The character of Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart was driven by fear, a fear of change and losing his self-worth. He needed the village of Umuofia, his home, to remain untouched by time and progress because its system and structure were the measures by which he assigned worth and meaning in his own life. Okonkwo required this external order because of his childhood and a strained relationship with his father, which was also the root of his fears and subsequent drive for success. When the structure of Umuofia changed, as happens in society, Okonkwo was unable to adapt his methods of self-evaluation and ways of functioning in the world; the life he was determined to live could not survive a new environment and collapsed around him.
From an early age, Okonkwo was ashamed of his father, Unoka, who was unable even to feed his family. The unpredictability of receiving enough food at a young age was enough to inspire fear and embarrassment in Okonkwo who associated this embarrassment with his father and was given further justification for these feelings when he went out into Umuofia, discovering that the other villagers held similar opinions of Unoka. When he was old enough, Okonkwo began farming his own yams because “he had to support his mother and two sisters […] And supporting his mother also meant supporting his father” (25). Okonkwo’s self-reliance was admired, valued in the community where “age was respected […] but achievement was revered” (12); this admiration gave him feelings of security, and the respect of his peers pushed him towards greater self-respect, distancing him from his father. The security and respect became related in his mind as he viewed his acceptance in the community as his life’s goal and Okonk...
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...nkwo did one last thing that his father would never have had the strength of conviction to do. In a way, Okonkwo’s suicide really did conform to the ways of Umuofia; the true Umuofia that Okonkwo had been able to identify with and that he sought validation from had killed itself with its pliability towards the new ways.
Change, however, is inevitable, and those species and people unable to adapt to new circumstances are left behind. For Okonkwo to survive, he would have needed to reconstruct his beliefs but instead self-destructed; based on how passionate and determined Okonkwo was in his early life, his resistance to the change was complete and irreversible. It was his final downfall. As the Ibo ways changed, Okonkwo resisted such transformation and died with the old traditions.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991.
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