Never before have yams seemed so important. Set in Nigeria during the late 1880’s, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart presents the truth about change of lifestyles and cultures through the story of one man, Okonkwo, who wanted to live the traditional lifestyle. “To show affection was a sign of weakness; the only thing worth demonstrating was strength.(p.28)” Yet, despite this philosophy, his pride was ultimately his downfall. While some may consider Okonkwo a hero, others may consider him a victim; ultimately, Okonkwo is a tragic hero whose pride was his undoing.
He was a self-made man who rose from misfortune and gained a reputation as the village hero in Umuofia thanks to his self determination and strength. Okonkwo was loyal to his village and went to war for his people, displaying a remarkable amount of skill on the battlefield. “That was his fifth head, and he was not an old man yet.(p.10)” He brought honor to his village by beating Amalinze the Cat, a wrestler that was undefeated for 7 years, and became the greatest wrestler in Umuofia. Okonkwo’s goal in life was to achieve the high statuses in his clan, he already had two titles but he wanted more. His fellow villagers had great respect for him; it was shown when they placed Ikemefuna, a boy who was given as a peace settlement, under his care and instruction. In the beginning, Okonkwo had nothing. There was no barn for him to inherit because he came from a poor father “And so at a very young age when he was striving desperately to build a barn through share-cropping Okonkwo was also fending for his father’s house.(p.22)” His perseverance and strength allowed him to push through difficult times in his life. But even with that setback, Okonkwo pushed himself to work hard in order to be able to look forward to a prosperous future for his family. His strength and his persistence allowed him to thrive and become successful.
Okonkwo wanted to live the simple and traditional lifestyle of his people; his goal was to be one of the lords of the clan. He was on track to reach his goal but when the British came, they changed the lifestyle of his clan and everything he worked for was taken away. “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. (p.176)” His culture and religion were being criticized by the British, saying that it was false and deceiving. While others denounced their former religion and joined the christians, he stood his ground. The British also brought their government and many began to flock towards their lifestyle, nearly everyone adapted to the Christians’ way of life. Soon the former way to settle disputes between neighbors was no longer being used and the British court was embraced. Okonkwo and five other men went to the District Commissioner to tell their side of a story but the men were quickly arrested. They were insulted, were not given any water, and starved. His life’s work was completely stripped away by the British.
Okonkwo’s demise was the product of his fear of failure and being seen as weak. He was once a strong and confident man who had an entire life ahead of him and was considered one of the greatest men in Umuofia by many of his clansmen. He was one of the nine spirits that delivered justice in the clan, was the greatest wrestler in Umuofia and had two titles. “It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father.(p.13)” Most, if not all, of his actions and achievements were influenced in some way by his fears. Okonkwo wanted to be the complete opposite of his father, Unoka. In Okonkwo’s eyes, his father was a failure; he would constantly be in debt and barely had enough to feed his family. Even after his father’s death Okonkwo was tormented by the memories of Unoka. Out of fear Okonkwo kills his adopted son Ikemefuna in order to reestablish his masculinity.
“Okonkwo did not taste any food for two days after the death of Ikemefuna.(p.63)” Okonkwo believed that he reasserted his manliness, in that moment he felt like he did, but afterwards he was haunted by his decision. In addition to losing Ikemefuna he unknowingly distanced himself from his other son, who was very close to Ikemefuna, Nwoye. Ikemefuna’s death is the beginning of Okonkwo’s decline. ”Unfortunately for her, Okonkwo heard it and madly ran into his room for the loaded gun, ran out again and aimed it at her as she clambered over the dwarf wall of the barn.(p.39)” He took it as a challenge when Ekwefi commented on his inexperience at shooting a gun for his masculinity and shot at her. Okonkwo would fend for his masculinity if people made comments about it, he believed that he couldn’t be thought of as anything other than successful or strong.
“The only course open to Okonkwo was to flee from the clan.(p.124)” Okonkwo fled to Mbanta, his mother’s homeland, with his family because he accidentally kills a clansman during a funeral. But because it was an accident, he was exiled for only 7 years. During the seven years of his exile, the British came in to convert and colonize the villages. Nwoye would later on leave his family, go against his father’s wishes and join the Christians. After seven years, Okonkwo’s exile was over, he comes back to Umuofia expecting a reasonable amount of attention. But other than the marriage negotiations that were made, no one pays much attention to his return.“He mourned for the clan, which he breaking up and falling apart, and he mourned for the warlike men of Umuofia who had unaccountably become soft like women.(p.183)”
This contributes to Okonkwo’s realization of how much his clan has changed. “He knew that Umuofia would not go to war. He knew because they had let the other messengers escape.(p.205)” This is the final push, Okonkwo knows that the clan has changed when he realizes that Umuofia, a once aggressive and dominating clan, has become peaceful. Not wanting to adapt to British ways, Okonkwo still wanted to control his fate and committed suicide. On the outside he was a strong and authorative man, but on the inside, he was really a man whose entire life was dominated by fear.
Yams are symbolized as a man’s masculinity, being known as “…the king of crops…(p.23)” in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The novel displays the major effects of change to the lifestyles and cultures of people. The moment he killed Ikemefuna out of fear, his fate was sealed. Okonkwo’s obsessiveness and constant desire to show masculinity and strength causes him to lose his life in the end. Even though he worked himself to the bone nearly everyday in his life, not wanting to end up like his father, he ends up dying in the same disgraceful manner.