Things Fall Apart, authored by Chinua Achebe, is an African prose that narrates the transition from a pre-colonial era to the colonial era. The novel addresses the crisis of African cultural collapse during the colonial rule. It concerns the traditional Igbo life prior to the advent of the missionaries and colonial government and the reaction of the Igbo people to the new order imposed by the missionaries and the colonial government. Okonkwo, the principal character, inability to accept the new order, in the face of the already collapsed Igbo culture brought him down. Nwoye, Okonkwo’s oldest son, was a major character that accepted and embraced the new order to the disappointment of his father. Nwoye was the opposite of his father. He loathes war and violence, which Okonkwo cherishes. He embraces the new religion, which Okonkwo vows to destroy. Nwoye’s final decision to leave his father house clearly shows the cultural collapse the new religion brought to the Igboland.
Though Okonkwo is a respected leader in the Umuofia tribe of the Igbo people, he lives in fear of becoming his father, Unoka, an idle, poor, profligate, cowardly, and gentle man and could not even think of tomorrow. Throughout his life, Okonkwo attempts to be his father’s direct opposite. From an early age, he builds his home and reputation as the precocious wrestler, who throws Amalinze the Cat “in a fight which the old men agreed was one of the fiercest since the founder of their town engaged a spirit of the wild for seven days and seven nights” (Achebe 3) He was also a hard-working and a productive farmer. He becomes prosperous, thrifty, courageous, violent, and adamantly opposed to anything else that he perceives to be “soft,” such as conversation, music, and emotion. He marries three women and fathers eleven children among. He is stoic and tough on the outside but he was not a cruel man.
Okonkwo’s life takes a turn a when an accidental murder takes place and Okonkwo was given the responsibility of adopting a boy named Ikemefuna from the village, Mbaino, where the murder took place. Okonkwo comes to love Ikemefuna like a son since the latter turns the feminine Nwoye into a man. In fact, he loves him more than his natural son, Nwoye. After three years, though, the tribe decides that Ikemefuna must die. When the men of Umuofia take Ikemefuna into the forest to kill him, Okonkwo actually commits in the murder. Although he’s just killed his adopted son, Okonkwo shows no emotion because he wants to be seen as courageous and not weak like his own father was. Inside, though, Okonkwo feels painful guilt and regret. But since Okonkwo was so wrapped up in being tough and emotionless, he isolated himself from Nwoye, who was like a brother to Ikemefuna.
Indeed, Okonkwo never portrays emotions towards anyone even though he feels inward emotions at times as he did after killing Ikemefuna. Okonkwo wraps his inward emotions by outfits of anger express through violence, stubbornness, and other irrational behavior. He was impulsive; he acts before he thinks. Okonkwo demands that his family work long hours despite their age or limited physical stamina, and he nags and beats his wives and son, Nwoye.
Later on, during a funeral, Okonkwo accidentally shoots and kills a boy. For his crime, he was sent on exiles for seven years in his mother’s homeland, Mbanta. There, he learns about the coming of the white missionaries whose arrival signals a collapse of the Igbo culture. They bring a new political system, colonial government; and a new religious order, Christianity. The two new systems weaken the cohesive force among the Igbos and leads to eventual collapse of the Igbo culture. For instance, Igbo outcasts, the Osu, become accepted in the society. As the Christian religion gains legitimacy, more Igbo people including prominent sons became converted. Just when Okonkwo has finished his seven-year sentence and is allowed to return home, his son Nwoye converts to Christianity. Okonkwo is so bent out of shape that he disowns his son.
Eventually, the Igbo attempt to stop the missionaries, but the Christians capture the Igbo leaders and jail them for several days until the villagers cough up some ransom money. Contemplating revenge, the Igbo people hold a war council and Okonkwo is one of the biggest advocates for aggressive action. However, during the council, a court messenger from the missionaries arrives and tells the men to stop the meeting. Enraged, Okonkwo kills him. Realizing that his clan will not go to war against the white men, the proud, devastated Okonkwo hangs himself.
Okonkwo is a self-made, well-respected member of the Umuofia clan. Although Okonkwo is outwardly stern and powerful, all of his actions were rooted in an internal fear. Fear that the society might consider him weak like his father. His society values prowess and Okonkwo did show it. He wants the society to recognize him and he takes two titles. He lives his life relying on society approval (Achebe X). Ironically, he fears that society may consider him weak leads him to murder Ikemefuna as well the court messenger. Okonkwo was greatly influenced by society values.
