Free Study Guide Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe BookNotes|
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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 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 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.
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 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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