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Free Study Guide Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe BookNotes

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OVERALL ANALYSIS


CHARACTER ANALYSIS


Okonkwo

Okonkwo plays a major role in the novel and is projected as a heroic figure and a wrestler who is constantly at war with others, with his ‘chi’, his legacy of his father whom he despises, his own character and finally, with the white man. Okonkwo’s world consists of the nine villages from Umuofia to Mbaino and areas outside of these boundaries have little significance to him, belonging simply to that vague realm “beyond.” He gives a lot of importance to personal achievements as he believes that these achievements bring honor to the village which in turn emphasizes the close tie between the individual and society.

Yet Okonkwo has his weakness and it is these weaknesses that ultimately destroy the life he has created for himself. His self-determination is not only controlled by interneral but external forces as well. His impulsive and rash nature makes him break the rules of the sacred week of peace. It is his carelessness that results in his banishment from his village for seven years, and finally, it is again his fiery and rash temper which pushes him to kill a white man and consequently pushes him to take his own life.

Okonkwo is a man who has grown up in a community, that, because of its passionate desire for survival, places its faith in the individual quality of ‘manliness.’ And it is an irony of fate that makes him start off with a disadvantage, on this score - the failure of his own father. It is the need for him to live down the shame of his father that compels him to an excessive adherence of the social code. This transforms every positive value that he has to into a weakness. Also, he pursues achievement with an obsessive single-mindedness that eventually degenerates into egocentricity. He thus, virtually flounders through his life, with the minor problems, which instead of strengthening him, carry him to a point of dissolution. The novel reflects this degeneration with respect to the traditional African way of life. Hence the title of the novel Things Fall Apart.


Nwoye

Nwoye is Okonkwo’s son from his first wife, and Okonkwo has a great deal of expectations for him. Okonkwo has kept a firm control on him, since he wants him to grow into a tough young man “capable of ruling his father’s household when he was dead and gone to join the ancestors.” But the reader sees Nwoye’s inner confusion and turmoil at the beginning of the novel when he prefers listening to the more female-oriented stories such as the tortoise or the bird Eneke, rather than to the masculine stories of violence and bloodshed. With Ikemefuna to lead him, Nwoye seemed to be redirected onto the path of manhood, but Ikemefuna’s unexpected death leaves him friendless and emotionally devastated. It is then that Nwoye becomes attracted to the new faith of the missionaries much to his father’s chagrin.. His initial confusion about Igbo customs such as the killing of Ikemefuna and the condemned exile of the twins in the forest are all answered by this new faith that appears more tolerant and compassionate. Nwoye is thus presented as a sensitive young man who is against certain customs of the village. His defection to Christianity has a dual significance; it is an act of revolt against his father as well as a rejection of the society that he embodied. He thus stands as a symbolic negation of his father, the living denial of all that Okonkwo stands for and accepts.


Ezinma

Ezinma is the only child of Ekwefi, Okonkwo’s second wife, and the center of her mother’s world. Ekwefi had borne her daughter after a great deal of suffering. All her earlier children had died soon after birth. Ezinma was the only child who survived and so Ekwefi treated her with extreme love and caring. Such is the relationship that Ezinma does not call her mother Nne like other children, but calls her by her name, Ekwefi. Okonkwo too loves his daughter, but, typical to his character, he never expresses it and even more Okonkwo, who always worried about his son Nwoye, wishes Ezinma to be a son because she had more strength of character than Nwoye.

Ezinma had always been a sickly child and the parents hoped that she would recover when her iye - uwa was discovered. But Ezinma fell sick again and it took Chielo the priestess to make her well again. Ezinma is not a major character for the development of the novel, or the fall of Okonkwo, but her presence, helps the reader understand the protagonist better and see a softer side of him.


