Okonkwo in “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe

The book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe details the tragic fall of the protagonists, Okonkwo, and the Igbo culture desecration due to colonization. The book follows Okonkwo’s life from his poor background to becoming a leader and outcast in the Umuofia community. The critical events include his exile from the community for killing a clansman, his return, and the emergence of the white man’s religion in the Umuofia community. The essay details the father-son relationship between Okonkwo, the father, and his eldest son. In addition, the essay illustrates the effects of colonization on the Igbo culture, such as the erosion of their social way of life.

Father-son Relationship and Okonkwo’s Tragic Flaw

In the book, Things Fall Apart, there are two father-son relationships, Okonkwo and Unoka, his father, and Okonkwo and Nwoye, his eldest son. In both cases, the father-son relationship is not ideal as the sons have different values than their fathers. Nwoye revolts against his father’s norms as he prefers embracing modern beliefs. The result of Okonkwo’s personality is rebellion, as the son is the complete opposite of their father.

Okonkwo wanted Nwoye to continue his legacy as he was the eldest son in the family and thus was strict with him. Okonkwo’s strictness stemmed from his apprehension of being identified with his father’s heritage (Achebe 50). All his life, the fear of failure haunted Okonkwo due to his father’s tainted legacy. His father had been a failure, and his life’s goal was to move in the opposite direction as far as possible.

He strayed against the community values and was isolated in the end. Okonkwo despises his father and thus works hard to disassociate himself from his legacy by acquiring wealth (Achebe 131). Okonkwo’s father is deemed a failure in the Ibo society. He was ever indebted and thus left his son with no inheritance. Okonkwo strived to prove that his life was not based on his father’s failed legacy. Nwoye has a troubling connection with his father as he does not follow his character, such as being irrational.

Okonkwo’s constant harassment of his son was to prevent him from becoming like his grandfather. Okonkwo viewed his son as a symbol of laziness, similar to his father. In addition, Nwoye has feminine features, preferring to listen to his mother’s stories over his father’s battle memories. Okonkwo is determined never to appear weak in front of anyone to avoid comparison with his father.

Okonkwo’s terrible weakness is his fear of seeming frail like his father. He embraces masculinity with anger and violence and thus does not have an emotional connection with his family. As a result, he behaves rashly, causing pain and suffering to himself and his family. Ironically, Okonkwo ridicules his father, but he raised a son who had a similar character father. Okonkwo is a wealthy, titled man and embodies self-respect, but his father dies in debt. Okonkwo is a hard worker, although his father is lazy. The irony is that the more Okonkwo strives to avoid being like his father, the more he is plagued by the fear of meeting the same fate as his father. Both are left to decay in the wicked woodland without being properly buried.

Effect of Colonialism in Umuofia

The Igbo and the white colonial culture tend to follow their customs and values. When missionaries arrived from Britain, aiming to spread Christianity and colonize the city, it disrupted the religious practices, judicial system, and social life of Umuofia. The missionaries and colonizers are quick to change elements of traditional Igbo culture that they consider inappropriate. These include the practice of polygamy, the killing of twins, and replacing Igbo courts.

The Igbo culture embraced polygamy as it was practiced in many households. The women had accepted this culture and suggested possible marriage arrangements to their husbands. However, the white missionaries were against this practice based on the scriptures. Another Igbo tradition was killing twins as they were viewed as evil (Achebe 127). The missionaries forbade this practice as no man could decide when a man’s life should end.

The Igbo also had their judicial systems based on knowledge passed on through generations regarding their culture. The oldest men in the village served as the court leaders as old age was synonymous with wisdom (Achebe 104). The missionaries replaced the Igbo courts; thus, people did not comprehend right or wrong actions based on the white man’s religion. They wanted to belittle Umuofia’s religion and urge them to abandon their gods.

The whites considered Africans backward and believed it was their duty to enlighten them. The natives thus lost their customs and traditions as the new white man’s culture replaced them. The invaders constructed a house in a forbidden area, exhibiting a lack of knowledge of the Umuofia people’s local taboos. Igbo society was split apart as many people joined Christianity to get their children educated by Christians to attain positions of authority in the future administration. Okonkwo’s son joined the missionaries also created conflict between the two cultures.

As Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye was a follower of Igbo culture, his abandonment of the culture embraced by his father illustrates the divide among the Igbo people. Nwoye started abandoning his cultural values and traditions and his family, which resulted in a rift between Nwoye and Umuofia (Achebe 137). The power of the modern judicial system triumphed over the old tribal courts. Finally, the people were afraid to strike back immediately, fearing the white man’s violence rather than societal preservation.

Okonkwo kills the head messenger at the village assembly, but no one attempts to apprehend the other messengers. Okonkwo wants to preserve his culture, but Christianity is changing people. Although his battle against the new culture is vain, Okonkwo does not give up. Even if it means losing his life, Okonkwo is prepared to battle. Okonkwo is a sad hero, as his struggle to maintain his culture costs him both his property and his life. Okonkwo committed suicide himself to avoid conforming to the white man’s rules.

His tragic death could be read as a last and desperate act of defiance in the face of looming defeat. In addition, suicide was taboo; thus, it signifies the death of the authentic African culture. This shows that the community had been diluted and corrupted by the colonizers. By killing himself, Okonkwo illustrates that he does not want to discard his identity, beliefs, customs, and religion. The Igbo community chose to change its culture to accommodate the white man’s religion due to the benefits accrued to working with the colonists. In contrast, Okonkwo valued his African identity and had no comprise to accept any foreign religion. His death was the last act of rebellion against the loss of the cultural heritage of his community.

Work Cited

Achebe, Chinua. “Things fall apart.” New York: Anchor 178 (1994).

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