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Okonkwo as the Tragic Hero in Things Fall Apart


The South African Igbo people of Umuofia, as portrayed in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart,” (1958) encompasses layer upon intricate layer of social order. From birth to death, every element of Umuofian culture is specified by an intricate balance of routine, which is transmitted through oral custom. Protaganist Okonkwo, appears to maintain the methods of his ancestors, and to represent the elite of his culture. It would seem as though the invasion of the colonialist empire is responsible for the disfigurement of Okonkwo’s life. Upon closer factor to consider, nevertheless, one discovers that it is Okonkwo’s polarized concepts of masculinity and femininity that are injured, which he has actually never represented the balanced knowledge of his ancestors at all. Thus, as Achebe’s juxtaposition of Okonkwo’s rigid viewpoint and Umuofia’s adaptive truth expands, the reader follows Okonkwo and his incorrectly gendered world’s descent into mayhem.

“Okonkwo was popular throughout the nine villages and even beyond” (2860 ). The first sentence of the novel brings Okonkwo’s narrative directly into an insider point of view. This helps to establish a fair and extensively emic view of Umuofian culture. In this way readers can not only observe an inclusive outline of music and dance, law and justice, and religious ritual, but also comprehend the practicality behind values such as tribal unity, brotherly hospitality, and ancestor veneration. Each of these values represents an element of Igbo culture integral to maintaining the order of their world. Without any one of them, the Igbo individuals would become susceptible to collapse into ‘mere anarchy’.

One substantial emic account in Chapter One depicts the extremely established and elevated art of oration as only an expert can: through proverb. “Amongst the Igbo the art of discussion is related to really highly, and sayings are the palm-oil with which words are consumed” (2862 ). Throughout the novel, ancestral wisdom is revealed to be handed down in proverbs, myths and stories. To the Igbo oral tradition, the power of the story ends up being the very medium through which culture is transferred- just as palm oil is needed for the sustenance of an Igbo person. Thus it can be stated that in the story of “Things Break Down”, stories not only represent order, but are required to preserve it.

What is the knowledge which moves his ‘Chi’ to do as he does? One ought to not mistake Okonkwo’s gruff exterior for his real sensations. On the contrary, the reader’s privileged vantage position exposes lots of paradoxical inward feelings. Achebe consistently frames Okonkwo’s thoughts with the condition, ‘inwardly’. His ‘slight stammer’ reveals a lot more of his Chi than his father’s skilled oration ever would. All of this contradiction drives the reader to investigate the fact of Okonkwo. To comprehend a male’s Chi, one must understand where his story begins.

Simply as Okonkwo’s fall is framed within the context of Umuofia, so is the story of his daddy, Unoka, framed within Okonkwo’s chronicle. The reader first objectively finds out that Okonkwo’s daddy was a creative and loving male, with a great possible for happiness. In the context of the Igbo culture, nevertheless, he floundered; he was thought about a failure. And so Unoka kept his enthusiasm for beauty and delight, however became acquainted with unhappiness and pain. Through it all, the guy never ever let the reject of others manage his behaviour: Unoka literally takes his flute to his ignominious tomb.

Okonkwo’s pride makes him susceptible where his daddy was not. He vividly keeps in mind a playmate call his father a name, bringing pity upon Okonkwo. This passage mean not only the psychological origin, but the cultural relevance behind Okonkwo’s Chi. Okonkwo’s pride makes him prone to succumb to his terrific consuming fear of rejection and contempt. Therefore, turns his fear into a motivation: to become all that his daddy is not, and reject his father’s most valued worths.

There is another story, however, which is marvelously neglected by Okonkwo, and frequently overlooked by the reader as well. Just when, in the ninth chapter, is his mother raised from the background of the story. Some nights after the abominable killing of Ikemefuna, Okonkwo is whacking mosquitoes by his ear as he attempts to sleep, and he remembers a fable his mom used to inform.

