This essay relates to Chinua Achebe's, Things Fall Apart. The book relates to the changes in Nigerian tribal life (the Ibo specifically) brought about by Imperialist colonization.
A Sabreur's Quietus
Chinua Achebe's novel, Things Fall Apart, uses the changes in African tribal culture brought about by European colonization to illustrate the evolution of the character Okonkwo. As Okonkwo leads his life, his experiences, personality and thought are revealed to the reader. The obstacles he faces in life are made numerous as time progresses. Okonkwo's most significant challenge originates within himself. He also encounters problems not only when in opposition to the white culture, but in his own culture, as he becomes frustrated with tribal ideals that conflict with his own. The last adversary he encounters is of the physical world, brought upon himself by his emotional and cultural problems. The manner through which Okonkwo addresses his adversaries in Things Fall Apart creates the mechanism that leads to his eventual destruction.
The greatest opponent in life is the one that is created inside the mind. As Okonkwo grows up, he decides to be the absolute antipodes of his father Unoka. Okonkwo perceives his father as a culmination of the weaknesses in man. In this erroneous view, Okonkwo buries his feelings deep within himself. When these emotions emerge, he views them as a sign of weakness. When Okonkwo participates in Ikemefuna's killing, he is deeply affected as he has ended the life of one who he grew to love as a son. Okonkwo is excessively depressed after the slaying, "not tasting any food for two days." (61) As he notices his confusion, he calls himself weak like a shivering old woman. In his emotionless show of strength after Ikemefuna's death, Okonkwo actually proves his frailty by hiding what he feels. Okonkwo is dominated by his private fear of appearing weak. Okonkwo emotionally experiences one thing but behaves the opposite. Thus, these intrinsic conflicts are projected through the only emotional outlet Okonkwo understands, anger.
Because Okonkwo funnels all his emotional energy into a single channel, he often expresses what he is feeling in outbursts of mindless rage and violence. Often these explosions are in the form of beatings. The first of these events takes place when Okonkwo beats one of his wives then nearly shoots her. Okonkwo blamed her for killing a banana tree, however the reality was that Okonkwo was merely impatient for the New Yam Festival to pass. "He was always uncomfortable sitting around waiting for a feast...much happier working on his farm." (38) Okonkwo uses his farming as an outlet for his emotions, but when idleness comes in times near festivals, he has no work and appropriately seeks another outlet. While beatings are accepted by the African tribal culture, Okonkwo's timing in one incident places him at odds with his village. During a week of peace preceding the planting season, Okonkwo severely beats one of his wives. With this act of violence, he has offended the gods and must make reparations through sacrifices. Although the Ibo culture is partially a warrior based society, unnecessary violence is frowned upon by the clansmen. The prominence of violence in Okonkwo's tendencies places him at odds with the more passive tribe members. He sees them as weak and pitiful while they see him as a hardworking, but fearful man. This difference leads Okonkwo to his last major conflict in life, that of the white man.
The final element of Okonkwo's downfall is the constant seeking of physical conflict. With the family beatings, Okonkwo has no fear of punishment for his actions. Neither his wives nor children have any recourse if they are beaten. However, when Okonkwo learns of the white man's arrival in neighboring villages he sees a chance for a different type of battle. With his return from exile in Mbaino, Okonkwo is abhorred by the changes that have taken place during his absence. He seeks to rid the tribe of the abomination that white man is. Others have the same goal, but Okonkwo lacks the willingness to wait for fulfillment of this purpose. At the last meeting where the clansmen come to decide what they should do, Okonkwo has already chosen war. As the messenger arrives to order an end to the meeting, Okonkwo is once again driven by his rage and kills the messenger. He realizes that the others were not prepared to fight, and he comes to understand the consequences of his actions. Instead of being executed, Okonkwo decides to take his own life.
Okonkwo takes his life as he sees himself a lone warrior in a society of weaklings. This isolation is truly imposed by his decision of how to handle the conflicts which he encounters. His unitary channeling of emotions, cultural inflexibility, and tendency to seek physical confrontation are compiled into a single notion. The idealized vision of a warrior by which Okonkwo lives is the instrument that leads to the climax of Achebe's novel, Things Fall Apart: Okonkwo's demise.
Copyright, © Greg Wittel 1996-2000. All Rights Reserved.
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