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Things Fall Apart

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Within the novels Things Fall Apart, written by China Achebe, and The Things They Carried, written by Tim O'Brien, characters are faced with their destiny. Howard Thurman once said, "Fate is the raw materials of experience. They come uninvited and often unanticipated. Destiny is what a man does with these raw materials." Fate is an inevitable event that is predestined for a person. One character from each novel is faced to deal with that fate. Both characters deal with this quite differently. Okonkwo, the protagonist in Things Fall Apart has the grueling memory of his father stuck in his head. This memory is part of the "raw materials" which brings him to face his destiny. Tim O'Brien, however, has the experience of war and death. His experience demonstrates how extreme circumstances, like war, can turn a rational person to a person who commits unthinkable and cruel acts. Both characters have extremely negative experiences which lead them to face their destiny head on.

Okonkwo is a character who strives to make his way in a world that he thinks values manliness. His greatest fear is becoming his father. He stands for everything portrayed as "manly". His father was a man of cowardly traits. He was poor and his main interest was music. Okonkwo labels his father as feminine. He associates masculinity with aggression. This is the main reason he tries to define himself as the manly man of society. He achieves great success in both social and financial perspectives. He marries three women and has a plentiful amount of children with each. He runs his household with fear. He frequently beats wives and even threatens to kill them. He is perceived as a powerful, wealthy and violent man. His whole outlook on the way he lives his life is based on being the opposite of his father. His experience with living with someone he was so ashamed of drives him to become a person of violence and authority. "But in spite of these disadvantages, he had begun even in his father's lifetime to lay the foundations of a prosperous future. It was slow and painful. But he threw himself into it like one possessed. And indeed he was possessed by the fear of his father's contemptible life and shameful death" (Achebe, 18). Okonkwo is consciously opposed to anything perceived as feminine or soft. He struggles to be as different from his deceased father as possible.

Okonkwo stands for strength. But when the white men come to live among the Umuofians he finds himself unable to adapt to the change. This is ironic since his father was at the odds of values in the community and now Okonkwo is in the same position. It becomes apparent that violence will not over ride compliance in this situation of survival. The question of whether change should be accepted over tradition is a main conflict within Okonkwo. He resists the white men and their new political views because he feels they are not manly enough. He will not tolerate these new views because he does not want his social status to decline. His sense of self worth is dependent

upon the traditional standards that he grew up with. By changing these standards means that he is at risk for losing status. Others agree with Okonkwo that the white men do not understand their traditions and should leave them be. In a conversation between Obierika and Okonkwo, Obierike states that,

Does the white man understand our custom about land? How can he when he does not even speak our tongue? But he says that our customs are bad; and our own brothers who have taken up his religion also say that our customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us? The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart (Achebe, 176)

Obierika and Okonkwo share similar views of the Europeans. But Okonkwo has to realize that he can not always be full of aggression and violence. His rashness and anger is what brings about his own destruction. Emotions run high when the white men come and because Okonkwo never displays his emotions unless they include anger he brings himself to his own demise.

Okonkwo meets his fate. He lives his whole life trying to portray a man of stature and strength and then he commits suicide. Suicide defines a weak person. Suicidal people are usually so weak and unhappy with themselves they do not know what else to do. Okonkwo's suicide is the result of fear of failure in his eyes. He is terrified of ending up the way he does that he does something so opposite of everything he stands for. When he kills the messenger no one forces him. This is his last attempt to gain back his manliness and everything he worked for. Okonkwo's destiny is ironic to everything in his life. From his wife, to his children, to his father, he demonstrates a figure of prosperity, strength, and power. Committing suicide is a sign of giving up. When he does this he exemplifies not only his weakness but that he may in fact have been more like his father than he would have wanted.

Tim O'Brien is faced with his fate quite differently. He enters the Vietnam War to escape the shame of not going at all. He is a storyteller. He uses storytelling as a means of coping with the horrors he witnesses during the war. Though it is difficult for O'Brien to admit, after a certain amount of time in Vietnam he realizes that he is capable of evil. The only way for him to deal with hurt is to hurt back. Men do unthinkable things because of impulse but also because of peer pressure. No soldier wants to say that he is too afraid to kill another. The biggest fear of each soldier was not the war itself but embarrassment of being weak. "They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing --- these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible



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