The novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe consists of three major parts that powerfully portray the significant events of Okonkwo’s life. The first part of the novel emphasizes Okonkwo’s childhood life and upbringing, where the readers clearly understand his relationship with his father. The second part highlights his life while in exile, while the third part portrays the main events of his return home. This paper strives to highlight how fear and weakness for failure contributed to Okonkwo’s downfall as he tries to gain his masculinity and success in his life.
Okonkwo is mainly concerned with achieving his goals and is extraordinarily obsessed with his masculinity, and always wants things to be done from his point of view. His character has contributed to having poor relationships with other individuals within the society, resulting in conflicts (PBS NewsHour). Some of the events that have resulted in him having a bad relationship with other members of society are his disregard for feminism and things related to women. Having a negative relationship with his immediate environment is one of the main causes of his downfall in society. Personal weakness, fear, and forces outside his control are also significant contributions to Okonkwo’s emasculation.
The people of Umuofia tribe believe that a man’s respect and masculinity are greatly based on the individual’s strength and influence. Okonkwo’s early childhood is mainly characterized by poor childhood development because of poor parenting from his father (PBS NewsHour). Within the Umuofia tribe, a father is considered the first teacher to his child.. “With a father like Unoka, Okonkwo did not have the start in life which many young men had. He neither inherited a barn nor a title, nor even a young wife” (Chinua Achebe, pg. 5-8). Okonkwo’s father does not act as required of him and becomes very lazy and neglectful to his son.
In the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Okonkwo’s father is portrayed as an individual with a poor legacy that has caused him to lose his son’s respect. Okonkwo grows up distancing himself from his father and decides to follow his path to acquire his own masculinity within the society (Achebe, pg.152). Okonkwo grows up feeling embarrassed because of his father’s disreputable legacy, and his main fear is being considered weak like his father in society (PBS NewsHour). Okonkwo’s disregard for his biological father is also one of the main causes of his downfall since his attitude towards his father is considered inappropriate according to the culture of the people of the Umuofia tribe.
The attitude of fear of failure because of his father’s poor legacy has also contributed to Okonkwo causing so much pain and disregard to his family and other people close to him. His relationship with other individuals within the society deteriorated because of his poor treatment of other individuals (PBS NewsHour). Poor relationship with other members of society was the beginning of his downfall. No one wanted to associate with him because of his negative attitude and treatment towards other individuals and his father. Some of the main individuals who have suffered because of his character are the women in society because he does not value anything considered feminine.
Some of the actions conducted by Okonkwo towards achieving a reputable legacy different from his father’s weak legacy lands him in tragic conflicts and poor social relations with the members of the community. For example, when his gun misfires and kills Ezeudu’s son, the community members storm his home and burn up everything for being accused of manslaughter (Tobalase pp. 81–87). Manslaughter is considered as an abomination within the Igbo community cultural orientation and results in him having a negative relationship with the community elders (Tobalase pp. 81–87). This incident prompts the community elders to send him and his family into exile, where they relocated to Manta.
Manta is Okonkwo’s motherland, and he considers himself being kicked out of his father’s fatherland and relocates to his mother’s homeland, an act that lowers his reputation within the community. He despises the new environment because of his negative attitude towards women. For example, in the novel, Okonkwo has occasionally subjected his wives and daughters to different forms of physical, emotional, and mental torture as a way of showing his masculinity (PBS NewsHour). “Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper” (Chinua Achebe, pg. 29). However, these actions are perceived to be immoral, which has a negative impact on his reputation. Okonkwo is also considered egocentric and disrespectful to other members of her mother’s community.
Another instance where Okonkwo portrays the fear of failure is when he feels that his Nwoye has disappointed him by joining the Christian mission groups that had mode into their fatherland. He feels that he is a failure because his son has abandoned his father’s cultural orientation, unlike his peers in the society who have adhered to the culture or the people of the Umuofia tribe (Tobalase pp. 81–87). “A chick that will grow into a cock can be spotted the very day it hatches. I have done my best to make Nwoye grow into a man but there is too much of his mother in him” (Chinua Achebe, pg. 150-153). He considers his son a weak individual and eventually disowns him because he wants to maintain a good reputation, which portrays him as a bad father.
Okonkwo also fears to show his emotions openly as a way of showing of his masculinity. This is evident when he fails to show affection for his favorite child and a man next to him clears his throat in disbelief because of his conduct towards his child (PBS NewsHour). “Okonkwo never showed any emotion openly, unless it is the emotion of anger. To show affection was a sign of weakness; the only thing worth demonstrating was strength” (Chinua Achebe, pg. 60) This conduct also affected his relationship with his family who lived fearing their father who had no regard for them despite them being his next of kin.
In conclusion, “Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness” (Chinua Achebe). He conducts himself in a way that portrays himself as a strong and powerful individual, which has contributed significantly to his downfall. He had respect and masculinity, based on his individual’s strength and influence in the community. He did not follow his father’s footpath into his legacy and hence went through unpredicted challenges that also led to his downfall.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Anchor Books, 1994.
PBS NewsHour. “Achebe Discusses Africa 50 Years after ‘Things Fall Apart.’” YouTube, 2013, Web.
Tobalase, Adegbite O. “Masculinity and Cultural Conflict in Chinua Achebes Things Fall Apart.” International Journal of English and Literature, vol. 7, no. 6, 2016, pp. 81–87, Web.