“Mosquito, she had actually stated, had actually asked Ear to marry him, whereupon she was up to the flooring in unmanageable laughter. ‘How much longer do you think you will live?’ She asked. ‘You are currently a skeleton.’ Mosquito went away embarrassed, and anytime he passed her method he informed Ear that he was still alive” (2892 ).

Okonkwo’s repression of his mom’s story does not decrease its significance or meaning. The ear, a symbol of imaginative power, womanhood and of listening, triggers shame in Mosquito with her rejection. By explaining his death, Ear pierces to the very heart of Mosquito’s fear. Ear will constantly live and be consisted of as long as there are stories to inform and to hear. The story mixes listening and life-force into a female representation while impressing on the reader Mosquito’s solitude and death. Although the mosquito lives on, he buzzes away in shame, all too familiar with his fragility and isolation.

Okonkwo thinks his own escape from the fate of Mosquito can be navigated in the forceful control of the Igbo relationship between achievement, age, and regard. “As the senior citizens said, if a kid cleaned his hands he could consume with kings. Okonkwo had actually plainly cleaned his hands so he consumed with kings and senior citizens” (2863 ). Okonkwo’s requirement to clean his hands of embarassment for his father is incredible. In his desperateness Okonkwo sees past the storytelling power and wisdom of the elders. He assumes real authority to rest in those with accomplishment: kings. So while proverb stands real by itself, Okonkwo takes it an action even more in internalizing it with the idea that “among these people a man was evaluated according to his worth and not according to the worth of his daddy” (2863 ). The outsider’s scope of this expression objectifies the truth of its content, however also does not show the knowledge of Igbo seniors.

Clearly, to be consisted of in the Igbo life, one must recognize with the customizeds, traditions, and culture, all passed down in the oral tradition of storytelling. In spite of the frustrating significance of this fact to Okonkwo, he is already driven by worry of the story of his dad, therefore he declines his mother’s lore. “However it was as silly as all women’s stories,” (2863) he believes. The dramatic paradox hurts. Even his child, Nwoye, acknowledges the value of storytelling. Okonkwo moves far from his own mom, and continuously reveals the world his potency with all of his achievements. Still, “He felt like an inebriated giant walking with the limbs of a mosquito” (2887 ). On he buzzes, reminding the ear that he is still alive.

Umuofian culture utilizes a number of measurements for the worth of a male: wrestling, farming, and battle. Each job is integral to the community in its own method. Farming offers security in sustenance for family. Wrestling brings the neighborhood together in competitive entertainment. Battle safeguards that which matters most: the community’s wombs. In each area, men are supplied equal opportunity to improve the community, and to be rewarded with wealth and honor. Both ability and will play central roles in all 3 jobs. A male’s worth, therefore, rests on his physical expertise, predilection to violence, hard work and decision in Igbo culture. Okonkwo pursues all of these attributes as though his life depends on it- and the reader discovers him generating lots of partners, pricey titles, a great deal of land, and a complete barn early in life.

Such a successful man has no time for listening to absurd stories: he makes his own luck and his own knowledge. “Okonkwo both hates the memory of his father and quelches the tradition of his mom” (188 ). It is simple enough for Okonkwo to form his behaviour around what his daddy is not, and be rewarded for this behaviour by his culture. However, with no particular personal examples with which to form a framework of the male and the female, Okonkwo needs to resort to cultural context to develop his identity: cleaning his hands to dine with kings. “In the process he distorts both the masculine and the womanly by keeping them strictly apart and by the ferocity of his war on the ‘womanly’. (188 )1 In Okonkwo’s determined hatred of his daddy’s ways, he abolishes those traits which would allow him an understanding of the feminine. Okonkwo’s concept of females in general is controverted several times by impressions of individual female characteristics, such as his willful daughter, Ekwezi. “‘She should have been a kid,’ he thought as he took a look at his ten-year old child” (2893 ). The contradictions can be so open that even he needs to acknowledge the irony.

