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Okonkwo as the Tragic Hero in Things Fall Apart

The South African Igbo tribe of Umuofia, as depicted in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart,” (1958) encompasses layer upon complex layer of social order. From birth to death, each aspect of Umuofian culture is defined by an intricate balance of ritual, which is transmitted by way of oral tradition. Protaganist Okonkwo, appears to uphold the techniques of his ancestors, and to represent the elite of his culture. It would appear as even though the invasion of the colonialist empire is accountable for the disfigurement of Okonkwo’s life. Upon closer consideration, however, 1 finds that it is Okonkwo’s polarized concepts of masculinity and femininity that are disfigured, and that he has by no means represented the balanced wisdom of his ancestors at all. Thus, as Achebe’s juxtaposition of Okonkwo’s rigid perspective and Umuofia’s adaptive reality expands, the reader follows Okonkwo and his falsely gendered world’s descent into chaos.

“Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond” (2860). The 1st sentence of the novel brings Okonkwo’s narration directly into an insider point of view. This aids to establish a fair and extensively emic view of Umuofian culture. In this way readers can not only observe an inclusive outline of music and dance, law and justice, and religious ritual, but also recognize the practicality behind values such as tribal unity, brotherly hospitality, and ancestor veneration. Every of these values represents an aspect of Igbo culture integral to preserving the order of their world. With out any 1 of them, the Igbo men and women would grow to be prone to collapse into ‘mere anarchy’.

1 significant emic account in Chapter One depicts the extremely created and elevated art of oration as only an insider can: through proverb. “Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded really highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten” (2862). All through the novel, ancestral wisdom is shown to be passed on in proverbs, fables and stories. To the Igbo oral tradition, the energy of the story becomes the very medium by means of which culture is transmitted- just as palm oil is needed for the sustenance of an Igbo person. Thus it can be stated that in the story of “Things Fall Apart”, stories not only represent order, but are essential to preserve it.

What is the wisdom which moves his ‘Chi’ to do as he does? One particular must not mistake Okonkwo’s gruff exterior for his accurate feelings. On the contrary, the reader’s privileged vantage position reveals several paradoxical inward feelings. Achebe repeatedly frames Okonkwo’s thoughts with the condition, ‘inwardly’. His ‘slight stammer’ reveals significantly much more of his Chi than his father’s skillful oration ever would. All of this contradiction drives the reader to investigate the truth of Okonkwo. To realize a man’s Chi, one have to realize exactly where his story begins.

Just as Okonkwo’s fall is framed inside the context of Umuofia, so is the story of his father, Unoka, framed within Okonkwo’s chronicle. The reader initial objectively learns that Okonkwo’s father was a creative and loving man, with a fantastic prospective for happiness. In the context of the Igbo culture, nonetheless, he floundered he was regarded a failure. And so Unoka retained his passion for beauty and joy, but became familiar with sadness and discomfort. Through it all, the man in no way let the scorn of other people manage his behaviour: Unoka actually requires his flute to his ignominious grave.

Okonkwo’s pride tends to make him vulnerable exactly where his father was not. He vividly remembers a playmate call his father a name, bringing shame upon Okonkwo. This passage hints at not only the psychological origin, but the cultural relevance behind Okonkwo’s Chi. Okonkwo’s pride tends to make him susceptible to succumb to his fantastic consuming worry of rejection and contempt. And so, turns his worry into a motivation: to become all that his father is not, and reject his father’s most treasured values.

There is one more story, nevertheless, which is spectacularly ignored by Okonkwo, and usually overlooked by the reader as properly. Only as soon as, in the ninth chapter, is his mother elevated from the background of the story. Some nights right after the abominable killing of Ikemefuna, Okonkwo is swatting mosquitoes by his ear as he tries to sleep, and he remembers a fable his mother utilized to tell.

