An Anti-Hero from the Start
“The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear”- Nelson Mandela. Okonkwo never conquers his fear, but instead does things to hide it. This is illustrated at the end of the book when he takes the easy way out and kills himself. All of Okonkwo’s characteristics of being considered an “anti-hero” are derived from his fear of change, they are what make him act the way he does. In Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the main character Okonkwo portrays a selfish anti-hero who’s opinionated, resentful and insecure ways ultimately lead to his death. The image of an anti-hero begins to appear with Okonkwo’s stubbornness. He doesn’t want to accept other peoples opinion he doesn’t agree with. When Okonkwo and Nwoye’s opinion begin to greatly differ Okonkwo disowns him instead of trying to adapt and create a better relationship with his son. The final thread holding Okonkwo and Nwoye breaks when Mr. Brown goes to tell Okonkwo shortly before the end of his exile that Nwoye is studying to become a teacher. “And he had hoped that Okonkwo would be happy to hear of it. But Okonkwo had driven him away with the threat that if he came into his compound again, he would be carried out of it.”(149). Okonkwo reacts harshly too this instead of considering it with an open mind. Mr. Brown simply went to tell Okonkwo about Nwoye (now called Isaac) with the intentions of making him pride. Another way Okonkwo exhibits stubbornness is when he returns from his exile. Okonkwo can’t stand to see tribal conditions change, even if it’s best for the tribe. For example, “The white man had indeed brought a lunatic religion, but he had also built a trading store and for the first time palm-oil and kernel became things of great price, and much money flowed into Umuofia,”(146). The new customs that are being implemented by the colonists are difficult for him to understand so he refuses to give in and follow them. Once Okonkwo sets his sights on a decision he refuses to be open-minded too anything else until his plan fails or he is forced too. When tensions between the church begin to rise Okonkwo wants to drive the colonists out with force, but when the Egwugwu whom Okonkwo had lost his place in decide to ostracize them instead Okonkwo becomes angry and calls them a bunch of women. Okonkwo is resentful of people who he believes are lazy and doesn’t respect them. His father Unoka was the laziest man he knew, Okonkwo ended up resenting him more than anyone else. “Even as a little boy he had resented his father’s failure and weakness, and even now he still remembered how he had suffered when a playmate had told him that his father was agbala”(12). An agbala is another word for woman. This saddening account along with many others is what has motivated Okonkwo to become such a heartless person. He is afraid that if he shows any emotion or the least bit compassion than he will resemble weakness which reminds him of his father. Okonkwo’s son Nwoye lacks a hardworking attitude. This causes the relationship between him and his father to be strained which can be seen through this quote: “Okonkwo’s first son, Nwoye was then twelve years old but was already causing his father great anxiety for his incipient laziness. At any rate, that was how it looked to his father, and he sought to correct him by constant nagging and beating” (13). Okonkwo’s hatred, which originated with his father, has begun to appear in Nwoye. By abusing his son, he hopes to rid him of laziness, but really he’s just pushing Nwoye further away. Okonkwo is almost completely motivated by fear, but resents anything that resembles it. A noble protector would be able to admit his fears and face them. Okonkwo’s insecurity in how he’s perceived by others shows how much he cares about his image. He is obsessed with his popularity within the tribe; constantly feeling the need to prove his bravery. Sometimes this includes lashing out at people with sudden bursts of anger. On numerous occasions Okonkwo opposes the laws of the village and moral advice of his elders in uncontrollable fear of being considered weak. An example of this can be seen when Okonkwo ignores the advice of Ogbuefi; “Yes, Umuofia has decided to kill him. The oracle of the Hills and the Caves has pronounced it. They will take him outside Umuofia as is the custom, and kill him there. But I want you to have nothing to do with it. He calls you his father” (49). Ogbuefi who is the oldest and most respected man in the village. When a man of such valor arrives at the home of a clansman, he most certainly will carry a compelling piece of advice if any at all. Okonkwo should have taken his advice to not participate in killing Ikemefuma, but decides against it. Besides being stubborn Okonkwo also felt the need to show his masculinity by killing the boy who considers him his father.
Ejiogu, G. U. F., and Chinua Achebe. Things Fall Apart. London: Pitman, 1978. Print.