Things Fall Apart Book Review English Literature Essay

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Okonkwo, the main character of Things Fall Apart is a violent, impulsive man who is completely intolerant to any kind of femininity or laziness. He has a great amount of pride in himself that he is not going to end up like his father, Umofia, without a title within his village and who died without any honor.

Looking at Okonkwo's character from the outside, he is a severe, threatening man described as "tall and huge, and his bushy eyebrows and wide nose gave him a very severe look." (3) Even the way that he walks, on the balls of his feet, gives him a threatening stance, as though he will attack whoever or whatever makes him angry. He is regarded as a great warrior and wrestler within his tribe but he is also known for being impulsive and very quick to anger at anything, especially laziness. There is one extreme example of this within the book, where one of Okonkwo's wives does not return in time to make him dinner. Because of this, he beats her mercilessly. This is not common in his culture, even though beating your wife is not frowned upon, it is not common practice and it certainly is not common for a man to beat his wife to near death. This could be shown as Okonkwo believing that he is vastly superior to his wives and women in general because he is vehemently trying to not turn out like his father, who was compared to a woman. This consequence also shows how impulsive Okonkwo can be with his actions, not thinking of the consequences for himself or others, such as when he kills the British messenger after he becomes annoyed and frustrated at the man.

Throughout the book, Okonkwo is driven by his intense desire to be everything his father was not. His father was lazy and unmotivated, and lived his life without taking risks in order to reap the rewards and died without any notoriety or titles within the village. Okonkwo thus desires to push everything his father has done behind him, including emotions. This explains the lack of emotions such as compassion and happiness from Okonkwo. It also drives him to constantly be working without ever stopping to rest, as he associates these actions with his father. He connects them with his father and therefore connects them with evil and something to be avoided. Bottling up these emotions within his head has very negative effects on his well-being. Psychologically, bottling up emotions exaggerates them over time until they can mutate and dominate the thoughts of the unfortunate person who made the choice to bottle up their emotions.

In the end, when Okonkwo realizes that his tribe does not support him and he may have the same fate as his father, he commits suicide. This is contrary to his actions throughout the book because suicide is a cowardly death, which is something that Okonkwo would have associated with his lazy father. His choice is strange in that with all his choices to be as different from his cowardly, lazy father, his life ends with a cowardly choice by Okonkwo. All of his choices to be impulsive and brave leave his mind as he decides to take his own life.

Of all of Okonkwo's compulsive choices, killing his child is probably one of the most shocking. "He heard Ikemefuma cry, 'My father, they have killed me!' as he ran towards him. Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak." (61) This small number of words speaks volumes of Okonkwo's character. Okonkwo is terrified of being thought weak, as stated in the quote, so much so that he is willing to kill his favorite and most loved son. This also demonstrates his impulsiveness as he makes the snap decision to get over his fear by killing son without thinking. All of these character flaws make it difficult to associate with and like Okonkwo as a person. This distancing from Okonkwo forces an objective look at the story and the tones behind it, instead of reading the characters in an emotional way.

Taking another look at Okonkwo, he could also be seen as a massive paradox. He is afraid of fear and lets it dominate his actions, so as his life goes on, his fear increases, building upon itself. This paradoxical relationship between Okonkwo and fear is interesting to take note of as the story progresses because his fear or fear builds and builds and begins to overtake his sense of what is right and wrong, what is morally correct and incorrect, eventually leading to him essentially losing what he had worked his entire life to achieve and killing himself.

This fear of fear approach also opens up the possibility that Okonkwo is also a weak character, constantly terrified as he goes through his life. This would mean that he is not only weak, but is putting up a facade of strength, which would be a plausible cause for his suicide. If he was weak as this theory states, his fear overwhelmed him and his facade would not hold up any longer, causing him to take his own life to end his fears, disregarding everything else that had happened up to that point in his life and all of the chances he had in the past and all of the chances in the future to turn his personality around and appear as an honorable person and lead a normal life instead of the facade he is living throughout the book.

As soon as Okonkwo killed his own son, he set himself up for his own destruction. From that point on, he rapidly degraded from his already perilous position within his tribe by forcing mistrust upon the people of his tribe. After that incident, they no longer trusted him and would not be led along with the direction he was heading, which was the preservation of their culture. This also begins the downfall of his way of life as the people of his tribe steadily go over to the missionaries as a source of religion and how to live instead of staying with their ancient culture and religion. This is also a plausible explanation for Okonkwo's suicide as he realizes what is happening and that there is nothing he can do to stop it.

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