The Character of Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart
What makes a successful man? This, in itself, is a culture bound
question because it can vary from culture to culture. However, in the
perception of Okonkwo, the main character in Chinua Achebe's novel, Things Fall
Apart, the measure of a man's success is based on two elements, material
acquisition and growth, and physical prowess. This is ironic for Okonkwo since
his people's typical idea of success seems to be constructed of a complex,
strong spiritual culture, seemingly able to deal in traditional ways with any
challenge in nature and human experience. (Ravenscroft 9) Although Okonkwo is
undoubtedly an important member of Umuofian society, he is not a typical
representative of that society. (Taiwo 115) It is this basic dichotomy between
Okonkwo and his own culture that directly lead to the tragic fall of Okonkwo,
and ultimate disgrace.
I feel that it is important to note at this time that Things Fall Apart
is a tragedy, and Okonkwo is a tragic hero. For TFA to be a tragedy, it must
follow the following pattern...
"A tragedy .. is the imitation of an action that is erious, has
magnitude, and is complete in itself; in language with pleasurable accessories,
each kind brought in separately in the various parts of the work; in a dramatic,
not in a narrative form; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to
accomplish it catharsis of such emotions"
Okonkwo is a tragic hero because he is superior to the regular people of the
tribe, "Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond"
he's an extremist, ".whenever he was angry and could not get his words out
quickly enough, he would use his fists" (Achebe 3), he imposes his own reality
on people, "His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his
fiery temper" (Achebe 9), demands more of life than life can give, "When did you
(Okonkwo) become an old woman?" (Achebe 45), and finally moves from a position
of happiness to that of misery, "It is an abomination for a man to take his own
life..." (Achebe 147). It is important to establish these facts because it
exemplifies Okonkwo's journey, and ultimately that of the Ibo people (as Achebe
intended), as tragic in nature.
As stated earlier, Okonkwo was obsessed with success. This manifested
itself in many materialistic ways. First, he started out with nothing since he
inherited nothing from his debt ridden father. He was forced to borrow seeds
from a wealthy man. This was something he hated doing, but realized it was the
only way to begin to become the man he wanted to be. "I began to fend for
myself at an age when most people still suck at their mothers' breasts. If you