Crises of Self-Image in Things Fall Apart: The Reasons for Okonkwo's Actions

Crises of Self-Image in Things Fall Apart: The Reasons for Okonkwo's Actions

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Despite his love for the culture in which he was born, Okonkwo, an esteemed member and warrior of the Ibo peoples of Africa, has a difficult time complying with the traditions of his tribe. Although he respects the tribe’s customs and the decisions of the elders, Okonkwo often makes rash decisions that bring him and his family unnecessary troubles. He strives to gain the tribe’s respect, as well as to compensate for his father’s “failed” life by portraying himself as the perfect man and warrior; however, his efforts toward honor seem to always end in dishonor. In a way, the reasons for his behavior come from deep within Okonkwo himself, not the culture of which he is a part. Compensation for character flaws turns in overcompensation, which places him out of touch with his community. In short, his sense of, and obsession for, self-image acts as a catalyst for his actions throughout the book.
There are multiple examples of Okonkwo’s lack of adherence to Umuofian customs, i.e., beating his wife, Ojiugo, during the Week of Peace (28-31); beating his wives and children for the most minuscule of reasons; and speaking out whenever he should remain silent. However, the one custom that he breaks that causes the most hardship for himself and, it can be argued, his family, is the killing of his adopted son, Ikemefuna. Although the murder is prescribed by the Oracle of the Hills and Caves and is condoned by the village elders, neither the Oracle nor the other men of the village expect Okonkwo to partake in the killing; in fact, Ogbuefi Ezeudu, a well-respected warrior and elder of the tribe, suggests that Okonkwo remain behind when the other warriors lead Ikemefuna to slaughter. “. . . Umuofia has decided to kill him,” Ezeudu says,...

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...s insistence on proving himself, as represented in the killing of Ikemefuna and his other discreditable actions, are results of his constant need to impress. His desires to prove himself, become a respected member of the tribe, and maintain his image as a strong warrior all combine with an inability to adapt to a changing world in the latter half of the book. “Okonkwo [is] deeply grieved” (183) by the arrival of the Europeans and the changes they bring to Ibo culture. Thinking that he can be the one to lead the effort to drive the Europeans out of the land and restore the traditions of the tribe, he commits yet another rash act; whenever he does not get the results he expects, he commits his last transgression against tribal tradition: suicide.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York City: Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.,
1994. Print.

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