Ikemefuna

When the decision to take revenge on the village of Mbaino is made, Ikenefuna is brought from Mbaino as compensation. Ikemefuna has no idea of his fate and adjusts to his new lifestyle when he is placed with Okankwo’s family. Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son, becomes inseparable from him because he seems to know everything. He is by nature a lively boy and becomes popular in the Okonkwo household. Okonkwo too becomes fond of him, and treats him like a son but with a heavy hand. However the Oracle had already decided Ikemefuna’s fate, he was to be killed and so Ikemefuna is led into the forest along with a band of men including Okonkwo and killed.

Even at the last moment, Ikemefuna cries out “My father, they have killed me” thus pleading for Okonkwo’s aid. But Okonkwo, to prove that he is not emotionally bound to him, draws his machete and kills the boy. Such is the short life of Ikemefuna, who is merely a pawn and later a sacrificial lamb for the village.


Obierika

Obierika is Okonkwo’s closest friend. It is to him that Okonkwo turns to after Ikemefuna’s death. Obierika is very frank about Ikemefuna’s death and Okonkwo’s part in it. He had refused to join the men in the killing. He tells Okonkwo, “What you have done will not please the earth. It is the kind of action for which the goddess wipes out whole families.” And ironically, Okonkwo’s family does suffer a great deal from the hands of fate as well as Okonkwo’s rigid adherence to tribal customs. Obierika is the voice of reason. Much of what he says to Okonkwo falls on deaf ears, but he is patient and prudent and questions some of the tribal customs. He has a healthy skepticism of the traditional ways and is more adaptable to change than Okonkwo.

When Okonkwo is banished from the village, Obierika comes to meet him at his uncle’s village to keep him informed about the changes taking place in their village. He even looks after his fields and sends him the money that is raised.

And at the end of the novel, when Okonkwo is pushed into taking his own life, Obierika turns ferociously to the District Commissioner and says, “That man was one of the greatest men in Umuofia. You drove him to kill himself; and now he will be buried like a dog.” Obieika is, thus a true friend of Okonkwo, and comes across as a very strong character.



Reverend James Smith

He is Mr. Brown’s successor, but very different from him. After Brown’s departure, Smith openly condemns his predecessor’s method of compromise and accommodation. Mr. Smith saw the world as a “battlefield in which the children of light were locked in mortal conflict with the sons of darkness”.

Mr. Smith comes across as a very opinionated person who starts making changes as soon as he arrives in the scene. He adheres strictly to Christian doctrine and does not allow any of the converts to retain any of their old ways. In fact, he suspends a young woman from the church for contaminating her new religion with her old beliefs.

Due to his extreme stance, the overzealous converts who had been kept under control under Mr. Brown’s restraining hand, now start practicing their faith at full swing and become aggressively antagonistic towards the Igbo. It is mainly under Mr. Brown’s influence that the convert Enoch tears off the mask of the egwugwu. This ultimately leads to a number of events, finally culminating in Mr. Brown’s inability to stop the villagers from burning down his church into a pile of earth and ashes. Yet ultimately Brown gains the upper hand as he utilizes the British colonial forces to win his battles for him and thus the Igbo are defeated in the end.


The District Commissioner

The District Commissioner is the head of all affairs, and it is to him that Reverend Smith turns to, after the desecration of his church. The District Commissioner takes the matter into his own hands, invites Okonkwo along with five other leaders and then handcuffs them. A very humiliating scene follows where the leaders are beaten and their hair shaved off. This angers Okonkwo, who later on an impulse, kills one of his messengers, who had been sent to stop a meeting of the clans members. Okonkwo later hangs himself as he sees no way out of the situation with the British invasion.

The District Commissioner has no qualms or feelings of remorse about the Okonkwo’s death. In fact, he has his own agenda and plans to use Okonkwo’s story as part of his book project called ‘The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the lower Niger’. This shows him to be a shallow human being, more interested in the accolades he will receive for his book, rather than the pitiful state of the villager, whom he sees as primitive and inferior. He is never given a name which reveals the ubiquity of such types during colonial rule in Africa. He is a stern, unyielding, insensitive and racist figure who ironically comes across as being more primitive in his cruel treatment of the clans members then the Igbo. One feels only repulsion for such a character.


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