The novel “Things Fall Apart” written in 1982 by Chinua Achebe’s is homage to his ancestors and the culture of the Ibo tribe in Nigeria. Achebe was born and raised in a large village in Nigeria. He was also educated in Nigeria. After a short career in radio, Achebe began to lecture abroad and settled for a while as an English professor at the University of Massachusetts. Achebe’s blend of culture and harsh reality makes for an amazing read especially in literature. It provides a wealth of information about the culture and traditions of Nigeria, and details about how colonialism was able to tear apart a powerful tribe.
Although Things Fall Apart is a work of fiction, its depiction of Ibo tribes and customs is informative. There was a man who dreamed as a child of being well known and respected throughout his village. This man, Okonkwo, worked hard at his goal, and he achieved it. Although Okonkwo reached his goal at an early age, his life began to Fall Apart when tragic episodes took places. First, Okonkwo, the main character in “Things Fall Apart” is a member of the Ibo culture. The Ibo is held together by one string, which is basically their tradition. Okonkwo is an extreme believer that his way, is the only way.
Okonkwo is also one of the most influential men in the Ibo tribe. In his tribe, he is both feared and honored. Which is evident by this quote, “Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond…? He had brought honor to his tribe by throwing Amalinze the Cat… “(3-4). This suggests that in Okonkwo’s society, power is achieved by making a name for yourself in any way possible, even if that means fighting and wrestling to get your fame. Even though Okonkwo breaks some rules in his own society, he thinks very highly of his own culture.
The Ibo ways are the only ways that Okonkwo allows himself to see. He is a man demanding of his own family, dominating those around him, and rules “his household with a heavy hand”. Okonkwo is plagued by the fear of failure and weakness. Throughout the story he puts his effort into struggles to repress any part of him that may resemble his father. Okonkwo’s story shows us the psychological and social consequences of a new perspective being introduced. Further in the book Okonkwo’s masculine behavior really becomes outrageous when he takes the life of a young boy, who is like his surrogate son.
Ikemefuna is a boy from a neighboring clan who was sent to live with Okonkwo for three years because his father had killed a daughter of Umuofia. During those three years a strong relationship was built between the two of them, but of course Okonkwo showed no affection. Okonkwo would consider himself weak and a failure if he did; so, his only emotion would be anger. “His whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and weakness” (13). In chapter eight, Okonkwo was unable to sleep for the following three days.
He also kept on getting drunk, and that was a sign that he was depressed. This incident also had a long-term effect on Okonkwo. This fear prevented Okonkwo from opening up to others, especially his family. From then on his family would look at him as because of his fault that Ikemefuna is dead. Furthermore, Okonkwo was a character that often took it too far. In one point in the novel he badly beat one of his wives, Ojiugo, during the sacred week. During this time no one in the tribe is to commit such acts, as it is a time for peace.
By beating his wife, he defied the gods and was forced to offer up animal sacrifices and payment to them. This one of Okonkwo’s major character flaws, he is stubborn and self-righteous, and wishes to answer to nobody but himself. Within the Nigerian culture, some say that this is what a real man does, but others argue that Okonkwo beats them because he is truly weak at heart. Okonkwo never really has a ‘legitimate’ reason as to why he beats his wives. This even leads to eventual fate, when he refuses to join the Christians when most everyone else of the tribe gave in to their ideas.
Another episode that showed the downfall in Okonkwo’s life was when Nwoye, his oldest son, converted to the white man’s religion, Christianity. To Okonkwo this was very upsetting because he had other expectations for him, like being a strong, brave man like him. However, Nwoye was immediately attracted to the new religion (148-150). In Christianity, Nwoye finds comfort for things that have long disturbed him, but the religion also provides a way to rebel against his father and his ideas of masculinity.
Okonkwo believes that a weak man will never be able to survive in the village, and fears his son may turn out to be like his own father. A man who has always been weak, lazy; this poor man who could barely provide for his family. He was always in debt and didn’t care to work; he would play his flute all day if he was able to. “People laughed at him because he was a loafer, and they swore never to lend him any more money because he never paid back” (5). But for the most part, Okonkwo’s idea of manliness is not the clan’s. He associates masculinity with aggression and feels that anger is the only emotion that he hould display. The final incident that makes Okonkwo suffer most occurs during Ezeudu’s funeral. Ezeudu was very much respected in the village and so all of the clan attended his funeral. The service was unlike all others because the “one-handed spirit” made an appearance. He made his way over to Ezeudu’s body and spoke: “if your death was the death of nature, go in peace. But if a man caused it, do not allow him a moment’s rest” (123). All of a sudden the most bizarre thing happened. There were cries and shouts of horror. It was as if the one-handed spirit had cast a spell on Okonkwo before he left.
In the center of the cluster of people laid the dead body of Ezeudu’s sixteen year old son. It just happens that Okonkwo’s gun had exploded and a piece of iron, and had gone through the boys heart. Everyone was confused. Deaths were common in the village but nothing of this nature had ever happened. This incident was definitely meant to happen; so, Okonkwo’s life would be ruined. It was as if he was being punished for all the harsh things he had done to people in the past, like his wives and son. It is from here on out that we see (Frederic 5) the life of Okonkwo goes downhill.
Okonkwo in the end decided to hang himself rather than give up his freedom to the white man. Even in his death he defied the gods of his tribe, knowing that he would receive no burial and his body be cast into the evil forest. Rather than accepting defeat and working together with his tribe to bring about change, he chose death and eternity roaming the earth as a lost soul. He had lost his chance to regain back his authority and respect in the community. How one can be sympathetic like Okonkwo. According to Frederic, His obsession with his masculine side made him suffer. He did it to himself.
If he wasn’t so caught up on the idea that if you weren’t violent and brave then you were a woman, perhaps he would still be alive at the end of the novel. He takes his own life because he realizes everything he has done to be that powerful leader was about to be wasted. When he comes back from exile, everything is different. He realizes that the people in the village don’t need him. They are content with change and adapting to a new way of life, unlike him (200-205). They don’t want to go to war and have bloody battles like he does. Okonkwo realized his village was able to survive without him.
By Okonkwo taking his own life, he proved his misery and the idea of him being truly weak at heart was affirmed After all, by looking at Okonkwo’s life, one could see that the title “Things Fall Apart” fits perfectly with the book. Okonkwo is a courageous and wealthy man throughout his tribe. He is a severe man who often resorts to violence to make his points understood. He hated his father, Unoka, because he was a lazy debtor. Okonkwo made it a point in his life to set himself apart from his father by being well known and wealthy as well as becoming a great warrior in the tribal conflicts of Umuofia and the surrounding villages.
However, he went too far; starting from the episode with Ikemefuna, Okonkwo’s life starts falling apart by showing a little weakness. Then, later on in the book, when Okonkwo was thrown out of his clan, one could have been sure that Okonkwo’s hopes of being rich and famous were ruined. After all that, with the incident of Nwoye, one could see that Okonkwo’s life was a total failure. Any speculator could see that Okonkwo had not achieved his goals, but instead, by the end of his life, he had become a failure just like his father.