Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is an enthralling must-read chef-d’oeuvre starring Okonkwo, the protagonist who, despite his hatred towards his father, ends up taking after him. From the first line, the author begins by presenting Okonkwo as a well-known man even beyond the nine neighboring villages.
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The tall, muscular, and fearful character that had unkempt eyebrows and broad nose resented his father for being lazy and irresponsible. Okonkwo is hard working and successful because he tries hard not to be like his father. However, as the paper unveils, Okonkwo’s life is full of contentious situations ranging from failing his people, being a dependant rather than a provider, and being hopeless amongst others, that perhaps make him resemble his father whom he never wanted to emulate.
Okonkwo resented his father’s failure even when he was merely a boy. Even at the helm of his success, he still remembered how he suffered when his playmate said his father was an agbala. From that moment, he learnt that Agbala, not only meant a woman, but also a name for any man with no title, like his father (Achebe 9).
In some sense, these titles did not mean anything to foreigners. Therefore, by the time Okonkwo came to die, he was more or less like his father. He had titles that could not help him, as there was a new system of law. He had titles, which were useless just like those of his father. When Okonkwo and other people of Umuofia decide to take a substantive measure of burning the church, the District commissioner invites them to his office for what he calls palavers. The six leaders agree to attend because meetings like that were normal.
The court messenger even mocks them because of their titles. ”Who is chief among you?’…These anklets are worn even by any pauper now; does it even cost ten cowries?” (Achebe 152). At this point, Okonkwo who was extremely scared of failure, had failed to defend his honor. He slept in the cells and he could do nothing about it. He feared feeling weak as his father. However, at this time, he was literally weak. The new system did not recognize titles and many titled men were through to prisons despite their social statuses.
Unlike Unoka, Okonkwo wanted to feel powerful in the community. He hence worked tremendously hard to exceed the worthless status of his father. In this endeavor, he hurt people close to him. They eventually resented him just as he had resented his father. It is hence sensible to say that, in the end, Okonkwo failed the people who depended on him, who trusted him and those who wanted to follow his example.
The saddest episode was the Killing of Ikemefuna. The council of elders entrusted this ill-feted boy to Okonkwo. He was one of the two people Umuofia got from Mbaino clan in exchange for their daughter who had died. Mbaino compensated Umuofia giving them a virgin girl and a boy, Ikemefuna (Achebe 8).
He was to stay at Okonkwo’s place for only a little while as the community decided what to do with him. He ended up living there for three years (Achebe 40). He became a mentor to Nwoye, Okonkwo’s eldest son. Ikemefuna, in fact, became like family and called Okonkwo father. Nwoye became more responsible with Ikemefuna around. Nwoye felt like a grown-up (Achebe 40). Something that excited his father clandestinely and he knew it was because of Ikemefuna.
The Oracle of fate finally decided that the boy worth sacrificing to Agbala. Okonkwo and other villagers under the pretext of returning him back home took the boy to the forest to kill him. “While in the forest, a man cleared his throat, this scared Ikemefuna who turned back, the man growled to let him keep moving” (Achebe 47). The boy trembled. His body began to shake. The ma drew his machete, as he raised it Okonkwo looked away but he heard the blow.
The pot the boy was carrying fell and broke. The Boy screamed to Okonkwo, “My father, they have killed me! While running towards him. Because of fear of being thought weak, Okonkwo drew his machete and slew the boy down” (Achebe 47). This was despite his peers warning him of having a hand in the boy’s death. At this moment, Okonkwo was more like his father because the boy depended on him for protection and love. However, he could not provide for him. He was so concerned about his reputation.
He overlooked the sanctity of the life of an innocent boy who, in fact, called him ‘father’. Unoka failed to provide food for his family, which starved, he never paid his debtors and he was a failure for failing to be responsible for his family, his children. Okonkwo did not protect Ikemefuna, under his custody, a boy who looked up to him as a father figure, a boy who wanted emulate him. Nwoye is scared of him. He, in fact, sneaks out of the hut as soon as Okonkwo dozes off.
Okonkwo was strong, hardworking, determined and ambitious, Contrary to his father who was hopeless, lazy and desperate. Okonkwo was a brave worrier while his father Unoka feared bloodshed and a coward who was only happy when he played his flute.
Whenever he would get a little money, he would call his neighbors to celebrate and make merry, drinking palm wine (Achebe 4). Although, he was a man who worked as if possessed, “Okonkwo worked from cock crow until dusk when chicken went to roost” (Achebe 9). With these contrasts, Okonkwo ended up like his father – hopeless.
Okonkwo obeyed the Umuofia norms at the expense of his family. Just like his father who only thought about his happiness, playing the flute and celebrating with palm wine whenever he earned little money. Okonkwo on his part was obsessed about obtaining tittles and growing his social status. In this course, he made silly sacrifices like slaying a boy who called him father.
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Even his friend Obierika criticizes him. “If the oracle pronounces death sentence to my son, I would not be the one to kill him” (Achebe 52). That statement disturbed Okonkwo who defended himself that the earth would not punish him for obeying the oracle. However, that was brutal, barbaric and supremely primitive.
During Ezeudu’s funeral, something unexpected happened. Okonkwo accidently blew-up his gun whose bullet inadvertently killed a sixteen-year-old boy, Ezeudu’s son. He quickly flew away. However, as the community laws dictated, he had to atone for his sins by shedding the blood of a clansman. The villagers are aggrieved.
They set fire on his houses, destroying his red walls, killing the animals, and demolishing his barn. The earth goddess wanted this justice upon Okonkwo as it were. The villagers were merely messengers. They did not hate Okonkwo. Even his greatest friend, Obierika was among the destroyers. Their duty was simply to cleanse the land, already contaminated by Okonkwo: killing a fallow clansman (Achebe 125).
He was to live in exile for seven years. At this moment, Okonkwo has nothing. The whole fortune he had accumulated and worked hard for is nowhere following the destruction. He was as poor as his father was. The man who thought on issues, Obierika was thinking more that ever (Achebe 125), but he did not find answers. Obierika only remembers that, sometimes in life, a man needs to reevaluate his relationship with the society, and God (Achebe 125).
This introspection was a sign that the society in which Okonkwo lived was ready to make changes. It was as if a curse was following Okonkwo. His father once went to an agbala to consult why his farming was not delightful. The priestess of the Agbala answered Unoka that he had nobody to blame but himself – for his laziness. In the same fashion, Okonkwo could only blame himself.
After his exile, many things in the clan had changed. There were no more rituals, no more titles, and no more tribal land traditions. The Ugwugwu had been unmasked. The oracle was no more but a modern court of law for justice. He just realized he lost all things he grew up knowing that they defined a man. He could not go up against the system. He was weak and a terrible failure, as he could not save his clan. He ended up emulating his father.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday. 1959. Print.