Okonkwo’s downfall in Things Fall Apart can be attributed more to his own shortcomings than to external factors. Discuss Chinua Achebe’s 1959 masterpiece, “Things Fall Apart” is centred on the rise and eventual fall of one of Umuofia’s most fabled warriors, Okonkwo. Mighty though he is, Okonkwo’s downfall is mostly attributed to his own underlying flaws rather than those of his social environment. In this piece I intend to prove that Okonkwo’s suicide was not the sole result of external factors such as the introduction of white settlement. Okonkwo’s inability to control his over-exaggerated masculine persona and blatant disregard for his personal ‘chi’ causes his eventual exile and loss of respect from his fellow tribesman. Okonkwo’s stoic demeanour in the face of social change turns the once mighty warrior into a defeated outsider, who in the end takes his own life rather than learning how to adapt. It is thus Okonkwo’s inability to venture from his volatile norm and adapt to a more subtle and polished society that is his ultimate undoing.
Okonkwo’s overly manly personality can be attributed as one of the leading causes of his eventual downfall within his society and his eventual exile. David Heogberg, an associate professor of English at Indiana University, discusses the concept of ‘cultural violence’ and describes it as being the “[specific] violence that is encouraged by the beliefs and traditions of [any] given culture” (Hoegberg 1999). Achebe’s Ibo culture is portrayed as that of ritualised violence that promotes the abandonment of twins in the forest and corporeal punishment to those that break sacred rituals. Achebe constantly supplies the audience with an image of brutality of Okonkwo well above that of the realms of cultural violence. A mere four pages into the novel and readers already have the imagery of a ‘thuggish’ man that “[when] angry and [cannot] not get his words out… would use his fists [instead]” (Achebe 1958). Throughout the entirety of the novel, Okonkwo’s performance of unsanctioned acts of violence such as, the beating of his wife during the Week of Peace and his unnecessary involvement in the death of Ikemefuna, portray a man without regard for his ‘chi’; his personal god, and a man who believes himself above Ibo culture. It is interesting to reflect that, after the death of Ezeudo’s son, when Obierika considers “why [must Okonkwo] suffer for an [inadvertent] offence” (Achebe 1958) that perhaps this seemingly random event is in fact the result of his chi. Okonkwo’s gun exploding and a piece of metal piercing Ezeudo’s son was an act of luck and is it not that a man’s chi governs his luck or lack thereof. This idea can be substantiated through Okonkwo’s mentions of Ezeudo’s warning given to him in regards to Ikemefuna’s execution after hearing of the great warrior’s death. This is Achebe’s way of linking both the act of evil and the later to be revealed consequences of that evil; his destiny being governed by his chi.
Okonkwo’s failure to adapt to a changed Umuofia is one of the major reasons for Okonkwo’s untimely death. Okonkwo was exiled from Umuofia for seven years to his mother’s clan of Mbanta. For seven years Okonkwo was subjected to the humiliation of exile and yet his thoughts only consisted of “rebuilding his compound on a more magnificent scale” (Achebe 1958) and bettering himself in the Umuofia society that he knew. Umuofia had changed over the seven years of his exile, with the introduction of Christianity and soon enough, white government. The fear of reprisal from the white man kept most of Umuofia from violence and it was this Okonkwo questioned most. He could not understand how his people had lost the will to fight because he could not fathom change. Instead of trying to adapt to these changes, he sort to revive the old Umuofia; his Umuofia. This however, did not succeed. Okonkwo’s dashed hopes were epitomised in the market scene where Okonkwo beheads a court messenger and sees that no one had stopped the other messengers from escaping. It was this final act that proved to him that Umuofia was lost; that he was lost. So stubborn and rigid was he that the greatest man of West Africa took his life, an act so foul among his ‘people’ that they could not touch his body, and became the tragic hero.
It is thus clear that Okonkwo’s demise was not born of introduced external factors such as rise of Christianity and white culture. All that was associated with his downfall was of his own making. Through ruthless acts of violence, Okonkwo lost his standings among his people and in the end was banished for his crimes. His own destiny had been determined through his actions. Had Okonkwo been able to control his rage and redefine his sense of manhood, his chi would have governed good fortune. Had Okonkwo been able to adapt to the changes the white man brought rather than hold fast to his ways of violence and anger, he would have survived; so it is clear that Okonkwo’s demise was of his own making.
* Achebe, Chinua. 1958. ‘Things Fall Apart’. New York: Fawcett Crest. Pg 5 * ‘’‘’‘’pg. 118
* ‘’‘’‘’pg. 161
* Hoegberg, David. 1999. ‘Principle and Practice: The Logic of Cultural Violence in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. College Literature 26.1 (Winter). Pg. 69
* Achebe, Chinua. 1958. ‘Things Fall Apart’. New York: Fawcett Crest. * Carroll, David. 1990. ‘Things Fall Apart’. London. Macmillon press Ltd. Pg. 33-60 * Hoegberg, David. 1999. ‘Principle and Practice: The Logic of Cultural Violence in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. College Literature 26.1 (Winter). * Kortenaar, Neil Ten. Spring 2004. ‘Becoming African and the Death of Ikemefuna’. University of Toronto Quarterly. Vol. 73, No. 2. Pg. 1-5