If Umuofian culture both spites Unoka while rewarding Okonkwo, while supplying him with the structure for his skewed viewpoint, then Igbo culture itself need to have inherently patriarchal elements. Culturally endured wife-beating and unequal opportunities for the sexes are only 2 examples. Achebe does bring criticism with the unique written to open minds and reverse stereotypes. Besides shedding light on the Igbo’s patriarchal features, he concentrates on those customs which are established in worry and insecurity. Into the Evil Forest go inauspicious twins to die, people plagued with ‘evil’ illness and the unknown magic of deceased medicine males: they are all offerings to the ‘heart of darkness’ that is the Evil Forest. The undeniable existence of these customs, nevertheless, does not dismiss all other elements of Igbo culture. To simplify an entire culture into black and white terms of morality is to fall under the trap of Okonkwo.

As pointed out in the past, nevertheless, Igbo cultures rests on a great balance. Numerous examples of womanly aspects in culture are overlooked by Okonkwo but not the critical reader. Throughout Okonkwo’s remaining pity for his father, he relates a story of the powerful priestess called Agbala. “She was full of the power of her god, and she was greatly feared” (2866 ). Ladies can acquire such a high status, and are in fact important to the functions of the society. Chapter five relates that it is females who are the chief domestic architects. Okonkwo again ignores feminine power in the idea of bride-price, illustrated in chapter 8 and again in fourteen. A young man should pay for the opportunity of weding a girl, and virgins are considered especially valuable.

Okonkwo does not understand or accept the significance of women or their contribution to Igbo society. He evaluates all ‘womanly’ sensations of love, hope, joy and empathy from being interacted outwardly, but also fails to understand what he thinks to be absurd womanly knowledge. Thus, Okonkwo only hears part of the story of his culture. He fails to notice the message of the egugwu’s judgement of Uzowulul, the male whose other half ran away since of his poundings. Okonkwo stops working to understand the significance of the effective figure Ndulue considering his other half as a sort of equal. Subsequently, even before the catalystic arrival of the colonialist empire, Okonkwo was destined break down, left out from his culture– ironically, to share the fate of his daddy.

Although he fails to listen, Okonkwo is not without his own story. His story begins in shame of his daddy’s exemption and develops into a consuming fear. While this fear accumulates into contempt for his dad’s ways, it also prevents him from heeding the tradition of his mother– therefore misshaping the real wisdom of his ancestors into prejudice and stereotype. Paradoxically, that which shapes Okonkwo– fear, contempt and a stereotypic context- is highly paralleled in the pattern of colonizers such as the district commissioner, who callously mentions on Okonkwo’s suicide. Thus, Achebe has actually created together a tale of hope and tragedy in “Things Fall Apart.” By breaking down, Okonkwo shows that Umuofia actually welcomes the female and the male to become entire. Empathy, hope and joy are plentiful in the Igbo culture and in this story for those who want and able to hear them.

Functions Cited and Consulted

Achebe, Chinua. “Things Break Down. The Norton Anthology of World Literature: The Twentieth Century Volume F. Eds. Sarah Lawall and Maynard Mack. New York City and London: W. W. Norton & & Business, 2002. 2860-2948.

Cobham, Rhonda. “Issues of Gender and History in the Teaching of Things Fall Apart.” Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart: A Casebook. Ed. Isidore Okpewho. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 12-20.

Jeyifo, Biodun. Okonkwo and His Mother: Things Fall Apart and Issues of Gender in the Constitution of African Postcolonial Discourse, Callaloo. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

Scheub, Harold. ‘When a Male Stops Working Alone.'” Présence Africaine 74. 2 (1970 ): 61– 89. On Chinua Achebe’s Things Break down. Rev. and rpt. As “When a Guy Stops Working Alone: A Guy and His Chi in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.” Chinua Achebe’s Things Break down. A Casebook. Ed. Isidore Okpewho. New York: Oxford UP, 2003. 95– 122.

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