Okonkwo, as presented by Chinua Achebe in the novel Things Fall Apart, wished to be revered by all as a man of great wealth, power and control--the antithesis of his father. Okonkwo was driven by the need to exhibit utmost control over himself and others; he was an obsessive and insecure man.
Okonkwo's father, Unoka, was "a failure," "a loafer," and "People laughed at him" (1426). This would bring great shame to any man as it did for Okonkwo. In Umuofia "a man is judged according to his worth and not according to the worth of his father" (1427). In Umuofia "achievement was revered." Okonkwo became obsessed with the need to prove to everyone that he, unlike his father, was a man worthy of respect.
Okonkwo worked hard and in time his "prosperity showed in his household" (1429). Okonkwo had "a large compound," "three wives" (1429), "two barns full of yams" and "two titles" (1427). Okonkwo had become a wealthy and respectable man. Still he feared that all would fall apart if he were to allow any slight deviation, any sign of weakness.
Weakness could be a slight disobedience of a wife, as happened during the "Week of Peace." Ojiugo was not home in time to prepare Okonkwo's meal and though it was "unheard of to beat someone during the sacred week" (1435), Okonkwo beat Ojiugo unmercifully. Likely, Okonkwo feared that others would view Ojiugo's indifference to her responsibilities as a sign of Okonkwo's inability to control his wife.
Okonkwo was just as demanding upon his children and he wanted his "son to be a great farmer and a great man" (1437). Okonkwo would become overly angry if Nwoye made small mistakes while learning. When Nwoye and Ikemefuna were splitting yam...
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...ch so that he chose "evil" and took his own life.
Achebe, for the most part, does seem to follow the Western formula for tragedy and the tragic hero. Okonkwo, while not born into wealth or privilege, does become a wealthy and powerful man in Umuofia. Okonkwo is neither "good" nor "thoroughly evil" yet does possess a "tragic flaw" that leads to a series of tragic events. Okonkwo begins in poverty and rises to the height of wealth and prestige among his people. He is so obsessed with control, control at all costs, that he begins to make tragic mistakes: beating his wife during Peace Week, killing Ikemefuna, having to flee Umuofia, killing the messenger and then himself. This fits the criteria of "disregard of divine law and trying to escape his fate," as outlined in the study guide.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Ballantine, 1969.
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