I am doing my essay on Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I choice this novel because it has interesting themes such as culture differences, kinship, and manliness. I also choose this novel because of its styles and some of its themes are the use of proverbs in Things Fall Apart, the way Achebe portrayed Okonkwo in the novel. Things Fall Apart is an African literature book and this novel deals with an African society before colonism and during colonism. By dealing with an African society at two different times the novel reveals how individuals, or a group of people reacts when societies came to contact and the effects of the contact and this was one of the reasons why I choose Things Fall Apart.
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Due to these reasons I decided to investigate: Is Okonkwo a victim or a villain in the novel Things Fall Apart? Personally I find this question important because people tend to forget Okonkwos’ great achievement when he committed suicide but from this research question I seek to understand why his clan members did not back him up or stand by him when misfortune hit his way?. As a result of the question that I mentioned above that is why I seek to understand if Okonkwo was a victim of his own culture beliefs or a villain as most people tend to believe he is. I seek to understand this by illustrating his strengths and weaknesses and also the way the author portrayed him in the novel.
A villain is a person who plays the main bad character in a story or an in play, while a victim is someone who is suffering for something he/she did not commit. Or someone who’s suffering from the effect of problems or bad ways of living that others caused. People have different interpretation of Okonkwo. Some believe that he is a villain and others believe that he is a victim of his own culture.
The Igbo’s culture tolerated verbal abuse in some extent and this caused Okonkwo great suffering from his childhood when a friend of his told him that his father was an Agbala. This broke him down as a child psychologically and he decided to hate everything his father liked, because he was seen as a failure. This is his first victimisation because the clan called his father an Agbala so he tried to prove his clan wrong in a bad way, even though the narrator said that “the clan judges a man by his worth not by the worth of his father”(Achebe 6). As long as they tolerate verbal abuse and this can also break a man spirit, indeed it broke his spirit and he escaped reality by hating everything his father loved. So the clan was possibly one of the main reasons why he hated his father and everything he liked. Okonkwo was a victim here because of his surroundings, how people perceived his father and the shame he felt is now converted to hate towards his father.
The fact that the author introduced Okonkwo so much into his culture at a very early age of his infancy shows how much of a victim he was as he mentioned that in proverb when Nwakibie said “If a child washes his hands he could eat with kings”(Achebe 6). This proverb might possibly mean that Okonkwo started believing and following his customs at a very young age and he behaved responsibly that is why he was surrounded by elders. This makes me sympathise with him because he was a child, ignorant when he was introduced to it, he could not differentiate the rights and wrong properly so he thought that all he was learning was right because that had been always the way. As a result of the shame that he was surrounded by great men and his father wasn’t he escapes reality by being fierce.
His customs beliefs victimised him at two different times. When he was young he hated his father Unoka because he did not reach their cultural standard definition of “manliness”. When he got older he disowns his own son Nwoye, because his child questions his custom; first when twins were thrown away and this is shown on page forty-three, because twins were seen as an abomination and than secondly when his father killed Ikemefuna. The Igbo culture did not make much sense to him that is possibly why he rejected his cultural beliefs and followed Christianity. To emphasise how much of a victim Okonkwo was the author uses Nwoye to reject his cultural beliefs, he might have possibly wanted us to compared Nwoye escape from his culture beliefs to Christianity and Okonkwo’s escape from his fear of being thought weak to aggression. This emphasise Okonkwo victimisation because if the British colony or an other different culture came when he was still small, he wouldn’t have escape his fears of being thought weak through aggression. This would have been the case because he would have two different cultures (societies) ways of living and this could have helped him to make the right decision. Here his cultural beliefs made his nuclear family to fall apart before even things started falling apart for the entire community.
The Ibo men respected and believed their gods and they would do anything to please the gods of their lands and their ancestors without looking at realities, all they cared about was the spiritual world .When Okonkwo shot Euzudu’s sixteen years old son by mistake, this man was one of the oldest man in his clan during his life time and this happen during his funeral. The clan forgot Okonkwo’s good services, such as being a great warrior, being the messenger of the clan when Umofia had quarrel with his neighboring village such as in case of Ikemefuna. They did not even regarded the titles that Okonkwo had achieved so far but they sent him to exile just to please the gods and ancestors since it is “an abomination ”for a clan man to kill his clan men. When he was sent to exile they did not only exclude him from his land but they also burnt his houses, and destroyed the red walls and they also killed his animals.
