D. B. (2018). Commensality. In G. G. Shahani (Ed.), Food and literature (pp. 39-58). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  12. Grignon, C. (2001). Commensality and social morphology: An essay of typology. In P. Scholliers (Ed.), Food, drink and identity: Cooking, eating and drinking in Europe since the middle ages (pp.23-33). Oxford, UK: Berg.
  13. Johnson, A.G. (2005). The gender knot: Unravelling our patriarchal legacy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  14. Kakar, S. (2010). Uses of ritual. In C. Brosius & U. Husken (Eds.), Ritual matters: Dynamic dimensions in practice (pp. 201-209.) New Delhi: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group. 
  15. Kessler, B. (2005). One reader’s digest: Toward a gastronomic theory of literature. The Kenyan Review, 27(2). 148-165.
  16. Kittler, P.G., & Kathryn P S. (2008). Food and culture. USA: Thomas Wadsworth Publications.
  17. Khare, R. S. (1976). Culture and reality: Essays on the Hindu system of managing foods.  Simla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study.
  18. Korieh, C. J. (2007). Yam is king! But cassava is the mother of all crops: Farming, culture, and identity in Igbo agrarian economy. Dialectical Anthropology, 31(1/3), 221–232. .
  19. Kumah, C. (2000). African women and literature. West African Review, 2(1). 1–12.
  20.  Levi- Strauss, C.  (1979). The origin of table manners: Introduction to a science of mythology. New York, NY: Haper & Row. 
  21. Levi-Strauss, C. (2013). The culinary triangle. In C. Counihan & P. V. Esterik (Eds.), Food and culture: A reader (3rd ed., pp. 40-47). New York, NY: Routledge. (Original work published in 1966).
  22. Long, L. M. (2017). Meaning-centered research in food studies. In J. Chrzan & J. Brett (Eds.), Food culture: Anthropology, linguistics and food studies (pp. 204-217). New York, NY: Berghahn Books.  
  23. Lupton, D. (1996).  Food, the body, and the self. New Delhi: Sage Publications.
  24. Mannur, A. (2007). Culinary nostalgia: Authenticity, nationalism, and diaspora. MELUS, 32(4), 11–31.
  25. Merrell, F. (2005). Charles Sanders Peirce’s concept of the signs. In P. Cobley (Ed.), The Routledge companion to semiotics and linguistics. [eBook edition]. Taylor and Francis.
  26. Morris, C W. (1938). Foundations of the theory of signs. [eBook edition]. The University of Chicago Press.
  27. Powers, W. K., & Marla N. P. (1984). Metaphysical aspects of an Oglala food system. In M. Douglas (Ed.), Food in the social order: Studies of food and festivities in three American communities (pp. 40-96). New York, NY: Russel Sage Foundation. 
  28. Shahani, G.G. (2018). Introduction. In G. G. Shahani (Ed.), Food and literature (pp. 1-38). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  29. Srinivas, T. (2006). ‘As mother made It’: The cosmopolitan Indian family, `Authentic’ food and the construction of cultural utopia. International Journal of Sociology of the Family, 32(2), 191–221.
  30. Standage, T. (2010). An edible history of humanity. Virginia: Bloomsbury Publishers.
  31. Stano, S. (2015). Semiotics of food. In P. P. Trifonas (Ed.), International handbook of semiotics. (pp. 646-671). New York, NY: Springer.
  32. Strong- Leek, L. (2001). Reading as a woman: Chinua Achebe’s Things fall apart and feminist criticism. African Studies Quarterly, 5(2). 29–35.
  33. Sutton, D. E. (2001). Remembrance of repasts: An anthropology of food and memory. Berg: Berg Publishers.
  34. Trubek, A. B. (2017). Introduction to food studies methods. In J. Chrzan & J. Brett (Eds.), Food culture: Anthropology, linguistics and food studies (pp.197-203). NY: Berghahn Books.
  35. Unya, I. U. (2021). The historical significance and role of the kola nut among the Igbo of Southeastern Nigeria. Journal of Religion and Human Relations, 13(1). 289–312.