ENGL 2112 – World Literature - Modern, section 1 & 90
Dr. Eugene Ngezem10/21/14
A justifying Achebe’s title Things Fall Apart with Okonkwo Author Chinua Achebe speaks of a tribe that is united and resilient; nine villages that have their strong beliefs and customs but things falls apart for the villagers by the tongue, customs, and trickery of the “white man”. In Things Fall Apart Achebe not only shows the downfall of a whole clan but of one special character named Okonkwo. Okonkwo a stern and well respected warrior is brought to dismay leading to his own death, he is a symbolism of his own village soon to be fate for most in Africa. Men and women live to learn, accomplish, and make a means for themselves. When life constantly does not work out as most want it is perceived as though things are falling apart. Okonkwo endures this sense of everything failing, even blaming his chi, his title, his family and eventually his life are all lost. Okonkwo spent his entire childhood to rid himself of his father’s shadow, a lazy and irresponsible man that had no title, no authority, and held many debts. His father in his death was left with no respect or dignity and left Okonkwo with nothing. Fear of ending up like his father; weak and a failure drove Okonkwo to work hard, to become stern and even ill-tempered especially for anything weak and famine. Okonkwo fought to build respect from his village and surrounding villagers. Becoming the greatest wrestler in the nine villages, a wealthy farmer, conquering two out of four titles, and still young became one of the greatest men of his time. With two barns, three wives, and eight to ten children Okonkwo was at his high peak of life and was only climbing his ladder of success. Achebe did not write a story of a happy endings and fairytales and Okonkwo’s climb to success was short lived. During a funeral for his friend Okonkwo like many others honored their friend with gun fire, unfortunately Okonkwo’s bullet pierces his friend’s son in the heart killing him. Everything for Okonkwo spiraled down, him and his family were exiled for seven years, and his home burned down to please the gods. “He lost his place among the nine masked spirits who administered justice in the clan” (Achebe 171), and lost years in being able to take the highest titles in his clan. In one moment life is taking the path we seek and in another it seems to be falling apart and Okonkwo’s life was following such a way. Like everyone when life is not going the way one desires it is for a reason and Okonkwo’s uncle Uchendu reassured Okonkwo with such words that if life goes sour not to be melancholy but take the moment “when there is sorrow and bitterness find refuge in his motherland...allow sorrow to weigh you down and kill you, they (his wives and children) will all die in exile” (Achebe 134). Okonkwo being a strong man, did as he was told and took care of his family planning for his fight again to regain all he lost, but for this tragic character his title in his village was not the first nor last to collapse. Fear to be like his father created Okonkwo to hide is emotion and show any signs of weakness, compassion or love. With his heavy abusive hand and bad temper Okonkwo placed strain on his family. As ill-tempered and irate as Okonkwo was he still loved his people, his family and believed strongly of his gods, leading to his demise. When Okonkwo was told by his people to take in a young boy, an offering to settle an unlawful event, he did so. Although Okonkwo never showed love, the boy named Ikemefuna grew on Okonkwo to a point in which he wished the boy was his true son. When his faith and clan said that the boy must die he did not question it but did the dreadful act of killing him. When the boy ran to Okonkwo crying “my father, they have killed me! Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak” (Achebe 61). Ikemefuna death had a snowball effect of negativity for Okonkwo, because of his own attitude and anger but maybe too his beliefs in his gods. Okonkwo lost another son later in the story his eldest born son Nwoye. Again Okonkwo fear thrived negativity, the distaste of his eldest son being weak and lazy, looking and acting like his own father caused Okonkwo to lay heavy hands towards Nwoye. Always hoping to break the “weakness” in Nwoye. The influence from Ikemefuna brought Nwoye to become more masculine and exhibit the behavior that Okwonkwo would be pleased to see, only to destroy that by killing the brother Nwoye wished Ikemefuna to be. Okwonkwo’s ways pushed Nwoye to bitterness and doubt of his clan’s beliefs, rules, and custom converting him to Christianity an “effeminate” act to Okonkwo, which caused “death” to Nwoye. An example of such feelings towards his once son was when he spoke to his other sons about being a man “You have all seen the great abomination of your brother. Now he is no longer my son or your brother” (Achebe 172). Okonkwo’s disastrous flaw of being terrified of looking weak like his father resulted in his impulsive behaviors, bringing a great misfortune and sorrow upon himself and his family. With the help of the Europeans or “ashy buttocks” (Achebe 174) beliefs Okonkwo’s entire existence fall apart leading to his own undignified death. Wrapped in the with a heart of war and anger, but also in his head strong customs, and being unchangeable Okonkwo takes matters into his own hands. Blood thirsty he kills one of the messengers of the white Christians. Believing the clan would do nothing that his people were weak and going to be destroyed, he took matters into his own hand ending his life rather than forfeiting to the ways of others or being punished by someone outside his people. Okonkwo’s own fear of not being manly, of others not being manly leads him to not only fall apart but to do the weakest act of his people and kill himself.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: First Anchor Books Edition, 1959. Print.