Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe, depicts life among the Igbo society in Nigeria. Okonkwo is a wealthy and respected warrior of the Umuofia clan, a Nigerian tribe. He is constantly haunted by the actions of Unoka, his weak and unaccomplished father, who died in shame, leaving many village debts unsettled. To counteract his father’s bad reputation, Okonkwo became a strong warrior, successful farmer, and a wealthy family provider. Okonkwo strives to make his way in a world that seems to value manliness. He becomes stoic to a fault. His tragic flaw was that he equated manliness with rashness, anger, and violence, and this brings about his own destruction.
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During the Week of Peace, a week set aside by the villagers for peace and harmony between each other, Okonkwo finds his youngest wife, Ojiugo, having her hair braided before having dinner ready (Achebe, 29). He accuses her of negligence and severely beats her, breaking the peace of the sacred week (Achebe, 30). He makes some sacrifices to show his repentance, but he has shocked his community irreparably (Achebe, 31). This was his first major error, with many more to follow.
Nwoye, Okonkwo’s oldest son, struggles in the shadow of his powerful, successful, and demanding father. His interests are different from Okonkwo’s and resemble more closely those of Unoka, his grandfather. As a result, he undergoes many beatings from his father. The arrival of Ikemefuna, a young boy from another village, does great things for Nwoye. Ikemefuna moves into his house, becomes like an older brother, and teaches him how to be more masculine (Achebe, 34). Okonkwo is very pleased with the turn of events, and Nwoye even starts to win his grudging approval (Achebe, 52). With the harsh murder of Ikemefuna, Nwoye goes back to being his old, soft self. His reluctance to accept Okonkwo’s masculine values turns into embitterment toward him and his ways. (Achebe, 61)
The death of Ogbuefi Ezeudu is announced. At Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s large and elaborate funeral, the men beat drums and fire their guns (Achebe, 121). Tragedy occurs when Okonkwo’s gun accidentally explodes and kills Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s sixteen-year-old son. Because killing a clansman is a crime against the earth goddess, Okonkwo must take his family into exile for seven years in order to atone. He gathers his most valuable belongings and takes his family to his mother’s village, Mbanta (Achebe, 124). Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s men burn Okonkwo’s buildings and kill his animals to cleanse the village of his grave sin (Achebe, 125). Okonkwo works hard on his new farm but with less enthusiasm than he had the first time around. He has toiled all his life because he wanted to become one of the lords of the clan, but now that possibility is gone (Achebe, 131). This was the next step in his downfall.
A few years into Okonkwo’s exile, his friend Obierika comes to tell him about what Nwoye is up to. He reports that when missionaries came to the village Nwoye was very drawn towards them, and eventually joined their forces (Achebe, 144). Although Okonkwo curses and disowns Nwoye, Nwoye appears to have found peace at last in leaving the oppressive atmosphere of his father’s tyranny (Achebe, 147). Nwoye’s entire life conflict was because of his father’s extreme zealousness in being masculine and scorning any emotion. Losing his son to the whites and their church was another big step in his almost complete now destruction.
When Okonkwo returns to his village after seven years of exile, he finds that Umuofia is very much changed. The church has grown in strength and the white men rule the villagers with their judicial system and government (Achebe, 174). They are harsh and arrogant, and Okonkwo cannot believe that his clan has not driven the white men and their church out. He deeply regrets the changes in his once warlike people (Achebe, 175). When Okonkwo actually acts out and kills a messenger of the church, his people don’t respond as he hopes, and he realizes that his clan will not go to war (Achebe, 205).
This realization was the greatest blow of all to Okonkwo. His whole life had been devoted to being strong and masculine, as his tribe leaders had always been. In the past, the whites and their church would not have been tolerated for a day, and war would’ve erupted without a question. Okonkwo took the initiative and killed the first person, thinking that his people would immediately follow and help him drive the missionaries out. But his village had changed so drastically that they no longer minded the intrusion. When Okonkwo sees that his entire life’s work had been for naught, he goes home and hangs himself. His tragic flaw of being way too manliness completely destroyed him and brought on his death.
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According to Robert Bennett, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, another way to analyze the psychological dimensions of Okonkwo’s character is to examine how he constructs his sense of gender by asserting a strong sense of masculinity and repressing any sense of femininity. There is an internal psychological conflict between the masculine and feminine sides within Okonkwo. While Okonkwo’s hyper-masculinity initially enables him to achieve success as a great wrestler and warrior, his refusal to balance this masculine side with feminine virtues eventually contributes to his later destruction. At virtually every turn in the novel, his excessive masculinity nudges him toward new troubles. Okonkwo is a man out of balance who has only developed one half of his full self because he only accepts the masculine side of his culture.
Linda Strong-Leek, in her essay on Things Fall Apart, reiterates the idea that it is Okonkwo’s seeds of self-destruction, which are deeply concealed in his desire to be the antitheses of his “feminine” father, which cause his death (www.africa.ufl.edu).
The basic unit of Igbo life was the village group, and the most universal institution was the role of the family head. This was usually the oldest man of the oldest surviving generation. His role primarily involved settling family disputes, and because he controlled the channel of communication with the all-important ancestors, he commanded great respect and reverence. In some areas the government of chiefs and elders was composed of a governing age grade, in others the council of elders was made up of the oldest members of particular families. Titles played a major part in this society. There was a hierarchy of ascending titles that were to be taken in order, accompanied by an ascending scale of payments. The system acted as a simple form of social security, in that those who acquired titles paid a particular fee, and then were entitled to share in the payments of those who later acquired titles. A series of intense rituals were to be undertaken before acquiring a title, which was considered a symbol of character as well as of success. A titled man’s life was dominated by numerous religious restrictions, and it was expected that these would be strictly adhered to (www.qub.ac.uk/schools/SchoolofEnglish/imperial/nigeria/govt.htm).
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