Irony in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart

Irony in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart

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Things Fall Apart     

That year the harvest was sad, like a funeral, and many farmers wept as they dug up the miserable and rotting yams.  One man tied his cloth to a tree branch and hanged himself.  Okonkwo remembered that tragic year with a cold shiver throughout the rest of his life.  It always surprised him when he thought of it later that he did not sink under the load of despair.  He knew that he was a fierce fighter, but that year had been enough to break the heart of a lion.

   "Since I survived that year," he always said, "I shall survive anything."  He put it down to his inflexible will.  His father, Unoka, who was then an ailing man, had said to him during that terrible harvest month:  "Do not despair.  I know that you will not despair.  You have a manly and a proud heart.  A proud heart can survive a general failure because such a failure does not prick its pride.  It is more difficult and more bitter when a man fails alone."

    The above passages were taken from the end of chapter three, part one.  After finishing reading this book and then going back through it, I found these passages very ironic in regards to how the story eventually ended.  Okonkwo believed that because he was such a fierce fighter, he could conquer anything life threw at him.  However, it was his fierce, proud, fighting attitude that was his demise in the face of uncontrollable circumstances in the end.  Okonkwo believed that war and brute fighting would fix everything.  He was a proud and stubborn man constantly struggling to improve his standing in the tribal community.  Okonkwo also had intense pride for his tribe and way of life.  He believed it was the right way of life and not to be questioned.  Everyone was supposed to fear war with Umofia due to their fierce warriors and greatness in battle.  When the white men not only did not fear them, but openly threatened the tribal way of life, Okonkwo prepared to handle the situation the only way he knew how.  He wanted to got to war against the new white invaders, chasing them from tribal lands and ending the threat of different ways of life.

    The passage ends with, "it is more difficult and more bitter when a man fails alone.

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"  I believe this is exactly what was the final blow to Okonkwo that pushed him into taking his own life.  Okonkwo attempted to provoke a war with the white men both when he spoke up in the tribal meetings and then when he lashed out and killed a messenger of the white men.  Okonkwo did this thinking the other tribal men would be behind him.  He believed the act would lead to the war with the white men he had been hungering for.  But after killing the messenger, Okonkwo immediately knew that he would be alone in his fight.  The end of chapter twenty four reads, "In a flash Okonkwo drew his machete.  The messenger crouched to avoid the blow.  It was useless.  Okonkwo's machete descended twice and the man's head lay beside his uniformed body.  The waiting backcloth jumped into tumultuous life and the meeting was stopped.  Okonkwo stood looking at the dead man.  He knew that Umofia would not go to war.  He knew because they had let the other messengers escape.  They had broken into tumult instead of action.  He discerned fright in that tumult.  He heard voices asking:  'Why did he do it?'  He wiped his machete and went away."

    Okonkwo was fully prepared for all out war.  But this was as a warrior for Umofia with all the other warriors of Umofia.  It is more difficult and more bitter when a man fails alone.  When Okonkwo finally knew that he was indeed alone in his wish for war and in his idea of Umofia still a powerful place, it was the final crushing blow for a once proud man and warrior.

    Throughout the story, you came to believe that Okonkwo could indeed survive any hardship he encountered in his life.  He had overcame his meager beginnings, the reputation of his lazy father, the one extremely harsh harvest, having to kill the young boy who called him father, the constant worry of losing Ezinma, being exiled from Umofia for the accidental killing of the young boy, and then having his own son leave home and convert to the white man's religion and way of life.  Despite all these trials and tribulations, Okonkwo was buoyed by his intense pride and the intense pride he had for Umofia and the tribal way of life.  This was what Okonkwo clung to as the steadying force in his life.  It was when he finally became aware that the way of life he so cherished was gone, that he gave up and took his own life.

    The very fact that Okonkwo took his own life underlines the loss of faith and hope Okonkwo had arrived at.  The end of the book explains that it is an abomination for a man to take his own life.  It is an offense against the Earth, and a man who commits it will not be buried by his clansmen.  His body is evil, and only strangers may touch it.  For a man and warrior who had such intense pride and worry about his place in the clan and the minds of the people of the clan, this was a shocking thing to go through with.  Okonkwo knew the customs and traditions better than anyone, so he would obviously know that his body would be evil and his reputation tarnished badly.  The fact that he still went through with hanging himself shows the great distance Okonkwo had fallen.

    Another ironic thing I found about this story is the fact that if Okonkwo and his father, Unoka, had been born at different times they would have been more successful or better suited for the time of the other one.  Okonkwo without a doubt would have better off during his father's time.  He would have been dead before the arrival of the white man and could have won his titles and enjoyed the clan way of life he so cherished.  At the same time, Unoka would have assimilated or adapted to the white man's arrival much more easily than Okonkwo and most likely easier than most of the clan due to his easygoing nature.  Unoka was unconcerned with titles and clan traditions.  He was more concerned with enjoying life, drinking with friends, playing his music, and in general relaxing while others worked.  This would not have necessarily helped him during the arrival of the white man, but he would definitely would not have had the enormous problems with pride that Okonkwo encountered.  Unoka also would not have had the relationship problems with Nwoye that Okonkwo experienced.  The problems were due to the polar opposite personalities and beliefs that Okonkwo and Nwoye had.  Unoka was an easygoing free spirit who most likely would have been the ideal father for Nwoye.  It was due to fate or blind luck that things were the way they were instead of the almost perfect way they could have been.

    Another thing that interests me is how Okonkwo will be remembered by his clan and how his death and the way he died will affect his remaining sons.  Okonkwo believed his own father to be a hindrance to his success and a model of what not to be.  It would be another ironic twist if the sons of Okonkwo were shamed by the suicide and actions of their father, therefore causing them to think of Okonkwo exactly like Okonkwo had thought of his own father.  If this was indeed the case, then ironically the only son that would forgive his father would be the one son that Okonkwo was ashamed of - Nwoye.  Because of Nwoye's new religion that stresses forgiveness, Nwoye would be the only son that would ultimately love him in the end.  And it would be the religion that Okonkwo hated so much that would make this possible.

    In closing, as I was looking through the back of the book and the glossary of Ibo words and phrases, I came upon the word efulefu.  Efulefu is defined as, "a worthless man."  As I thought about this term and its definition, I found it ironic that the story begins with it applying to one man and ends with it applying to a very different man.  In the beginning of the story, it is Unoka who was thought of as a worthless man by Okonkwo due to his having no titles and in general not being able to be successful in the clan way of life.  But in the end of the story, it is himself that Okonkwo believes is a worthless man due to him not being able to be successful or adapt to the new way of clan life
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