Things fall apart is a book set in the pre-colonial period up to the coming of the missionaries. Okonkwo the main character is used to bring out African cultural practices and beliefs among the Igbo people. His beliefs expectations and ideologies are explored in this book. The significant aspect of the book is the illustration of masculinity in his life and his struggles to overcome the shortcomings represented by his father.
Okonkwo A Fallen Hero
Okonkwo is a man who detests his father and everything he represents. His father, Unoka never amounted to anything. He is illustrated as a lazy man who incurred debts and never had ambitions. Okonkwo hated the fact that his father was a coward and had no titles (Achebe 62). In his eyes, his father is more of a woman than a man. Women in his society are naturally said to have cowardice traits, and should depend upon men to protect and fend for them. Okonkwo's character is the exact opposite of his father. The author has brought out Okonkwo as a self-driven, brave and industrious man. His victory against the cat in a wrestling match makes him a champion. This achievement makes him proud of himself. He sees himself as a fearless individual. He attributes himself as a masculine person who has no tolerance for weakness and failure. His victory as a wrestling champion won him the respect of all his people, unlike his father he relishes in the attention given to him by his fellow villagers for his achievements.
His father died in disgrace and poverty. Okonkwo is determined to be a successful man. His ego drives him to work hard. His zeal to succeed earns him the respect of a prominent villager who lends him yam seeds to grow (Whittaker and Msiska 80). His efforts bear fruit and bountiful harvests are realized though not to his expectations. His position in the village is elevated by his hard work and his achievements as a warrior and a farmer. The author illustrates Okonkwo as a reputed and feared warrior. In his hut, Okonkwo has five human skulls, which he brought back from battle. His masculinity is well defined by his narrations of battle and victories in war. To assert his position as a fierce warrior, he drinks wine from one of the skulls occasionally.
Okonkwo's eldest son, on the other hand, is not a brave person. He does not hide his emotions and prefers the company of women than that of his father. His behavior angers Okonkwo who considers him soft and feminine. Okonkwo is a man who believes that a man should not show his emotions or compassion lest he is considered weak. His son's behavior reflects that of his father something he does not wish to see in any of his sons. Okonkwo's clansmen ask him as a fierce warrior and a rich man in his village to deliver a message to a neighboring village. The message is for ransom of a woman killed by a man from that village. Okonkwo comes back to his village with a boy and a virgin girl (Achebe 62). The boy, Ikemefuna is put in his charge. Okonkwo observes that Ikemefuna's traits are different from those of his son. He adores the fact that Ikemefuna's presence in his household has influence on his son who starts to behave in a masculine way.
On one occasion, Okonkwo's youngest wife leaves to braid her hair without cooking for him. When Okonkwo finds out that she has not cooked for him, he beats her. He forgets that it is a sacred week where peace should be preserved by everyone. Okonkwo's action is an effort to assert his position as a man and head of the family. He feels that his youngest wife undermines his position by not cooking for him first before she could engage in her own affairs. The author tries to portray the cultural expectations and duties of a wife (Whittaker and Msiska 60). A woman supposedly takes care of her husband's interest before she attends to her own. Okonkwo's action of beating his wife is an assertion of his masculinity over her. He does not care that such an action is forbidden in a sacred week. His behavior leads him to be fined.
The village oracle decrees that Ikemefuna must be killed. Okonkwo is warned not to take part in his death. Ikemefuna's impending death depresses him because he has grown attached to the boy. He tries not to show his emotion as this might be construed as a sign of weakness. He accompanies the elders to kill Ikemefuna. Though they tell Ikemefuna that he is to be taken home, he is doubtful and afraid. On the journey to his home, one of the men attacks him with a machete, he runs towards Okonkwo who in an effort to appear strong finishes him with his machete. He ignores the warning that he should not kill the boy as he was calling to him as father (Whittaker and Msiska 85). Okonkwo disregards sound warning in an attempt to appear masculine and not a weakling. His action deteriorates his relationship with his son who starts to question his traditional beliefs and practices. His son goes to his mother's hut for comfort and consolation. Nwoye does not pretend to be brave but instead he seeks to understand the significance of his father's actions. His mother acts as a symbol of comfort to him. The event of Ikemefuna's death depresses Okonkwo. When his daughter brings him food after three days, she orders him to finish it all (Achebe 60). Her resolve pleases him, and he constantly wishes she was a boy. He comes out of his depression terming it as a womanly act to sit and sulk.
