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.
They created an internal fear of losing his worth and becoming like his father- weak and effeminate. Therefore, Okonkwo morphed into a man with a masculine personality and uncontrollable anger. Okonkwo’s flaws enveloped him and controlled his actions- he becomes resistant and unable to bend with the changes taking place in his village. In Achebe’s, Things Fall Apart, the main character Okonkwo self-destructs due to his internal flaws of fear, masculinity, anger and inability to adapt with change. Okonkwo strived to be unlike his effeminate and apathetic father who was referred to as “agbala” or "a man who had taken no title."
Okonkwo spends his life ensuring that he will not be agbala (woman/title-less man) like his father (Achebe 10). His hypermasculinity manifests in his aggression and his refusal to show emotions because “to show affection [is] a sign of weakness” (Achebe 20). Like the Europeans, Okonkwo is concerned that physical and mental weakness in inheritable, which is why he is so afraid and angry that his own son, Nwoye, is “degenerate and effeminate” (Achebe 108). Okonkwo’s fear of degeneration is toxic. His hypermasculinity hurts everyone around him, most obviously through his killing of Ikemefuna.
Okonkwo has a “fear of failure and of weakness” (13), which is exemplified by his father who “was in fact a coward and could not bear the sight of blood” (6). This sufficiently explains Okonkwo’s deeper “fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father” (13). When trying to find the opposite of weakness to differentiate himself from his father, Okonkwo resolves “to hate everything that his father Unoka had loved. One of those things was gentleness and another was idleness” (13). Consequently, Okonkwo’s hatred of the various interpretations of weakness, failure, and anyone who embodies them signals his underlying fear that he may “be found to resemble his father” (13).
This pressure leads him to kill a child that calls him father. Okonkwo doesn’t wish to look weak in front of his fellow tribesmen, so he cuts the boy down despite the Oracle’s message. “He heard Ikemefuna cry, “My father they have killed me!” as he ran towards him. Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak” (Achebe 61).
Inside, Okonkwo wishes that Ikemefuna were his natural son instead of Nwoye. It is also this flaw that causes him to beat his wife during the weak of peace for, "...killing this banana tree" (27). His anger almost causes him to kill his second wife with a gun. He feels very sorry for this act, but cannot show his true emotions. The example of this is when the Oracle of the Hill deems that Ikemefuma must die, but not by Okonkwo's hand, since he calls him father: As the man who had cleared his throat drew up and raised his machete, Okonkwo looked away.
Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, follows the tragic life of Okonkwo, a man who suffers a miserable fate due to the fear of failure that controls every action he makes. Though the fear of failure acts as motivation to become a successful and respected man at first, it later cripples Okonkwo in such a way that failure ultimately defines his life. Okonkwo is constantly afraid of being a victim of weakness and desperately tries to remain a strong and unyielding man. It is his overwhelming fear of weakness that causes things to fall apart in his life, as his attempts to avoid failure and weakness eventually lead to the ultimate defeat: his shameful suicide. Fear of failure and weakness dominates Okonkwo throughout his life.
This made Okonkwo hate him and any trait of any kind that correlated with that of his father. One way that this is displayed is that "Okonkwo never showed emotion openly, unless it be the emotion of anger. To show emotion was a sign of weakness, the only thing worth demonstrating was strength" (Achebe 28). Okonkwo's greatest weakness was fear, yet this a contradiction in it's own terms. His fear of fear played such a big part of his adult life that it came back to haunt him.
Okonkwo opposed change and died along with the old customs of Umuofia. Change is unavoidable, and those who too frightened to adapt are left behind As a child, Okonkwo resented his father, Unoka, who was lazy and irresponsible. He obtained a great amount of debt and brought dishonor to his family. Okonkwo feared that he would be a failure, like his father. Okonwo’s, “whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness… It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw.
Okonkwo’s fear of societal disapproval causes him to hurt others. Okonkwo rejects his children because of his insecurity of the clan’s opinion. He values strength and masculinity. Not only does Okonkwo not see these qualities in his son, Nwoye, but also recognizes how he is weak and feminine. Okonkwo is so ashamed of his own child that he “will not have a son who cannot hold up his head in the gathering of the clan.