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Things fall apart

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Things fall apart

In the novel ‘Thing Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe Okonkwo is a protagonist. Critics also refer to him as a tragic hero. A tragic hero can be defined as a person who holds a position of power and he chooses his own way of doing things, has a tragic flaw and knows the reasons as to why they go through what they are going through. Okonkwo as depicted in this novel made a lot of decisions, very full aware of the consequences of his actions.  Okonkwo was a well respected man of the Umuofia clan (Bloom 4). He is afraid that he will end up becoming like lazy father Unoka and therefore ends up making a lot of decisions that later lead to his tragic suicide.

When Okonkwo was a little boy he hated his father’s failures and weaknesses. He still remembers how he came to know about Agbala. His playmate told him that his father was agbala. He later learnt that this name was another name for a woman. From there onwards, he vowed not to stand for anything that his father stood for. This would include laziness, idleness and even falling into debt (Bloom 18). His father was also interested in music and conversation and this was seen as feminine in the Umuofia village.

Okonkwo grew up hating his father’s laziness and therefore he devoted himself to prove that he is a man with no feminine characteristics like his father. From an early age, his father was not able to provide food his family. The fact that he did not receive enough food from an early age made him embarrassed with his father. His feelings intensified when he heard that the villagers of Umofia held the same view as his of his father. When he was old enough he started farming yams because “…he had to support his mother and two sisters.”(Achebe 25)

Okonkwo devoted himself to being hard working, providing for his family, and being brave. Most of these characteristics he saw as masculine. This leads to him being successful in many things that he did. He was a highly respectable member of the Umuofia community having three wives and he also fathers several children. He also became a warrior and a wrestler, “… he had brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat. Amalinze was the great wrestler… ” (Achebe 2)

Okonkwo is known to rule his household with a very heavy hand and his short temper. He this so that he could instill fear in his wives and children. The writer says that “perhaps down his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man.”(Achebe 5) The writer says that maybe he feared for being a failure and to show any weakness which was against nature in the Umuofia village. During the week of peace, Okonkwo beat up his younger wife for going to a friend’s house and being late to cook. He feels sorry for his actions and he does not say it since he sees it as a sense of weakness. He is punished for this by the priest of the earth goddess, Ani, a punishment he does without complaining. Everybody in the village gossips about this, how Okonkwo acts with anger yet he could hold it back  but he does not because he wants to look strong in the eyes of everyone (Okpewho 45).

Okonkwo participates in the murder of his ‘son’ Ikemefuna. He was not required to attend but he did not want to show the quality of weakness and therefore participated in the murder of his adopted son. His fear of being seen as a weakling and possessing feminine qualities lead him into assisting into the murder of Ikemefuna even if he loved him so much. Ikemefuna was crying for his mercy but he still struck the knife and killed him. Later after the murder he feels guilty about it. He sees that the customs and traditions of Umuofia were more important than his personal relationship with the boy (Okpewho 23).

Whenever Okonkwo was idle he would think about the murder that he assisted in. not of the five men he had killed in battle but so the son that he loved but was afraid of showing it. He even became worried that he had “become a shivering old woman” (Achebe 49). He felt so guilty that he had helped in killing of the boy. He did not understand how a man who had killed five men in battle would become so bothered just because he had added another boy to the list. He concluded that “Okonkwo, you have become a woman indeed” (Achebe 49). He became afraid when he realized that he was showing too many feminine characteristics.

Enznma was the most loved daughter of Okonkwo and was the only child of his second wife Ekwefi. She is seen as bold who has sometimes contradicts her father. Most are the times that Okonkwo wished that she had been born a boy, “she should have been a boy.”(Achebe 48). He always considers her to have masculine qualities unlike his son Nwoye. His favorite daughter, Enznma, falls ill and tries each and every way to save her (Okpewho 5).

At Ezedu’s burial there was accidental shooting of a boy by Okonkwo. This leads to him being exiled from his country for seven years. He did not argue about the banishment even if it pained him greatly. The fact that he did not complain about him being exiled shows that he was not a keen follower of the traditions after all. All he had was internal hatred of everything that his father stood for (Ogbaa 56).

During an argument with his friend Obierika regarding the ozo title, Obierika talks about the inconveniences of the title mentioning that it had lost meaning in other communities. Okonkwo responds by telling his friend. He says it is important that they still hold the ozo in high esteem. He added that “in those other clans you speak of, ozo is so low that every beggar takes it” (Achebe 67). Nosek, 2008, interprets this to mean that since Unoka, his father was a valueless person to him, a person who had no titles; losing of ozo title would mean that the foundation that he had worked so hard to build would go down.  He would not want that to happen.

Okonkwo did not like his son Nwoye because he saw him to have a lot of characteristics that his father had. He once told his friend Obiereke “Nwoye is old enough to impregnate a woman…but there is too much of his mother in him.” (Achebe 50) Nwoye his son converted to Christianity. He always saw a lot of Unoka’s characteristics in Nwoye. He attacks him because he is too upset but again he realizes that “…Nwoye was not worth fighting for.” (Shea 142) This leads to Okonkwo disowning his son. By disowning his son, he continues with his mental rebellion against his father since he sees too much of his father in Nwoye.

However as nature has it, one cannot live to be a person of no feelings. Okonkwo is seen to have some affection towards his daughter Enzima and his adopted son Ikemefuna. His soft side is shown especially when Ikemefuna falls ill for three weeks and everybody is worried but after he recovers, he is among those people who are no longer sad and worried (Shea 12). It is written that even when Ikemefuna refuses to eat he would stand over him with a big stick as he eats. This shows that Okonkwo had soft feelings towards his adopted son whom he assists in his murder in fear of showing weakness. His idea of masculinity however stops him from showing affection towards his son.

His compassion is also seen towards his daughter. When she falls ill, she makes medicine for him until she gets better. When he realized that the Umuofia people were no longer supporting him, he knew that they will not go to war and this is what leads to his tragic suicide. This was after he returned from exile. The white men had managed to attract many people from the Umuofia and they managed to weaken the whole village’s effectiveness and conviction. He saw a lot of change in Umuofia and it was not the same place it was when he was growing up and in his youth. Seeing this, he went against the tradition of Umuofia people and committed suicide. According to Nosek, 2008 by committing suicide he did the last thing that his father could not do. This leads to his tragic end.

Following his tragic end, it is quite clear that Okonkwo’s flaw of fear of weakness leads him to do a lot of things that leads to his eventual tragic end. He also had a flaw of anger because he could not control his anger. The anger drives him to make a lot of mistakes which includes beating up his wives which in turn instills fear in them and his children (Shea 7). This anger is what drives him to behead a messenger of the British who had been sent to stop an ongoing meeting in the village. Okonkwo is also obsessed with masculinity. Everything he does, he wants it to be a sign of strength and showcase his masculinity and strength. He works hard to ensure that whatever his father, Unoka, stood for he did not stand for it.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Greenwood Press,1991. Print

Bloom, Harold. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. London: Quorum Books, 2009. Print

Okpewho, Isidore. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart: A Casebook. Oxford: Oxford, 2003. Print

Ogbaa, Kalu. Understanding Things Fall Apart: A Student Casebook. Maahwah, NJ: Praeger, 2004. Print

Shea, George. A Reaader’s Guide to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print

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