Okonkwo’s Fear of Unoka: The Driving Force for his Demise
Commenting on his relationship with his father, acclaimed American writer Mark Twain noted, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he'd learned in seven years.” In his typical satirical tone, Twain makes an unmistakable point; maturity enables individuals to recognize and appreciate the experiences of one’s elders. In stark contrast, Okonkwo, the narrow-minded protagonist of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, not only fails to acknowledge his father’s insights with age, but also goes as far as becoming his antitheses. Although Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, deserves condemnation by Ibo standards, Okonkwo’s embarrassment exceeds reasonable bounds by manifesting itself in a hatred for everything Unoka represents. Due to this resentment, Okonkwo is driven to extreme and unfathomable lengths to prove to society that he in no way resembles Unoka. Subsequently, Okonkwo’s life-long struggle to escape Unoka’s legacy produces insecurities that lead Okonkwo to kill Ikemefuna, completely alienate Nwoye, and commit suicide. Due to Unoka’s substantial debts and dishonorable status in Umuofia, Okonkwo develops a distinct outward and inward identity to placate the fear of being compared to his father. Even at a basic physical level, Okonkwo distinguishes himself from Unoka by being a spectacular wrestler who is “tall and huge,” while his father, “Was tall but very thin and had a slight stoop” (Achebe 4). On an economic level, Okonkwo adopts the traditional Ibo model of masculinity by prospering as a Yam farmer and marrying multiple wives. However, because Unoka was “lazy and improvident,” (Achebe 4) and was “known in all the clan for the weakness of [his] machete and [his] hoe, ” (Achebe 17) “Okonkwo threw himself into [farming] like one possessed…by the fear of his father’s contemptible life and...
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