“Mosquito, she had mentioned, had asked Ear to marry him, whereupon she fell to the floor in uncontrollable laughter. ‘How considerably longer do you think you will reside?’ She asked. ‘You are currently a skeleton. ’ Mosquito went away humiliated, and anytime he passed her way he told Ear that he was nevertheless alive” (2892).

Okonkwo’s repression of his mother’s story does not diminish its significance or which means. The ear, a symbol of inventive power, femininity and of listening, causes shame in Mosquito with her rejection. By pointing out his mortality, Ear pierces to the very heart of Mosquito’s worry. Ear will often live and be included as long as there are stories to inform and to hear. The story blends listening and life-force into a female representation even though impressing on the reader Mosquito’s solitude and mortality. Though the mosquito lives on, he buzzes away in shame, all also aware of his fragility and loneliness.

Okonkwo believes his personal escape from the fate of Mosquito can be navigated in the forceful manipulation of the Igbo connection among achievement, age, and respect. “As the elders said, if a child washed his hands he could consume with kings. Okonkwo had clearly washed his hands so he ate with kings and elders” (2863). Okonkwo’s want to wash his hands of shame for his father is tremendous. In his desperateness Okonkwo sees previous the storytelling energy and wisdom of the elders. He assumes real authority to rest in those with achievement: kings. So while proverb stands true on its personal, Okonkwo requires it a step additional in internalizing it with the notion that “among these individuals a man was judged according to his worth and not according to the worth of his father” (2863). The outsider’s scope of this phrase objectifies the truth of its content material, but also does not reflect the wisdom of Igbo elders.

Clearly, to be incorporated in the Igbo life, one particular have to be familiar with the customs, traditions, and culture, all passed down in the oral tradition of storytelling. Despite the overwhelming significance of this reality to Okonkwo, he is already driven by fear of the story of his father, and so he rejects his mother’s lore. “But it was as silly as all women’s stories,” (2863) he thinks. The dramatic irony is painful. Even his son, Nwoye, recognizes the value of storytelling. Okonkwo moves away from his personal mother, and constantly shows the world his virility with all of his achievements. Nevertheless, “He felt like a drunken giant walking with the limbs of a mosquito” (2887). On he buzzes, reminding the ear that he is nevertheless alive.

Umuofian culture makes use of many measurements for the worth of a man: wrestling, farming, and battle. Every single activity is integral to the neighborhood in its own way. Farming supplies safety in sustenance for household units. Wrestling brings the community together in competitive entertainment. Battle protects that which matters most: the community’s wombs. In every region, men are supplied equal opportunity to boost the community, and to be rewarded with wealth and honor. Each ability and will play central roles in all 3 tasks. A man’s worth, as a result, rests on his physical prowess, predilection to violence, challenging function and determination in Igbo culture. Okonkwo strives for all of these traits as although his life depends on it- and the reader finds him amassing several wives, expensive titles, a wonderful deal of land, and a full barn early in life.

Such a profitable man has no time for listening to foolish stories: he tends to make his personal luck and his own wisdom. “Okonkwo both loathes the memory of his father and represses the lore of his mother” (188). It is easy sufficient for Okonkwo to shape his behaviour around what his father is not, and be rewarded for this behaviour by his culture. Even so, with out any certain personal examples with which to kind a framework of the male and the female, Okonkwo have to resort to cultural context to create his identity: washing his hands to dine with kings. “In the approach he distorts both the masculine and the feminine by keeping them rigidly apart and by the ferocity of his war on the ‘feminine’. (188)1 In Okonkwo’s determined hatred of his father’s techniques, he abolishes these traits which would allow him an understanding of the feminine. Okonkwo’s idea of women in basic is controverted several times by impressions of person female traits, such as his willful daughter, Ekwezi. “‘She should have been a boy,’ he believed as he looked at his ten-year old daughter” (2893). The contradictions can be so open that even he need to acknowledge the irony.

