Okonkwo in things fall apart

Ayoola Sosan Written by Ayoola Sosan · 1 min read >

Some weeks ago, I read the debut novel by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. A few chapters into the book, I began to ask myself why it took me so long to read this book. I began to see why the book is a classic. The author’s writing style was very descriptive and explicit. I felt like I was in a movie. I could imagine and play out every scene in the book.

The book is a classic narrative about Africa’s tragic encounter with Europe as it establishes a colonial presence on the continent.

However, my post will be about a specific character in the book; Okonkwo, the protagonist or main character. Okonkwo is a leader in his thirties in the Igbo community of Umuofia. Okonkwo is known as a wrestler, a fierce warrior, and a successful farmer of yams. He has three wives and many children who live in huts on his compound. Throughout his life, he wages a never-ending battle for status. His life is dominated by the fear of weakness and failure. He is quick to anger, especially when dealing with men who are weak, lazy debtors like his father.

The authors describe him as “tall and huge” with “bushy eyebrows and a wide nose that gives him a very severe look.” When Okonkwo walks, his heels barely touch the ground, like he is walking on springs, “as if he is going to pounce on somebody.” Okonkwo “stammers slightly” and his breathing is heavy.

However, as the son of the womanly and lazy Unoka, he strives to make his way in a world that seems to value manliness. Unoka was idle, poor, profligate, cowardly, gentle, and interested in music and conversation. He is ashamed of his father because he does not agree with his idleness or gentleness. Even though he feels inward affection at times, he never portrays affection toward anyone. Instead, he isolates himself by showing anger through violent, stubborn, irrational behavior. Okonkwo demands that his family work long hours despite their age or limited physical stamina. He nags and beats his wives and son, Nwoye, whom Okonkwo believes is womanly like his father, Unoka.

Okonkwo is impulsive; he acts before he thinks. Consequently, Okonkwo offends the Igbo people and their traditions, as well as the gods of his clan. Okonkwo is advised not to participate in the murder of Ikefemuna. However, he actually kills Ikefemuna because he is “afraid of being thought weak.” When the white man brings Christianity to Umuofia, Okonkwo is opposed to the new ways. He feels that the changes are destroying the Igbo culture. Changes that require compromise and accommodation are two qualities that Okonkwo finds intolerable. Too proud and inflexible, he clings to traditional beliefs and mourns the loss of the past.

What intrigued me about the book was the way the author decided to end his character. When Okonkwa rashly kills a messenger from the British district office, his clansmen back away in fear; he realizes that none of them support him and that he can’t save his village from the British colonists. Okonkwo is defeated. He commits suicide, a shameful and disgraceful death like his father’s.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Up Next: ATC
%d bloggers like this: