Chinua Achebe’s novel “Things Fall Apart” chronicles the life of Okonkwo, a strong man whose existence is dominated by fear and anger, and the Ibo tribe, a people deeply rooted in cultural belief and tradition. As events unfold, Okonkwo’s carefully constructed world and the Ibo way of life collapses. The story of Okonkwo’s fall from a respected and feared leader of the Ibo tribe to an outcast who dies in disgrace dramatizes his inability to evolve beyond his personal beliefs, affecting the entire Ibo tribe beyond measure. The “things” that fall apart in Achebe’s novel are Okonkwo’s life – his ambition, dreams, family unity and material wealth – and the Ibo way of life – their beliefs, culture and values.
The greatest force that compelled Okonkwo to succeed was his fierce desire to be nothing like his father, resulting in his deep seated fear of failure and weakness. Thus, Okonkwo bred a furious temper, abusing his wives and children, and ruled his home harshly and without benevolent emotion. “Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness” (Achebe, 1958, p. 13, para. 1). His father, Unoka, was considered a failure by Ibo standards; labeled agbala (“agbala was not only another name for a woman, it could also mean a man who had taken no title” (Achebe, 1958, p. 13, para. 1), he was regarded by his village, Umuofia, as lazy and effeminate; Unoka died heavily in debt and had taken no tribal titles in his lifetime. Okonkwo was ashamed of Unoka, and was obsessed with becoming the antithesis of him; this obsession would ultimately prove to be a tragic character flaw for Okonkwo and serve as the foundation not only for his success, but also for his demise.
In an unfortunate incident at the market in Mbaino, one of Umuofia’s female tribe members is killed by a neighboring clan and, in accordance with Ibo custom, an ultimatum was dispatched: “choose between war on the one hand, and on the other the offer of a young man and a virgin as compensation” (Achebe, 1958, p. 11, para. 2). Because the village of Umuofia is widely feared, Mbaino peacefully presents a fifteen year old boy and a virgin to Umuofia as retribution for the killing, and it is decided the boy, Ikemefuna, will stay with Okonkwo until the elders decide his fate. “Ikemefuna's stay in Okonkwo's home was supposed to be a temporary arrangement -- until the clan decided what was to be done with him -- but he ended up living as a member of the family for three years” (Akwani, 2011, para. 11). Okonkwo places Ikemefuna in the home of his most senior wife, who is also the mother of Okonkwo’s oldest son, Nwoye.
Ikemefuna is very well-liked by Okonkwo and his family, and becomes a mentor and best friend to Nwoye. Okonkwo feels dismay that Nwoye is taking on the torpid characteristics of his grandfather, Unoka, and is quite pleased that Nwoye is thriving and maturing under Ikemefuna’s guidance. ...