Character Analysis of Okonkwo in “Things Fall Apart”
Okonkwo is portrayed as a tragic hero, in the novel Things Fall Apart. To uncover the source of Okonkwo’s tragic flaw, a glimpse into his past is essential. At first, we see Okonkwo as an arrogant, hardworking, warrior. This is his culture’s vision of a great citizen. His father, Unoka was thought of as a failure. He is lazy and does not provide for his family. His culture views him as an unacceptable and unsuccessful citizen, and Unoka was looked down upon. Okonkwo set a goal to be everything his father wasn’t. Although this could be a good goal, it is the one from which Okonkwo’s tragic flaw arises from. Every person has his faults but with Okonkwo, they ultimately lead to his downfall.
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His tragic flaw comes in two parts. The first of which is his obsession with war, fighting, and power. Okonkwo always needed to be involved in an activity, he never wanted to look lazy. He possessed a one-track mind that was focused on nothing but being the best. Another flaw that Okonkwo shows is his pride in his masculinity. This forces him to show no other emotion, except anger and fear of looking weak. This flaw caused Okonkwo to have problems with his family and tribe. This including his violence towards his family, killing Ikemefuna, his seven-year banishment, and decapitating the District Commissioner, with leads to his death.
To begin with, Okonkwo is hard and stern with his family, mostly his son, Nwoye, who does not take after him. It is Okonkwo’s inner fear that Nwoye too would be a failure like his Unoka. He is strict with his wives and never shows his inner emotions. As a man that has provided everything for himself, he is impatient with others who are unsuccessful. During a meeting of the tribe’s elders, he calls another man a woman and says, “This meeting is for men.” This man who he called women had no titles, and so Okonkwo felt that he was not worthy enough.
However, Okonkwo was forced to apologize to him. Okonkwo beats his wife during the Week of Peace when she does not send him his food as required. Breaking the rules of the Week of Peace is considered a sin. “We live in peace with our fellows to honour our great goddess earth…the evil you have committed can ruin the whole clan…and we shall all perish”(pg 30). At the New Yam Festival, he shoots at his second wife, Ekwefi, but misses. He thought that she had cut down his banana tree, but in reality, she had only cut a few leaves. Again this shows his impulsive nature and violent temper.
In addition, Ikemefuna, the boy that was “adopted” into Okonkwo’s family, eventually gains Okonkwo’s love. Although Okonkwo never shows his love for Ikemefuna, in time he calls Okonkwo his father. Inside, Okonkwo wishes that Ikemefuna was his natural son instead of Nwoye. Ikemefuna shows the traits of a great warrior which Okonkwo wants Nwoye to have. When the Oracle of the Hills and Caves orders the death of Ikemefuna, Okonkwo, in order to show his fearlessness, strikes the final blow with his machete, even as the boy is calling to him “My father, they have killed me!”(pg 61). Ogbuefi, the oldest man in the village had asked Okonkwo not to join in the killing of the boy as he called him his father. By Okonkwo killing the boy he has made his second offence against the tribal laws. Okonkwo’s friend, Obrierka, tells him,
“ If I were you I would have stayed at home. What you have done will not please the Earth. It is the kind of action for which the goddess wipes out whole families.”(pg 67). His actions created frustration in the clan. Although Okonkwo didn’t want to participate all he thought about was not to be seen by the other villagers as weak. Unfortunately for Okonkwo, he is making things worse off for himself and the end is soon coming.
Furthermore, at a funeral ceremony for Ezeudu, Okonkwo’s gun explodes. A piece of the metal hits Ezeudu’s sixteen-year-old son, killing him. The tribe considers it an accident or a woman’s crime, but as a consequence. Okonkwo is dismissed from the clan for seven years. This random accident may be the result of fate or punishment for his sins. During Okonkwo’s sentence, the English missionaries have established themselves in the tribe. Upon returning to his village, Okonkwo is unhappy with the changes brought about by the English, both religious and social. His chances of reclaiming his former glory are dashed. Even his son converts to Christianity.
Again we see Okonkwo’s actions coming back to haunt him. Moreover, as tension builds, and Umuofia’s culture and spirituality continue to be assaulted, Okonkwo encourages violence as a solution. Once again, Okonkwo commits a tribal sin. When Okonkwo cannot take any more of the District Commissioner, he beheads one of his messengers. Killing one of the District Commissioner’s messengers threatens the entire tribe. As a result of the act, Okonkwo commits suicide.
When the authorities come to arrest Okonkwo, Obierika shows his emotions saying, “That man was one of the greatest men of Umuofia. You drove him to kill himself, and now he will be buried like a dog…” (208). This suggests that Okonkwo’s end was the result of destiny.
Though Okonkwo is seen as a martyr, he commits suicide realizing that his tribe is no longer with him. On the surface it would seem that Okonkwo was driven by success, however, it is my opinion that Okonkwo was driven by fear, fear of becoming like his father, and in that absolute fear he created his own destiny. In the end, Okonkwo’s own actions lead to death.