What makes a successful man? This, in itself, is a culture bound question because it can vary from culture to culture. However, in the perception of Okonkwo, the main character in Chinua Achebe's novel, Things Fall Apart, the measure of a man's success is based on two elements, material acquisition and growth, and physical prowess. This is ironic for Okonkwo since his people's typical idea of success seems to be constructed of a complex, strong spiritual culture, seemingly able to deal in traditional ways with any challenge in nature and human experience. (Ravenscroft 9) Although Okonkwo is undoubtedly an important member of Umuofian society, he is not a typical representative of that society. (Taiwo 115) It is this basic dichotomy between Okonkwo and his own culture that directly lead to the tragic fall of Okonkwo, and ultimate disgrace.
I feel that it is important to note at this time that Things Fall Apart is a tragedy, and Okonkwo is a tragic hero. For TFA to be a tragedy, it must follow the following pattern...
"A tragedy .. is the imitation of an action that is erious, has magnitude, and is complete in itself; in language with pleasurable accessories, each kind brought in separately in the various parts of the work; in a dramatic, not in a narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish it catharsis of such emotions"
Okonkwo is a tragic hero because he is superior to the regular people of the tribe, "Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond" he's an extremist, ".whenever he was angry and could not get his words out quickly enough, he would use his fists" (Achebe 3), he imposes his own reality on people, "His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper" (Achebe 9), demands more of life than life can give, "When did you (Okonkwo) become an old woman?" (Achebe 45), and finally moves from a position of happiness to that of misery, "It is an abomination for a man to take his own life..." (Achebe 147). It is important to establish these facts because it exemplifies Okonkwo's journey, and ultimately that of the Ibo people (as Achebe intended), as tragic in nature.
As stated earlier, Okonkwo was obsessed with success. This manifested itself in many materialistic ways. First, he started out with nothing since he inherited nothing from his debt ridden father. He was forced to borrow seeds from a wealthy man. This was something he hated doing, but realized it was the only way to begin to become the man he wanted to be. "I began to fend for myself at an age when most people still suck at their mothers' breasts. If you give me some yam seeds I shall not fail you." (Achebe 16) Here we can see that Okonkwo started adulthood, in fact supporting his family, at a very early age. He began to cultivate his farm before many of the other townspeople. This unfortunately lead to disaster the first year since the rains came early and much of his crop was destroyed. Okonkwo persisted. Okonkwo was a man possessed with succeeding. "Since I survived that year,' he always said, I shall survive anything.' He put it down to his inflexible will." (Italics by me) This offers the reader a clear picture of the type of man Okonkwo was, very driven and determined to succeed.
Okonkwo also valued physical strength as an element of success. He was known as the best wrestler in all the nine villages and was never beaten. He even beat The Cat who, up to that time, had never been beaten.
"(Okonkwo) was tall and huge, and his bushy eyebrows and wide nose gave him a very severe look... When he walked, his heels hardly touched the ground and he seemed to walk on springs, as if he was going to pounce on somebody." (Achebe 3)
Okonkwo also possessed great wealth, including two barns of yams and three wives. It was looked upon favorably if you took on more than one wife. This meant that...