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Okonkwo, Things Fall Apart

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An Essay on Things Fall Apart

"Man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all." (Aristotle). Okonkwo is a perfect example of Aristotle’s quote in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Even though he is said to be the most powerful man in Umuofia, Okonkwo’s personal imperfections of fear, failure and uncontrollable anger do not allow him true eminence as a human being.

Okonkwo is one of the most influential men in the Ibo tribe. In his tribe, he is both feared and honored. Which is evident by this quote, "Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond... [He] had brought honor to his tribe by throwing Amalinze the Cat..."(Achebe page:3) This suggests that in Okonkwo's society, power is achieved by making a name for yourself in any way possible, even if that means fighting and wrestling to get your fame. Although honor is a good thing, when people have to fight to gain it, it becomes an object of less adoration. Okonkwo's "prosperity was visible in his household... his own hut stood behind the only gate in the red walls. Each of his three wives had her own hut... long stacks of yams stood out prosperously in [the bam]... [Okonkwo] offers prayers on the behalf of himself, his three wives, and eight children." (Achebe page:14) Okonkwo has also worked and tended to his crops in a very zealous fashion, and drives everyone around him to work as hard as he does. Because of this, he earns his place as one of Umuofia's most powerful men. In many cultures, a big family is a source of pride. Although Okonkwo is not always pleased by his children and wives, it also brings him a source of pride to have three wives and eight children. Large families mean that the head of the family is able to support all of them. Okonkwo's devotion to his crops and family gives to him the respect that any father and husband deserves, and in his culture, being able to fight and kill, as well, gives him even more influence and power.

Okonkwo's first and most prominent flaw is his fear of becoming a failure. It is greatly influenced by his father, but Okonkwo takes his fear to the extreme. Okonkwo's father was a very lazy and carefree man. He had a reputation of being "poor and his wife and children had just barely enough to eat... they swore never to lend him any more money because he never paid back." (Achebe Page: 5) In Umuofia, a father is supposed to teach the children right and wrong, and in this case, the lessons were not taught, but self-learned. Okonkwo had to rely on his own interpretations of what defined a "good man" and to him that was someone that was the exact opposite of his father. As a result of his own self-taught conclusions, Okonkwo feels that anything resembling his father or anything that his father enjoyed was weak and unnecessary. Because of his fear to be seen as weak, Okonkwo even strikes down a child that calls him father: "(and as the machete came down] Okonkwo looked away. He heard the blow... He heard Ikemefuna cry 'My father, they have killed me!'... Okonkwo draws his machete and cuts him down, he does not want to be thought weak." (Achebe page:61) The fact that he kills the child shows that the way that he thinks is wrong, that reputation is more important than the life of a child. Although it is a shame to be thought weak, Okonkwo's actions



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