Fate and Free Will in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart
The tragic story of Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart offers many examples of Igbo beliefs regarding free will and fate. Religious life for the Igbo was thoroughly intertwined with secular life. According to the text, the Igbo believed in fate; that nothing happened by chance as every happenstance was the result of Chukwu or God's will. Yet the Igbo also believed that ancestors, lesser gods, and their own chi or personal god also influenced the lives of the living. Thus, if an individual lived in harmony with his ancestors, lesser gods and ultimately Chukwu, that individual would be blessed with good fortune, health and an abundance of children. If, however, an individual lived in disharmony with the deities, misfortune and untimely death would result. (Ohadike xxxii) Free will also affected an individual's life. To an outsider, this dual philosophy of fate versus free will may appear to be a paradox, but one must remember the tragic vision of Western tradition, both secular and religious, that dictates a similar paradox.
It is important to note that Achebe was a product of both traditional Igbo society and the colonizing British culture. Therefore, the narrative is influenced by two strikingly opposed philosophies. The tragic hero, Okonkwo, may have been crafted to express, not only the Igbo philosophy of harmony, but the outsider interpretation of a seemingly paradoxical belief system. Achebe's representation of Okonkwo may symbolize the collision of these two conflicting philosophies.
The synergy between Igbo spirituality and secular life suggests that harmony among members of society was just as important as harmony with the spirits. It may be that Achebe was presenting a possible Igbo interpretation of how their society "fell apart" with the devastating colonization of the British. What part of their decimation was the result of spiritual and secular disharmony among the Igbo, and what part was the result of fate? Okonkwo's own struggle with free will and fate may symbolize this question.
Okonkwo is initially introduced as a proud, hardworking, successful warrior. He is described as "clearly cut out for great things" (6). But he is the son of a ne'er-do-well father; though genial and inoffensive, Unoka must certainly have been considered a failure. He is lazy and does not provide for his family. Not only is this disgraceful, but life-threatening as well. He is dependent on other members of the clan and must have been considered unsuccessful. Okonkwo chafes under such disgrace and his success is a consequence of his desire to be everything his father is not; society's vision of an exemplar citizen. The fact that Okonkwo is able to rise above his poverty and disgraceful paternity illustrates the Igbo's acceptance of individual free will. But Okonkwo's fate and his disharmony with his chi, family and...