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Characterization in "Things Fall Apart"

 
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In every society, a leader is required in order to steer the community ahead. A leader needs to be a person with a reasonable mind in order to provide justice. In the book Things Fall Apart, Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe, has explored the order and hierarchy that depict the Igbo society, which is the society in question. The concept of order and hierarchy is well rooted in the Igbo society to an extent that any alteration breeds chaos in its environment. This society was headed by Okwonko. Okwonko has been portrayed as reckless and most feared leader, especially because of the way he handles the activities of the society. On the other hand, through deep analysis of the Okwonko’s psychological character, it can be presumed that he is essentially a good person. This is because everything he did that depicted him negatively was actually for the good of the people in Igbo society (Iyase%u0323re 112).

The author of Things Fall Apart portrayed Okwonko as a protagonist. He is a respected leader in the Igbo society and the Umuofia clan. Even though he is ostensibly powerful and strict, his life is reflected to be directed by innate fear. His leadership style is highly influenced by absolute bitterness of being like his father, Unoka. In this book, Unoka is depicted as a lazy and coward man unable to support his family. Okwonko describes his father in the light of feminine characteristics. Therefore, Okwonko decides to choose opposite way of life, totally different to that of his father. For this reason, he instills anger and fear among family and society members. This leadership style adopted by Okwonko largely contributes to ultimate decline of his predominance over the others.

The decline of Okwonko has been revealed gradually in the book. He has been portrayed as a person with no patience for any man with the character similar to that of his father. However, in other words, this weakening was a slow leak of his saneness, which can be read between the lines of the book Things Fall Apart, “He had no tolerance with unproductive men”. In accordance with Okwonko’s philosophy, hard-working efforts and material worth of a man determine whether a man was worth praise or acknowledgement. Any person below that criterion was considered as being lazy, unsuccessful and not worth of any praise.

Okwonko is a tragic hero but not a martyr. Despite everything, he is a man of great value to the society of Igbo and his Umuofia clan, and his downfall has been greatly contributed by overwhelming internal emotional conflicts acting within him. This happened as a result of tragic faults and the influence of the cultural practices in the Igbo society that challenge any deviation from the traditional society. Furthermore, the psychological conflict within himself, as he strives to be different from his father, influences his conduct as the leader in the Igbo society. Okwonko, being a tragic hero in the book, must portray some faults in his character. It is evident that Okwonko is obsessed with conquering, war and fighting. In numerous instances, he has been engaged in acts of physical violence, combat or exertion. Okwonko’s cravings to fight and conquer are being described in the book as tantamount to “the desire for a woman” (Lindfors 46).

In the Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe has portrayed a person whose entire mind is focused on nothing else but success. Okwonko does whatever it takes to excel, even if it means to exercise his leadership power bestowed upon him to the limits. In his second tragic fault, Okwonko has proved that the only way to express his deep emotions is anger. This is evident when Okwonko fails to hide his weakness towards the young hostage called Ikemefuma, who respects Okwonko as his father. Chinua Achebe reveals Okwonko’s internal wishes towards the young hostage. Okwonko wishes that the young hostage were his native son instead of his real son Nwoye. Another flow of rage makes Okwonko reveal his angers towards his wife. Okwonko wants to make the young hostage beat his wife during the time of weak peace in his family. This is reflected by Achebe’s words when he states, “Killing this banana tree” in his book.

Furthermore, Okwonko’s fury makes him virtually kill his second wife with a gun. Although he later regrets his actions and feels sorry for his wife, his personality prevents him from showing his true emotions. Another example is depicted when the Oracle of Hill declares that the young hostage, Ikemefuma, must die. However, the Oracle of Hill clearly states that killing should not be conducted by Okwonko because Ikemefuma treats him like a father. When the man draws and raises his axe to carry out the execution of the youngster, Okwonko looks away because he is emotionally disturbed by this act. The situation worsens when he hears the young hostage cry, “My father, they have killed me”, as the Ikemefuma is rushing toward him. Although the inner feelings within Okwonko were against this act, he is scared of being believed to be weak. Therefore, he eventually draws his knife and cuts Ikemefuma down (Bloom 67).

Okwonko’s personality restricts him from behaving in a way that shows a sign of weakness to the villagers. Although he felt pity and a lot of love for the Ikemefuma, he was afraid that the villagers could perceive this attitude as a sign of weakness. His actions were also influenced by the fear of being like his father, who was worthless for him, hence, was buried without honor or respect. In addition, weakness is often interpreted as a sign of femininity in Igbo’s culture. Therefore, Okwonko had to live to the expectation of the society behaving and acting like a man. All these actions led to tragic downfall of the Okwonko’s legacy.

The decline of Okwonko’s legacy occurs when he returns to the Umuofia village after being expatriated for shooting his sixteen years old son, Ezeudu. When he returns he finds that missionaries has already constructed a church in his home village. The presence of missionaries in his motherland moves Okwonko to anger, “The white man is very shrewd. He came softly and quietly with his faith. We were charmed by his idiocy and permitted him to stay. Now he has won the faith of our members, and our tribe can no longer act as a group. He has put a blade on the things that held us together, and we have tumbled apart (Achebe 157).”

After his return to the village, Okwonko began to be resentful towards the presence of the missionaries. He even starts to be rebellious and aggressive, and feels that the only way to push the missionaries out of the village is the war. His rebellious intentions become evident when Enoch, a missionary convert, interferes with the communal ceremony conducted in honor of the earth goddess. Through this deed, Enoch was considered to have killed the ancestral spirit and the entire Umuofia clan foundation. Okwonko was angered by these actions that he even ended up murdering a white missionary sent to stop the event. Okwonko thought killing a missionary would bring people together to wage a war against the proselytizers. However, when Okwonko heard people questioning his aggressive action and his intention “he (knows) that Umuofia would not go to war”, he decides to end his life by hanging himself. Okwonko’s actions constitute one of the most outlawed actions of the culture. This obsessed leader could not simply accept or embrace the changes introduced by the missionaries in his motherland since these were changes against the Umuofia cultural beliefs. Therefore, Okwonko decided to take the easy way out of humiliations (Lindfors 78).

In conclusion, it is evident that Okwonko is a tragic hero because a man of such importance to the Igbo society and Umuofia clan brought down conflict of thought and his reputable status. Okwonko is striving to behave like a man as defined by the culture, as well as being a completely different person from his father. He is determined to follow his culture, especially because his father failed to do so. However, introduction of a new system of belief that tends to compromise the existing traditional belief is taken by Okwonko as a threat. This makes him wage a war against the missionaries, but when he realizes that the entire society is against him, he resolves to kill himself in order to avoid humiliation. Furthermore, the entire idea of Okwonko, being a tragic hero rather than just a hero, is essentially derived from his dominant features. However, the character traits of superciliousness and violence deviate from the heroic traits. Therefore, the character traits of arrogance and violence portrayed by Okwonko terminate all the heroic qualities. The death of Okwonko through self-hanging illustrates the satire in that a man of such high honor and societal prominence finally decides to kill himself.

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