Okonkwo and Jay Gatsby

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Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, are novels that detail the tragic rise and fall of two heroes, Okonkwo and Jay Gatsby. Two men who represent the quintessential rags to riches story romanticized by Western literature; ironically destroyed by this same society. Through Okonkwo, we see the destruction of his culture; the culture that he devoted his whole life to, only to see it crushed by European colonists. Jay Gatsby illustrates a man who came from a modest, rural upbringing, only to rise to the upper echelon of American society. A man blessed with insurmountable determination, but also cursed by this determination. This doesn’t only stand as an aphorism for Jay Gatsby, but Okonkwo as well. Gatsby and Okonkwo are essentially the same character, but just as any character they’re also stacked with a variety of differences.

For instance, Okonkwo grew up in an African village in Nigeria. He grew up in a very poor family, his father was the town drunkard, who drank “gourds of palm wine”, and went into an insurmountable amount of debt. As detailed in the book Unoka,Okonkwo’s father, would “if any money came his way, and it seldom did, he immediately bought gourds of palm-wine, called round his neighbors and made merry.”(4) But, the most exhibiting symbol of his father’s weakness was his inability to grow yams. Yams are considered to be a sacred crop in Igbo culture. It stands as a sign of their prosperity (their ability to take care of their family), a way to weed out the weak from the strong, a form of social Darwinism. As a man procures more and more yams, he is rewarded with more wives thus expanding his lineage. Okonkwo was a very prosperous yam farmer that was mainly driven by hi...

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...Daisy ends up running over Myrtle, Gatsby feels obliged to take the blame to protect Daisy. To preserve the American Dream, to preserve what he fought for. He is eventually killed for this action by George, Myrtle’s husband.

Although their demises are very different, they both die in an attempt to preserve the lifestyle they have fought so endlessly to have. For Okonkwo it was fighting off the influence of Western culture and religion, to preserve his culture and dying on top. He wanted his son to follow in his footsteps; to become the glorious warrior that he, Okonkwo, strived his whole life to become. For Gatsby it was preserving an idea, an idea that stood as a tenet for the society that he devoted his life to, but he was never able to love Daisy and live the prototypical “American Dream”. They stand as cautionary tales to the downfalls of greed and insecurity.

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