Chielo, the priestess of the oracle of the hills and the caves tells Ekwefi Okonkwo's wife that the oracle has demanded to see their daughter Ezinma. The priestess takes Ezinma and goes around the nine villages before taking her to the oracles shrine. Okonkwo follows her with a machete intending to protect and defend her in case of a threat (Whittaker and Msiska 40). This is a display of his masculinity. He realizes that the priestess is carrying his daughter through the nine villages and grows impatient. He starts to worry and goes to the shrine four times to check on her. These actions are indicative of Okonkwo's caring nature despite displays of masculinity. He has a feminine side where he cares and worries for his daughter.
When at a funeral Okonkwo accidentally kills a man. As a result, his family is sent to exile for seven years. He goes to live among his mother's people. His zeal to work hard remains strong. The destruction of everything he owned and his dream of becoming one of his village's great achievers is shaken. He hopes to go back to his village with a force. He thinks of marring more wives and attaining all the four titles in his village. The author describes Okonkwo's ambition as that of a masculine man who believes in his abilities. His wish to restore and strengthen his position among his people is an indicator of an ambitious man. News of the white men arrives when he is still in exile.
Okonkwo's cousin is informs him that one of the converts to the Whiteman's religion is his son; he tries to choke him demanding an explanation. His disappointment in his son is profound, and he considers him a weakling. The missionaries make camp in the village. Okonkwo perceives them as a threat to their way of life. He wishes to remove and chase them away by force if necessary. As a warrior, he perceives the weakness of the villagers, and it frustrates him that his people would not fight an obvious threat to their way of life. Okonkwo leaves his mother's clansmen gladly as he perceives the as a womanly people.
His arrival back from exile is not what he expects. His reception as a warrior and a village elder is below his expectations he finds his people overcome by the Christians and their fierce nature is longer prevalent. His status in the village appears to be insignificant and in the struggle to reassert himself and his position. He joins the villagers in burning down the church after the killing of a python by a Christian (Achebe 62). His desire to react violently towards the Christians results from their corruption of his son's beliefs and diverting the people's attention from him. This action leads to his arrest. The colonialists humiliate and torture him. He feels that his dignity and status are no longer relevant. When a meeting is called at the village square, he makes a decision to make a final stand. He feels that even if his people have given up he cannot do so. His life's work and efforts seems to go to waste. He realizes that like his father he longer amounts to anything. This is something he has been working all his life to avoid.
A messenger asks the purpose of the meeting and Okonkwo sees an opportunity to strike in an effort to convince people to join him in the fight against the colonialists. He kills the messenger but instead of the villagers joining him, they look on without taking any action. He realizes that they will not join him in his war. He chooses to commit suicide rather than live as a man of insignificance. The idea of living like his father is not acceptable to him.
The author uses Okonkwo to present the conflict that exists between the traditional and cultural practices and the modern Christian perspective. Okonkwo's is a model man in the traditional setting whose ideals are admired by his people. His achievements are noteworthy given that his father has no part in acquiring them. As a leader, he is fierce and resolute in his decisions. Okonkwo is a man whose beliefs place women beneath men and considers them weak. He considers any sign of weakness in a man as a woman's trait. His resistance to change has brought about his end. He refuses to take a backseat and prefers to be in the forefront of everything. The author has illustrates the Igbo people's way of life in the pre-colonial time, and their assimilation to change by the arrival of the missionaries.