If Umuofian culture each spites Unoka even though rewarding Okonkwo, although providing him with the framework for his skewed perspective, then Igbo culture itself need to have inherently patriarchal elements. Culturally tolerated wife-beating and unequal possibilities for the sexes are only two examples. Achebe does bring criticism with the novel written to open minds and undo stereotypes. Besides shedding light on the Igbo’s patriarchal characteristics, he focuses on those customs which are founded in fear and insecurity. Into the Evil Forest go inauspicious twins to die, individuals infested with ‘evil’ ailments and the unknown magic of deceased medicine males: they are all offerings to the ‘heart of darkness’ that is the Evil Forest. The undeniable presence of these customs, even so, does not rule out all other elements of Igbo culture. To simplify an whole culture into black and white terms of morality is to fall into the trap of Okonkwo.

As pointed out prior to, nevertheless, Igbo cultures rests on a fine balance. Numerous examples of feminine aspects in culture are overlooked by Okonkwo but not the discerning reader. During Okonkwo’s lingering shame for his father, he relates a story of the potent priestess recognized as Agbala. “She was complete of the energy of her god, and she was greatly feared” (2866). Ladies can receive such a high status, and are really integral to the workings of the society. Chapter 5 relates that it is females who are the chief domestic architects. Okonkwo once more ignores feminine power in the notion of bride-value, illustrated in chapter eight and again in fourteen. A young man need to pay for the privilege of marrying a young woman, and virgins are regarded specially beneficial.

Okonkwo does not realize or accept the value of females or their contribution to Igbo society. He screens all ‘womanly’ feelings of adore, hope, joy and empathy from being communicated outwardly, but also fails to recognize what he believes to be foolish feminine wisdom. Therefore, Okonkwo only hears part of the story of his culture. He fails to notice the message of the egugwu’s judgement of Uzowulul, the man whose wife ran away because of his beatings. Okonkwo fails to comprehend the significance of the effective figure Ndulue thinking about his wife as a type of equal. Consequently, even just before the catalystic arrival of the colonialist empire, Okonkwo was doomed to fall apart, excluded from his culture – ironically, to share the fate of his father.

Though he fails to listen, Okonkwo is not with out his own story. His story starts in shame of his father’s exclusion and builds into a consuming worry. While this worry accumulates into contempt for his father’s approaches, it also prevents him from heeding the lore of his mother – thereby distorting the true wisdom of his ancestors into prejudice and stereotype. Ironically, that which shapes Okonkwo – fear, contempt and a stereotypic frame of reference- is strongly paralleled in the pattern of colonizers such as the district commissioner, who callously remarks on Okonkwo’s suicide. Hence, Achebe has forged collectively a tale of hope and tragedy in “Things Fall Apart.” By falling apart, Okonkwo shows that Umuofia in fact embraces the female and the male to grow to be entire. Empathy, hope and joy are abound in the Igbo culture and in this story for those who are willing and able to hear them.



Works Cited and Consulted

Achebe, Chinua. “Things Fall Apart. The Norton Anthology of World Literature: The Twentieth Century Volume F. Eds. Sarah Lawall and Maynard Mack. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Firm, 2002. 2860-2948.

Cobham, Rhonda. “Problems of Gender and History in the Teaching of Things Fall Apart. ” Chinua Achebe’s Issues Fall Apart: A Casebook. Ed. Isidore Okpewho. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 12-20.

Jeyifo, Biodun. Okonkwo and His Mother: Factors Fall Apart and Problems of Gender in the Constitution of African Postcolonial Discourse, Callaloo. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

Scheub, Harold. ‘When a Man Fails Alone. ’ ” Présence Africaine 74. 2 (1970): 61–89. On Chinua Achebe’s Factors Fall Apart. Rev. and rpt. As “When a Man Fails Alone: A Man and His Chi in Chinua Achebe’s Issues Fall Apart. ” Chinua Achebe’s Items Fall Apart. A Casebook. Ed. Isidore Okpewho. New York: Oxford UP, 2003. 95–122.
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