The Inflexibility and Hubris of Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
This novel is the definitive tragic model about the dissolution of the African Ibo culture by Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe. Okonkwo, a great and heroic leader, is doomed by his inflexibility and hubris. He is driven by fear of failure.
He had no patience with unsuccessful men. He had no patience with his father.
Unoka, for that was his father's name, had died ten years ago. In his day he was lazy and improvident, and was quite incapable of thinking about tomorrow. (Achebe,4).
The reader gets a rare and exotic understanding of a totally foreign and ancient culture experiencing the growing pains of colonial expansion during the British domination of Nigeria in the late 1800's.
Okonkwo's ferocity is demonstrated in the carrying out of his personal "dread" to the letter within his family, his community, and the invaders. His ferocity, born of fear, is his evil. During the Week of Peace, one of Okonkwo's wives, Ojiugo, has left the compound, ignoring her children and domestic duties, to "plait her hair."
And when she returned, he beat her very heavily. In his anger he had forgotten that it was the Week of Peace. His first two wives ran out in great alarm pleading with him that it was the sacred week. (Achebe, 29) But Okonkwo was not a man to stop beating somebody half-way through, not even for fear of a goddess. (Achebe, 30)
Being unable to bend, he loses self-control and eventually all he has once stood for. The novel examples rites, initiations, and tribal customs whose images can be disturbing to western mentality, but also stresses the parallels and need in all cultures to have such ceremonies acknowledging important events in the passing of their lives. The novel uses compact language, often in parable form. The vocabulary is unique and must be defined by an adequate glossary provided at the end of the text. This is a story of rage and fear mixed with cutting-edge wisdom, self-introspection, and self-destruction. After the death of Ikemefuna, his adopted son, Nwoye, his biological son has taken the way of the invader's religion, abandoning his tribe.
Okonkwo was popularly called the "Roaring Flame." As he looked into the log fire he recalled the name. He was a flaming fire. How then could he have begotten a son like Nwoye, degenerate and effeminate? His wife had played him false. He would teach her! But Nwoye resembled his grandfather, Unoka, who was Okonkwo's father. He pushed the thought out of his mind. He, Okonkwo, was called a flaming fire...At Nwoye's age Okonkwo had already become famous throughout Umofia for his wrestling and his fearlessness.
He signed heavily, and as if in sympathy the smoldering log also sighed. And immediately Okonkwo's eyes were opened and...