Okonkwo: The Noble Savage In Achebe's "Things Fall Apart"

1762 words - 7 pages

In Achebe's Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo functions as the protagonist of the novel. He is the first to be referred to in the novel and the last. He is portrayed by Achebe as a tragic hero in the classical sense. Apart from all his virtues, Okonkwo's few but hideous weaknesses lead to his drastic tragic end. His rise and fall is described in a culture that is bound by traditions and superstition.Achebe succeeds to convey Okonkwo's heroic figure to the reader as soon as the novel opens:"Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements."The narrator recounts the incident in which Okonkwo was able to beat Amalinze the Cat, whose back never touched the ground. Okonkwo's heroic figure is, then, emphasized through depicting his physical appearance that fills the reader's heart with awe:"He was tall and huge, and his bushy eyebrows and wide nose gave him a very severe look."Surprisingly, the character of Unoka, Okonkwo's father, radically contrasts with his son's. Unoka was a failure; he never won a title and was always in debt. Though he was dexterous at music and very gentle, he was still considered by the clan to be a coward and a spendthrift. His wife and children barely had enough to eat: "When Unoka died he had taken no title at all and he was heavily in debt. Any wonder then that his son Okonkwo was ashamed of him?"Thus, Okonkwo is ashamed of his father throughout his whole life, where he struggles not to become like him. It is lucky for him that the clan does not judge people by their fathers, but by people's own worth. Okonkwo is young when he first starts his strive for success, but his start is hard: "It was slow and painful. But he threw himself into it like one possessed. And indeed he was possessed by the fear of his father's contemptible life and shameful death." He manages to build his own fortune through share-cropping and asks a wealthy man in the clan to help him. He also, unlike his father who used to fear the sight of blood, excels at war and is the first to bring home a human head in Umuofia's latest wars. As a result, Okonkwo gains many titles and becomes one of the prosperous clan leaders, whose word is well-respected.However, Okonkwo's fear of becoming like his father not only leads to his success but also to his misery. Such fear is the reason behind all his faults and weaknesses that finally lead to his destruction. In other words, Okonkwo's fear of becoming like his father forces him to strive for success to escape the phantom of his father's idleness and laziness; but at the same time it results in his over-pride, cruelty, and rashness, where gentleness is considered in his society of manliness to be weakness: "And so Okonkwo was ruled by one passion--- to hate everything that his father Unoka loved. One of those things was gentles and another was idleness."Okonkwo's sense of pride is manifest in many parts of the novel. For instance, he is impatient with those...

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