Looking at this at an anthropological point of view I sympathised with Okonkwo because excluding someone from his/her culture is like making a different person out of that person, because culture can be defined as the totality of a people. Excluding someone from his/her society like in this case won’t just pull the individual down financially, but its can cause a psychological breakdown or even death if the changes are enormous. This can also justify his death because he felt like he was in a totally different environment. This makes me sympathise with him because his clansman sent him to exile, because he “polluted” the environment with a kinsman blood. But they did not do much when Enoch killed the sacred python which was a more serious case.
After seven years Okonkwo had returned to Umofia and his land changed drastically the missionaries took control of the land. The new born in the church and village customs followers became in great conflicts, Enoch the son of the priest of the snake cult, had killed and eaten the sacred python. Okonkwo the strong culture believer wanted the clan to act as they used to by fighting the church, but the clan members refused to do so and they believed that their gods and ancestors could still fight their own battles when Enoch died. This same Enoch also unmask and killed an Egwugwu, the Egwugwus of Umofia went to the church and destroyed it even though they were told not to do so by Reverend James Smith. Okonkwo was among the leaders who went to destroy the church because they wanted to honor the Egwugwu that was unmask and killed. They did this to please and show their gods that they still cared for them and in return they were put into shame in jail.
Okonkwo could take no more of this shame and some leaders of Umofia, so they decided to call on a meeting on the village Ilo to discuss what they are going to do next to stop the shameful sacrilege their gods and ancestors were suffering. They did not go long with that meeting when five court messengers were sent to order them to stop the meeting. Okonkwo could not bear this any longer; he raised his machete and cut the head of one of the messengers. As usual Okonkwo played the “hero” but this time no one backed him up because his clan members are allowed other messengers to escape, and they start even asking him why he had done such an action. At this point of time Okonkwo understood that he could no longer fit in Umofia his fatherland, the land that he has been so proud of in his entire life. He understood that he could no longer fit in it, because the clan that made him a great warrior and the clan that introduced him into violence had changed. Before they did not even think twice if a man brought shame or dishonor to their gods and ancestors like they did when Okonkwo broke the week of peace, when they obeyed the gods to kill Ikemefuna, or when Okonkwo polluted the clan by killing a clansman. They took drastic decision to please and obeyed their gods but now they started thinking twice even to go to a just and fair war when their culture and gods were threatened by foreigners.
When the Ibo men made sacrifices to their gods and ancestor. They prayed for health, good life and protection as Unoka did when he received a visit from Okoye the man to whom he own money. I found it ironic that Okonkwo made a lot of sacrifices to his gods and ancestors but they did not protect him as they should because of all his sacrifices; like When he killed a messenger they should have help them to act as one big family like they used to do. They just let them fall apart because they did not back up their “hero” as they always do before the British domination. The Ibo men also prayed for good life but Okonkwo life was full of tragic. He went to exile, his son Nwoye rejected him and this also contradicts their saying of if a man says yes his Chi also agrees and this is shown to us on page nineteen. Okonkwo said yes firmly because of his regular sacrifices, the ways he obeyed the gods and customs and also because of his hard work, but they often let him down and when they did it was always a big tragedy example when he killed Ezeudu’s son by mistake and in exile his son left him.
At that point may be Okonkwo might possibly thought how he served, respected and carried out the gods will and how he put into practice the clan customs. He hated his father because he was laughed at by the clan, he lost his son because he was too harsh on him because he wanted him to think like an Umofian son but he did not. He followed the commissionaires’ ways and ceased to be his son at that moment. He might also think why the gods should have given him such kind of a son. He went to jail and he got disrespect by the court messengers just to bring back honour to his gods and he even played the “hero” by killing one of the court messengers, yet his gods did not protect him. Okonkwo death makes me sympathize with him because he escaped reality through hard work and his custom beliefs. The fact that he relay on his culture beliefs too much he uses their culture perception of manliness as his way of escaping his fear or realities. When he killed a court messenger to him it was right because that is how men supposed to act, and now that his culture no longer tolerates violence which is part of “manliness”. He did not have anything else he could escape his fears that is why he commit suicide.
