This lesson focuses on an analysis of Okonkwo, the main character in ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe. The lesson also examines significant quotations related to this character.
Okonkwo is the protagonist or main character in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.
Okonkwo’s father Unoka was a drunkard who owed money to everyone. Unoka was not a good provider, and his wife and children often went hungry. As a result, Okonkwo is ashamed of his father and is determined to rise above his upbringing to become a successful citizen and brave warrior.Okonkwo gets his start by asking the wealthy Nwakibie to subsidize his first crop.
‘I began to fend for myself at an age when most people still suck at their mothers’ breasts,’ Okonkwo explains. ‘If you give me some yam seeds I shall not fail you.’ Nwakibie admires Okonkwo’s ambition and gives him eight hundred yams to plant. ‘I have learned to be stingy with my yams. But I can trust you,’ Nwakibie says.
‘I know it as I look at you. As our fathers said, you can tell a ripe corn by its look.”Fortunately, among these people a man was judged according to his worth and not according to the worth of his father.’ Okonkwo is able to work hard and become a successful farmer in spite of his father’s failures. He eventually has three wives and eight children, and becomes a respected member of the Umuofia tribe.
Okonkwo has conflicting ideas about his chi, or personal god.
Okonkwo believes his chi rewards his hard labors. ‘But the Ibo people have a proverb that when a man says yes his chi says yes also. Okonkwo said yes very strongly, so his chi agreed.’On the other hand, Okonkwo avoids responsibility for his own actions by blaming his chi when he faces misfortune. ‘Clearly his personal god or chi was not made for great things.
A man could not rise beyond the destiny of his chi. The saying of the elders was not true–that if a man said yea his chi also affirmed. Here was a man whose chi said nay despite his own affirmation.’
Okonkwo is a valiant warrior, but his tendency toward violent response creates problems in his relationship with family and friends. ‘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.
And he did pounce on people quite often.’He represses his emotions because he believes manly behavior requires stoicism. In addition, Okonkwo stutters. These limitations, along with insecurities due to his dad, may be behind Okonkwo’s tendency to lash out as a first response when he is angry or afraid.For example, Okonkwo clearly loves Ikemefuna, the boy from the Mbaino tribe who comes to live with Okonkwo’s family. When the Oracle decrees that it is time to exact revenge by killing Ikemefuna, Okonkwo is warned to stay home. Instead, he accompanies the posse intent on killing the boy.
When another man strikes Ikemefuna with a machete, the boy runs toward Okonkwo seeking protection. ‘Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak.
‘Okonkwo’s kill of Ikemefuna foreshadows, or hints at, an event that occurs later in the novel. When the tribesmen meet to discuss the threat posed by the Christians, one of the messengers demands safe passage. Okonkwo, in a scene reminiscent of the death of Ikemefuna, immediately offers a violent reaction. ‘In a flash Okonkwo drew his machete.
The messenger crouched to avoid the blow. It was useless. Okonkwo’s machete descended twice and the man’s head lay beside his uniformed body.’
A Man of Tradition
Okonkwo respects the traditions of his tribe and hopes to leave a proud legacy for his descendants. Okonkwo has always been suspicious that his son Nwoye was not developing into a warrior, and is crestfallen when Nwoye joins the white people.
Nwoye has rejected the religion and the culture of his ancestors by choosing another religion.The last straw for Okonkwo occurs when he beheads the messenger. ‘Okonkwo stood looking at the dead man. He knew that Umuofia would not go to war. He knew because they had let the other messengers escape. They had broken into tumult instead of action.
‘Okonkwo is devastated by the change that is occurring in his friends. He realizes that the old ways will be lost, and his descendants will worship other gods. His world is passing away.
Okonkwo goes into the bush and hangs himself in despair.
Okonkwo is a Umuofia warrior who has achieved success while following the traditions of his ancestors. Much of the conflict Okonkwo faces is due to his warrior-like instincts and tendency to react in anger. He watches in despair as the white man moves in, challenging the Umuofia way of life.