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Things Fall Apart: Okonkwo Analysis

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“Okonkwo’s fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father”. In the book of Things Fall Apart, the author Chinua Achebe, casts the main character, Okonkwo, as a successful but cruel man in the Umofian clan who is only worthy of himself. Okonkwo is one of the greatest wrestlers who believes in strength, aggression, and masculinity. His biggest fear is to end up like his father, Unoka, who is weak, lazy, irresponsible and in debt. He works hard to establish his status and wealth in the Umuofia clan and the villagers view him as a strong leader. However, the way he interacts with people and deals with situations is always aggressive and with anger. He thinks that being aggressive and showing anger helps him gain his power and status. His approaches are harsh and inconsiderate and oftentimes, his good intentions have been ignored and interpreted wrong. He cares more about looking strong in front of others than protecting his loved ones. He does not show his feelings or affections because he believes it is a sign of weakness. He destroys his own life by pushing everyone that he loves away from him. Although Okonkwo is self-centered and acts violently to demonstrate his strength, it is sympathetic that his internal fear and behaviors do not allow him to express his emotions and his good intentions have also been overlooked.

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Throughout the book the reader recognizes that Okonkwo is ecocentric and self-absorbed. He is characterized as a disruptive character and does not know how to withhold his anger and bursting attitude. He is abusive and does not mind other peoples’ feelings and emotions. He also does not respect women, even his wives. He treats them like slaves and expects them to work for him. One example is shown when “[He] was provoked to justifiable anger by his youngest wife, who went to plait her hair at her friend’s house and did not return early enough to cook the afternoon meal” . Okonkwo is irritated and loses his temper about his wife not returning home early. However, he forgets it is the Week of Peace and no work should be done and no harsh words should be said during this period. The villagers use this week to honor their Gods before planting their crops and hope they can harvest their crops this season. He disregards the important tradition and still beats his wife heavily. The priest, Ezeani, scolded him that “You have committed a great evil”. Okonkwo is selfish, self-centered, and does not care about anyone, even God. He might have had a good intention that he worried his children with no meal but could have approached the situation in a more peaceful way. It is sad to see how he treats his wife with no respect and patience. It is sympathetic that he lives in his world with such a high ego and not caring for others, even family members.

Okonkwo is not an admirable person because he is violent and only cares for his reputation. Ikemefuna, a young boy at the age of fifteen, is sent from Mbaino to Umuofia as payment. He is given to the Umofia as a sacrifice for the killing of a noblewoman in the Umofian tribe. He ends up living in Okonkwo’s hut and Okonkwo raises him up as his son. Ikemefuna calls Okonkwo father and Nwoye, Okonkwo’s oldest son sees him as his brother. He builds strong relationships with everyone and becomes part of the family. Ikemefuna plays a key role in connecting Nwoye and Okonkwo. Nwoye is afraid of his father due to his impatience and roughness. With Ikemefuna, “Okonkwo was inwardly pleased at his son’s development, and he knew it was due to Ikemefuna” . Okonkwo wants to teach them how to be strong and successful “So Okonkwo encouraged the boys to sit with him in his obi, and he told them stories of the land … masculine stories of violence and bloodshed”. However, the good time does not last long. Umuofia has decided to kill Ikemefuna. Ezeudu is the oldest man in the tribe and he delivers the message to Okonkwo. Ezudu asks him not to be involved in Ikemefuna’s death since Ikemefuna calls him father. It must be hard for Okonkwo to take the news as “Okonkwo sat still for a very long time supporting his chin in his palms”. He has affections towards Ikemefuna but he wants to show he is a strong man and needs to follow the tribal order of killing Ikemefuna. The tragedy happens on the road of sending Ikemefuna home. Ikemefuna asks for his father’s help; “My father, they have killed me!”. Okonkwo is so cruel and “[he] drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak” . With such a deep relationship with Ikemefuna, it is shocking that Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna just because of his fear of being thought weak. He is brutal. It is sympathetic that he cares more about looking strong in front of others than protecting his loved one.

White missionaries come to Mbanta preaching the Gospel, bringing a new religion, building a church and creating a government to protect their followers. Okonkwo hopes the Igbo culture and customs can be preserved and not be contaminated with foreign beliefs. He is full of anger because his clan does not take any action towards foreigners and gradually falls apart. He is furious when he finds out that his son Nwoye attends the missionary gathering. “Nwoye turned round to walk into the inner compound when his father, suddenly overcome with fury, sprang to his feet and gripped him by the neck… He seized a thick stick that lay on the dwarf wall and hit him two or three savage blows”. Nwoye is curious about the new religion and comes back from listening to the new, white missionaries. The consequence of him attending the missionary meeting is receiving severe physical punishment from Okonkwo. Okonkwo is loyal to his God and culture and has good intentions protecting his son from being influenced and destroying his tribal values. He is feared that people see him raise such a weak son and not be able to help the clan. His harsh way of scolding and beating Nwoye has the opposite effect which makes Nwoye leave Okonkwo and get closer to Christanity. He could have handled the situation in a non-violent way by listening to Nwoye’s thoughts towards Christianity, sharing his own opinions, and guiding him to his path. Even though Okonkwo has good intentions to protect his son and Igbo culture, he carries out his actions in an abusive way. It is sympathetic that his anger takes over his good intentions and his affections to his son.

Okonkwo values strength, aggression and masculinity. His biggest fear comes from his father who is a coward and does not support his family. He does not want to follow his father’s path. In turns, he works hard, supports his family and becomes a successful figure in his clan. However, he always approaches things with aggression and anger to demonstrate his strength and power. He thinks his violent and abusive behaviors will make people respect him more. Conversely, his family members live in perpetual fear of his fiery temper and the villagers are struck by his roughness. He is self-centered and shows his ego by beating his wife for not returning home early. In addition, he cruelly kills Ikemefuna who calls him father. He scolds and punishes Nwoye for attending the missionary gathering. He has affections and good intentions towards his family and tribe, but these are being neglected by his harsh, abusive and disruptive behavior. He cares only about himself, his reputation, and looking strong in front of others which pushes all of his loved ones away. It is sympathetic that his affections and good intentions are overtaken by his anger and aggression.  

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