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On the other hand other people believe that Okonkwo was a villain because of its characters and the way Achebe portrayed him in the novel. At the beginning of the novel the author describes Okonkwo physically as “he was tall and huge, and his bushy eyebrows and wide nose gave him a very severe look” (Achebe 3). From this description the author he is try to tell us readers that we are dealing with a man which is scary physically and he continued saying that “when he walked, his heels hardly touched the ground and he seemed to walk on springs, as he was going to pounce on somebody”(Achebe 3). “And he did pounce on people quite often” (Achebe 3). This description shows that we are dealing with a strong and very angry man because of the mentioning of he did pounce on people quite often. Okonkwo never admits that is wrong and this shown to us clearly when he broke the week of peace by beating up his third wife Ojiugo. When he was forgiven after making sacrifices he did not admit that he was at fault, because it is mentioned that “but Okonkwo was not the man to go about telling his neighbors that he was in error”, on page twenty two.
I found this very ironic because Okonkwo was known as the man who respected and obeyed the gods. The author is implying that when a man makes any sacrifices to please God, someone, or the gods in this case is because he or she thought about his or her action and admits that he or she is wrong. That’s why he or she makes sacrifices to plead for forgiveness, but the author mentioned that on page twenty two that Okonkwo told his neighbors that he was not at fault. Even though he broke the week of peace and bring sacrifices to the gods he did not admit his fault. This is very ironic because he was supposed to obey the gods and he even said to his son Nwoye that he would not accept a son who does not follow the ways of the gods and their ancestors. This shows that he really did not care that much about their gods and ancestors as he claimed he just wanted people to do things in his way.
The author mentioned that Okonkwo’s entire life was dominated by fear of being thought weak. So Okonkwo was trying so hard to be someone who he wasn’t, this is so bad because when you are trying to be someone else, actually they won’t be full joy in your life because the really you is hidden somewhere and this affects individuals directly or indirectly and it did affects Okonkwo in both ways. Its affect him directly because he could not express his others emotions like love and gentleness towards people because he was afraid to be thought weak. This ended up bad for him because his son Nwoye never saw the softer side of him this is possibly that is why he ran away and rejected him because he wasn’t really that kind of father that he could look up too. This fear of weakness affects him indirectly because his household was dominated by fear of his anger the wives did not have the right to express themselves freely, because they were afraid of him or even if the dare to do they would be beaten or they won’t get any answer at all. This is shown when his first wife asked him if Ikemefuna was staying with them for long he told her “Do what you are told, woman” (Achebe 10). This shows that his family had lack of speech because he wanted people to do things his ways and this affected him because he did not know what his family thought about him. If a family can not hold a conversation together things will easily fall apart because through conversation people learn from their mistake and they always have people who will back them up in case of a problem, because they know how they feel and they can advice you as well if they sense danger. Since Okonkwo did not make time to talk and listen to his family that is why he suffered alone if things went wrong.
A large family in most African countries before colonialism meant success, power and the most influenced an individual was if he or she had a large family. This people often have many resources such as large barn and they were big farmers. Okonkwo had quite a large family because he had three wives and more than eight children. Okonkwo exploited his children because he wanted them to work the way he did and everything had to be perfect. In families parents teach their children what to do so that they can sort out problems themselves in case they are not there, or if the child finds himself or herself in a very difficult situation. Parents also understand that each child has he or her own personality and they do learn also differently, some might learn faster and the others slower. He always worries about his son Nwoye because he was too womanish according to him and he started comparing Nwoye and Ezinma indirectly and he even wished that his daughter was a boy. No matter what effort the boy would do to please him he would always abuse Nwoye by insulting him or threatened him. He did this quite often like when him, Nwoye, and Ikemefuna were preparing yams to sow on page twenty three “Do you think you are cutting up yams for cooking? He asked Nwoye. If you split another yam of this size, I shall break your jaw”. This also shows that he is never satisfied to any effort work made by someone unless it is done the way he wanted it to be even though he won’t show the emotion that he is at least pleased. He did not only do that with his son Nwoye but almost with every one. The author mentioned that his family worked hard but they dare not to complain. This show what kind of dictator Okonkwo was, all he wanted was his pride he did not care about the others feelings.
