The tragic story of Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart offers many examples of Igbo beliefs regarding free will and fate. Religious life for the Igbo was thoroughly intertwined with secular life. According to the text, the Igbo believed in fate; that nothing happened by chance as every happenstance was the result of Chukwu or God's will. Yet the Igbo also believed that ancestors, lesser gods, and their own chi or personal god also influenced the lives of the living. Thus, if an individual lived in harmony with his ancestors, lesser gods and ultimately Chukwu, that individual would be blessed with good fortune, health and an abundance of children. If, however, an individual lived in disharmony with the deities, misfortune and untimely death would result. (Ohadike xxxii) Free will also affected an individual's life. To an outsider, this dual philosophy of fate versus free will may appear to be a paradox, but one must remember the tragic vision of Western tradition, both secular and religious, that dictates a similar paradox.
It is important to note that Achebe was a product of both traditional Igbo society and the colonizing British culture. Therefore, the narrative is influenced by two strikingly opposed philosophies. The tragic hero, Okonkwo, may have been crafted to express, not only the Igbo philosophy of harmony, but the outsider interpretation of a seemingly paradoxical belief system. Achebe's representation of Okonkwo may symbolize the collision of these two conflicting philosophies.
The synergy between Igbo spirituality and secular life suggests that harmony among members of society was just as important as h...
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Though one may attempt to hypothesize about the representation of fate and free will in the Igbo belief system, the Igbo themselves, as well as the non-Igbo, may interpret these hypotheses very differently. It is quite possible that one could argue that Okonkwo's experience was the result of his own pride and inability to abide by societal norms. On the other hand, Okonkwo's plight can be seen as the result of bad luck and the voracious exploitation by the British. The push-pull dynamics and simultaneity of fate versus free will are inherently driving forces behind the mystery of human existence, and, thus, may not be paradoxical. Achebe's novel is rich in possible intentions and interpretations. It is not a novel easily dissected and labeled.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Oxford: Heinemann,1996.
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