“Things Fall Apart” is one of the most exciting yet informative novels. The book is centered on Okonkwo, a wealthy and revered warrior in the Umuofia clan in Nigeria. Okonkwo is continuously haunted by his father’s behaviors, including, being lazy, unable to fend for his family, and constantly falling into debts, which are not valued in the Umuofia clan. To eliminate the family shame, Okonkwo strives to build his family’s reputation. He works hard to become a wealthy and respectable man in society. However, the most fundamental part of the play is how Okonkwo’s character changes from the beginning of the story to the end. Due to the fundamental role that Okonkwo plays as the main character, examining how he develops various versions of himself to reflect the different social circumstances and media is fundamental to understanding the influence of societal issues on a character.
At the beginning of the novel, Okonkwo is introduced as a physically intimidating person. He is ruthless and ready to tackle any person that comes his way. As the head of his family, he leads his wives and children through dictatorship. He rules with authority and beats his wife and children whenever he feels they have misbehaved (Chinua, 1958). His habit is rooted in masculinity. Markedly, patriarchal culture is founded on masculinity (Fernández-Álvarez, 2014). A society that is heavily embedded in patriarchy promotes socio-negative attitudes toward women (Anderson, 2008; Haj-Yahia, 2003). Indeed, Okonkwo views his three wives as his subjects whose core roles include serving him food and raising his children. He works hard to amass wealth and be revered in the community. Thus, Okonkwo is a confident and respectable person in Igbo society.
Okonkwo’s character at the beginning of the play is founded on the fear of being a failure like his father, who is regarded as a letdown in society. The fear of failure is a fundamental motivation for one to achieve success (Martin & Marsh, 2003). His father, Unoka, is presented as a lazy individual that cannot provide necessities to his family (Chinua, 1958). With his father being a laughing stock in the Umuofia clan, Okonkwo portrays profound hard work to make his family respectable. Additionally, he is determined to become a strong and fearless man who is ready to lead his community to war against the British colonialists. According to Okonkwo, his father’s characteristics exemplify feminism. Consequently, he puts extra effort into ensuring that he provides for his family and that he becomes brave and masculine in every way possible. Through sheer hard work, Okonkwo becomes rich, marries three wives, holds a leadership position in the community, and excels as a wrestler. Nevertheless, his significant focus on masculinity prompts him to exhibit extreme behaviors, such as cruelty and hostility toward his wives and children.
Okonkwo’s demeanor toward the end of the story is a complete contrast of his personality at the beginning of the novel. Upon him shooting a sixteen-year-old boy, his fear grows, prompting him to disappear to his motherland for seven years (Chinua, 1958). His fears are based on a lack of a clear understanding of the consequences that would follow the event. According to Carleton (2016), the Fear of the Unknown (FOTU) arises due to the absence of clear information. While Okonkwo was initially portrayed as a brave man, his decision to flee portrays him as a coward. Moreover, his decision to finally commit suicide reveals a sign of hopelessness for a man once revered by the entire village. As shown in the earlier part of the book, Okonkwo is a strong man who is not supposed to surrender, as that is perceived as feminism in the Umuofia clan. Thus, his decision to hang himself significantly varies from the profound masculinity he portrayed in the initial section of the book.
Okonkwo’s personality change is premised on his earlier character going overboard. His fearless and cruel personality makes him shoot a boy accidentally. However, the fear of the consequences he would likely receive from the community forced him to escape to his motherland to hide (Chinua, 1958). Conversely, his change from a respectable person in the community to a hopeless individual is prompted by the failure by his clansmen to support him in his plans to fight off the white man upon his return from his motherland. Hence, Okonkwo’s change in personality is prompted by his decision to exercise extreme masculinity.
In summary, Okonkwo’s character is presented in two distinct versions in the novel Things fall apart. At the beginning of the story, Okonkwo emerges as a strong, fearless, and cruel warrior that is ready to pounce at any person that comes his way. He leads his family with cruelty, and he does not hesitate to beat his wives and children when he feels they have misbehaved. Conversely, Okonkwo is revealed as a hopeless man at the end of the narrative. While fear makes him flee to his mother’s home upon shooting a young boy, a drain in his earlier strength prompts him to commit suicide. Accordingly, the events that happened in the Umuofia clan provide a solid foundation for an understanding of how social circumstances and demands can alter the version of a character.
Anderson, E. (2008). “I used to think women were weak”: Orthodox masculinity, gender segregation, and sport. In Sociological forum (Vol. 23, No. 2, pp. 257-280). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Carleton, R. N. (2016). Fear of the unknown: One fear to rule them all?. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 41, 5-21.
Chinua, A. (1958). Things fall apart. London, UK: William Heinemann Ltd.
Fernández-Álvarez, Ó. (2014). Non-hegemonic masculinity against gender violence. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 161, 48-55.
Haj-Yahia, M. M. (2003). Beliefs about wife beating among Arab men from Israel: The influence of their patriarchal ideology. Journal of Family Violence, 18(4), 193-206.
Martin, A. J., & Marsh, H. W. (2003). Fear of failure: Friend or foe?. Australian Psychologist, 38(1), 1-32.