Things Fall Apart commences with Okonkwo occupying a deeply esteemed/respected position in the clan of Umuofia. Okonkwo’s fellow villagers find themselves regarding him with respect due to the fact that his status was acquired solely through personal effort. As a result of being raised by his father Unoka, who was considered an indolent, idle, and neglectful individual in Umuofian society, Okonkwo grows up with an extreme hatred for Unoka and all the values he assimilates with him, finding himself acutely motivated by an inner desire to succeed despite the continuous and eventually damning failures of his father. Okonkwo’s animonisties towards can be encapsulated in his description/perspective of Ukona found in the very first chapter of the book:
He had no patience with unsuccessful men. He had had no patience with his father. Unoka, for that was his father’s name, had died ten years ago. In his day he was lazy and improvident and was quite incapable of thinking about tomorrow. If any money came his way, and it seldom did, he immediately bought gourds of palm-wine, called round his neighbors and made merry. (Achebe 3)
Unoka perished in disgrace, owing debt to a multiple of members of Umuofian society. Thus Okonkwo is determined to build his life on principles sharply contrasting with the values associated with his father. Ukona was a generally idle and highly impoverished; thus Okonkwo strives to be is highly productive, generating himself wealth through the growth of yam crops and the acquirement of a family. Ukona was degraded by all those in Umuofian clan due to his reputation of unreliability and leeching nature; thus Okonkwo dedicates himself to securing himself a valued position in society, acquiring the title of a masked spirit (one who administers justice to clan members) and establishing himself as a respected warrior through the defeat of Amalinze the Cat. Ukona was acknowledged as a man of genial and kind nature, finding himself partial to activities such as music and discussion with others; thus Okonkwo transforms into stoic, violent, and hot-tempered individual, develops a deep-rooted hatred for music and anything he considers “soft”. The nature of Okonkwo’s childhood causes him to associate masculinity with characteristics such as violence, brutalness, and a lack of any sort of emotion, a toxic circumstance that renders him unable to express his emotions, ultimately leading to his demise.
Arguably, the first trial in Okonkwo’s detrimental relationship with emotion was brought about by the adoption and subsequent murder of his son Ikemefuna. To avoid war after the murder of an Umuofian man’ wife at the hands of a villager from Mbaino (a neighboring village), Mbaino gifts the Umuofians with a virgin and a fifteen year old boy by the name of Ikemefuna. The responsibility of raising Ikemefuna is given to Okonkwo’s family, who treat him as one of their own. Okonkwo develops a fondness for Ikemefuna, as he sees him as a positive masculine influence on his son Nwoye, whom he often disregards as excessively gentle and feminine. He withholds himself from expressing any sort of affection , though, as seeing any sort of endearment as feminine and scornful.
Eventually, the Oracle informs Okonkwo that is Ikemefuna is destined to die,; however, as Ikemefuna’s adopted father, Okonkwo is forbidden to play any part in the death. It is Okonkwo’s unquestioning loyalty to masculinity over family that cause him to disobey this order; when Ikemefuna is attacked with a machete and pleads to Okonkwo for help, it is by Okonkwo’s own hand that Ikemefuna is killed. Ikemefuna’s death takes a tremendous toll on Okonkwo; as is described in the introduction of Chapter 8:
He did not sleep at night. He tried not to think about Ikemefuna, but the more he tried the more he thought about him. Once he got up from bed and walked about his compound. But he was so weak that his legs could hardly carry him. He felt like a drunken giant walking with the limbs of a mosquito. Now and then a cold shiver descended on his head and spread down his body.
Okonkwo’s refusal to display any form of outward affection for Ikemefuna was crucial in his path to his own eventual death. One would expect such an experience to instill a lesson to Okonkwo on the importance of human emotion; conversely and quite surprisingly, though, Ikemefuna’s death only furthers Okonkwo’s excessively violent and merciless qualities, developing himself into the man that eventually takes his own life.
Okonkwo’s treatment of the women in his life further demonstrates his fatal inability to display his emotions. Such a flaw can be seen when Okonkwo betrays the Umuofians sacred week of peace by beating his wife Ojiugo, as she fails to remember to cook dinner in favor of plaiting her hair. During the beating, Okonkwo’s other wife plead for him to stop, but Okonkwo’s own pride and instinctive violence prevent him from ceasing as can be seen in chapter four: “In his anger he had forgotten that it was the Week of Peace. His first two wives ran out in great alarm pleading with him that it was the sacred week. But Okonkwo was not the man to stop beating somebody half-way through, not even for fear of a goddess.” Okonkwo is required to compensate for violation of the Week of Peace with a hefty fine and repents quite sincerely, but nevertheless fails to learn from this experience; in fact, Okonkwo’s irascibility only eccalates. Subsequent to the week of peace, Okonkwo’s frustration with the idle nature of a festival leads him to beat his wife Ekwefi as well as threaten her through shots from a gun.
Of all the nefarious and brutal actions Okonkwo’s temper influenced him into committing, it is surprising that an accidental slaughter is what leads to his exclusion from society; Okonkwo’s gun is fired by mistake during the funeral of his warrior friend Ogbuefi Ezeudu, killing Ezeudu’s 16-year old son.
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