Okonkwo understands fatherhood from one perspective which is a man that can provides food for his entire family every single day, have tittles to make his family proud. He did not really know what it is to be a father. Euzeudu the oldest man in quarter of Umofia warned Okonkwo by telling him ‘that boy calls you father. “Do not bear a hand in his death”(Achebe 40) The man who told Okonkwo this was warning him and by telling him this, it was an other way to tell him that you are a father figure to this boy and he is part of your family. I find this very significance that Ikemefuna had to say “my father, they have killed me!”, this is shown to us on page forty three the author must might have possibly wanted to show us how Ikemefuna consider Okonkwo as his father. Instead of Okonkwo just watch but he went a head and killed the boy, this action really made him a villain because he killed someone he loved because he was afraid of being thought weak and this shows us how heartless he was.
As a result of his weaknesses and strength I think that Okonkwo is a victim of his culture beliefs. In the Ibo society a man is respected if he had a large family, many relatives and if he had titles. Their customs tolerate violence and aggression and they saw this as part of “manliness”. The author mentioned that Okonkwo’s life was dominated by the fear of being seen weak. The fact that he was afraid of being thought weak and this made him weaker and he escaped his weaknesses or realities through hard work and violence. This is shown on page forty five, second paragraph when he said “if only he could find some work to do he would be able to forget”. The death of Ikemefuna torments him, he could not eat or do anything because he was feeling guilty so if he had something to do he would have not have suffer as he was suffering now. This clearly shows how he used work to escape from reality and it also shows that Okonkwo wasn’t heartless because he was suffering from his action, so he was looking for work to occupy his mind.
While analysing this novel one might find that Okonkwo was one the strongest characters who persisted changed. Okonkwo became stronger and more into his cultural beliefs because his society made him stronger while the punished him. He got stronger because he carried out difficult task such as killing Ikemefuna because this boy became part of his family. We could see that this task was difficult for him because he looked away when the man who gave the poor boy the first machete blow and this is shown on page forty three when the author mentioned that: “As the man who had clear his throat drew up and raised his machete, Okonkwo looked away”. He also felt guilty afterwards because he could not eat for few days, some people may argue on this point that no one asked him to carry the task. Yes I agree as well with those people to some extent, when he went visit his friend Obierika, he asked Obierika why he did not came to kill the boy his friend reply he had better things to do. And Okonkwo replied that “you sound as if you question the authority and the decision of the oracle, who said he should die” (Achebe 46). When his friend told him that he wasn’t asked to do it, Okonkwo replied: “But someone had to do it” (Achebe 46). This might possibly show how much of his cultural believer he was, because the oracle was an intermediate between them and their gods. Okonkwo has done so many difficult things to please his gods and to follow his cultural beliefs therefore he became the strongest person, that is why he killed the missionary in the spot because that is how the Igbo always reacted when they saw an abomination coming their ways and if their lives and gods were threatened. His clansmen did the same thing when he killed Ezeudu’s son they took a decision that they believed it was best for them at the spot.
Nurture made him the person he was because the Ibo people saw aggression and violence as one of the “good” qualities of a man. That is why at younger ages young men were introduced to violence through wrestling matches. Okonkwo escape his weaknesses and fears through his customs beliefs. At the end of the novel he Okonkwo commits suicide probably because his culture had changed, aggression and violence weren’t tolerated any longer, because of new rules and new political structure that the colony brought in Umofia. He did not have anything else to escape to that is why he ended up his life therefore I believe Okonkwo was a victim of his culture beliefs.
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