Symbols and Themes
The kola nut—The kola nut is offered between parties as a sign of peace and respect. It is as much a part of custom in the tribe as fighting, sacrificing to the gods, and marrying multiple wives. While there are several aspects of the Umuofia clan that may be considered brutal, the breaking of the kola nut evinces a humanity within the tribe that cannot be contested. No matter how primal they may seem at times (and Okonkwo is often depicted as very primal), the tribe (including Okonkwo) will not hesitate to perform this rite in a show of humility, communion, and peace.
Fire—Fire best symbolizes Okonkwo. He is consumed by one passion and one passion alone—and that is to prove his worth. He is so proud and protective of his success that he feels threatened by anyone or anything that dares impinge upon his sense of himself. Thus, he hates weakness because it dims what he believes he reflects. He hates gentleness because it makes him vulnerable. He is like the fire that never abates, until finally it has consumed everything that it can burn. Then, in the end, it is left with nothing. It dies and leaves in its wake an ashen field. Okonkwo realizes this after gazing into the fire in his hut, and the realization depresses him all the more. Fire drives him and consumes him, yet also spells his fate, which is disgrace: suicide by hanging. For when there is nothing left to burn (no reason to live if he cannot live for success), Okonkwo must extinguish himself.
Fear—If fire symbolizes Okonkwo, then fear haunts him. Fear is one of the themes that runs throughout the novel: fear of the gods (which helps support the tribal superstitions); fear of being perceived as weak (which compels Okonkwo to commit both laudatory actions as well as horrific ones); fear of the dark underbelly of the tribe (which prompts Nwoye to suspect his father and draw away from him); fear of violence (which keeps the other villages in a position of inferiority with regard to Umuofia); and fear of the alien (which allows the...
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