Unoka also had a great influence on Okonkwo but from the opposite direction (Brians http://wsu.edu/~brians/anglophone/achebe.html). Okonkwo strives to be different from his father. Indeed, this was his greatest, overwhelming fear. He loathes to be like his father who was “lazy and improvident” (Achebe 3), unable to support his family, and cowardly. Okonkwo considers many of his father’s characteristics to be feminine. Much of Okonkwo’s behavior results from a reactionary desire to be completely different from his father. This means that Okonkwo has to work hard, provide for his family materially, act brave, and be masculine in every possible way. The greatest influence in his life was thus his father’s weakness. As a result, Okonkwo’s becomes successful in many ways – he becomes very wealthy, holds a high-ranked position in the community, has three wives, and is known for his skill as a wrestler and warrior. But he also tends toward emotions that are extreme, and his fear motivates him to take actions which are often unnecessary and ultimately destructive. His fear of being feminine leads him to assist in the murder of Ikemefuna whom he loved, to beat his wives, be emotionally distant from his children, and to disown his oldest son. This also affected Okonkwo’s relationship towards his family is one of complete dictatorship. His three wives are there to serve him his food and raise his children. By seeing them as his subjects, Okonkwo can justify his brutal behavior against them. He can beat his wives without guilt. He can threaten Ekwefi with a gun when she talks back. He can rebuke Nwoye for listening to old wives’ tales. This sense of ownership is exemplified when Okonkwo takes Ikemefuna’s life. Though he does have qualms about killing Ikemefuna, they are not qualms about whether or not he has the right to do it. Okonkwo feels complete ownership over his family.
Another influence on Okonkwo was his beloved daughter, Ezinma (Shmoopgamma http://www.shmoop.com/things-fall-apart/okonkwo.html). Okonkwo was fond of her. It was only Ezinma that made Okonkwo to reveal, though in subtle ways, his emotions. Indeed, Okonkwo rarely shows these aspects of himself since he considers emotion soft and feminine – but the emotions are there nonetheless. The fact that he lies to Ikemefuna to protect the boy from fear and later feels guilty about killing him are proof of that Okonkwo isn’t devoid of positive human emotions. In fact, he cares about his children. For instance, Okonkwo surreptitiously follows Ekwefi into the forest in pursuit of Ezinma (Achebe 76), thus allowing us to see the tender, worried father beneath the seemingly indifferent exterior. Again, when Okonkwo was released from prison, he also reveals his emotions by eating Ezinma’s food “to please her” (Achebe 140), which shows that he was influenced by her.
Nwoye, Okonkwo’s oldest son, struggles in the shadow of his powerful, successful, and demanding father. His interests are different from Okonkwo’s and resemble more closely those of Unoka, his grandfather. He undergoes many beatings, at a loss for how to please his father, until the arrival of Ikemefuna, who becomes like an older brother and teaches him a gentler form of successful masculinity. Indeed, Ikemefuna was a great influence on Nwoye (SparkNotes http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/things/characters.html). As a result, Okonkwo backs off, and Nwoye even starts to win his grudging approval. With the unconscionable murder of Ikemefuna, however, Nwoye retreats into himself and finds himself forever changed. His reluctance to accept Okonkwo’s masculine values turns into pure embitterment toward him and his ways. When missionaries come to Mbanta, Nwoye’s hope and faith are reawakened, and he eventually joins forces with them. Although Okonkwo curses his lot for having borne so “effeminate”a son and disowns Nwoye, Nwoye appears to have found peace at last in leaving the oppressive atmosphere of his father’s tyranny.
Nwoye remains conflicted. He makes a show of scorning feminine things in order to please his father, though he misses his mother’s stories. Indeed, he prefers his mother’s stories of the “tortoise and his wily ways” to Okonkwo’s stories about tribal wars and how “he had stalked his victim, overpowered him and obtained his first human head” (Achebe 38). His mother was another influence on Nwoye (Ohaeto 23).
The new religion captivated and exerted the greatest influence on Nwoye (CliffsNote http://www.cliffsnotes.com/WileyCDA/LitNote/Things-Fall-Apart.id-133.html). Though he did not understand its theology and the message, he felt relief within by the hymn. But fear of his father kept him going close to the missionaries. When he finally leaves his father, Nwoye was happy.
Both are influenced by different people. While Okonkwo strives to be different from his father, Nwoye love his mother’s story. Okonkwo was fond of his daughter, Ezinma but Nwoye fall for Ikemefuna. Okonkwo sees the missionaries as mad people but Nwoye was captivated. Indeed, the two characters were the opposite of each other.
Achebe, C. Things Fall Apart. Johannesburg: Heinemann Publishers (Pty) Limited, 1958.
Brians, P. Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart Study Guide. 14 April 2011. 11 May 2011 <http://wsu.edu/~brians/anglophone/achebe.html>.
CliffsNote. Things Fall Apart. 2011. 11 May 2011 <http://www.cliffsnotes.com/WileyCDA/LitNote/Things-Fall-Apart.id-133.html>.
Ohaeto, E. Chinua Achebe: A Biography. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.
Shmoopgamma. Things Fall Apart. 2011. 11 May 2011 <http://www.shmoop.com/things-fall-apart/okonkwo.html>.
SparkNotes. Things Fall Apart. 2011. 11 May 2011 <http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/things/characters.html>.