In Chinua Achebe’s Classic 1959 novel Things Fall Apart, we are faced with the foreign ways of the Ibo people of present-day Nigeria. The story is told through the experiences and often times thoughts of protagonist Okonkwo, an imperfect but respected clansman whose fear of appearing weak drives every decision he makes. In the peak of conflict, Okonkwo is exiled for seven years, loses much of the esteem he had gained and finds his bad Chi to be to blame. Eventually, this leads him to commit suicide. However, despite his belief that his Chi is blocking his good efforts, Okonkwo does have good Chi and free will, and it is his fear of weakness that truly brings upon his downfall.
Okonkwo has many flaws that Achebe points out to us. The most critical of which is that he is afraid of being weak, or being perceived as such. Early in the Novel Achebe writes, “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…It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father” (Achebe 13). As the driving factor in Okonkwo’s life, it plays a role in every single step that leads him to his eventual suicide. It is apparent that this is a flaw in Okonkwo’s character for it is not celebrated in the culture. By showing us this, Achebe is creating a classic tragic hero. The protagonist of the story has a fatal flaw, fear of weakness and unbalance that leads to his downfall. Achebe would see this as a serious character flaw because of the culture he comes from (Okafor).
Okonkwo is also unbalanced, another trait that is frowned upon by his society. Wise men, such as the elder Ogbuefi Ezedu, or Okonkwo’s friend Obierkia have a balance of warlike aggression and calm compassion (Achebe 66). Clement Okafor, in an essay about Things Fall Apart and Ibo culture notes this issue with Okonkwo’s life. “Okonkwo’s problems also emanate from his inability to practice another Ibo ideal, balance in one’s assessment of situations” (Okafor 72). Okafor enlightens us about the opinion the Ibo people hold about an unbalanced mind like Okonkwo’s. From this we can infer that it is a major factor in his downfall.
Okonkwo is afraid of being weak, and one of the things he considers to be weak is outward expression of love (Achebe 28). This is not representative of the culture, for the relationship between fathers and sons is celebrated (Okafor 74). Okafor implies that it is good to love one’s family. Okonkwo’s relationships with his biological son Nwoye, and his adopted son Ikemefuna are explored throughout the novel. The wedge that is driven between him and Nwoye is not described as a healthy situation, because it is important to the culture to have a strong father-son relationship. Instead of allowing himself to love the boy, he is more concerned with ensuring he does not end up a failure like Okonkwo’s own father (Achebe 13). Likewise, he will not allow himself to love Ikemefuna either...