Chinua Achebe, in his short novel “Things Fall Apart,” managed to tell a very exciting story. The author plausibly described the arrival of missionaries who brought with them a new religion and their own orders. He excellently portrayed the savages: he drew for the reader a vivid and imaginative picture of the life of the Nigerian tribes. Achebe conveyed their culture in detail, with its own characteristics, traditions, cruel gods, rituals, and holidays. Most of all, the collective image of a traditional man, embodied in the character of Okonkwo, attracts attention. Okonkwo is a tragic hero because although he is a hard-working family man, he suffers from uncontrollable pride, a severe fear of failure, and hyper-masculinity, which ultimately lead to his downfall.
The narrative is unhurried, in harmony with the unhurried rhythm of life. The hard work of growing the “king of the fields,” yam, is described (Achebe, 2019). The reader becomes a witness to rare holidays when men show themselves in the fight, and women coquettishly rub themselves with mahogany juice and display beautiful patterns on the skin. It would seem that there is no place for ambition and pride in this sleepy world, but the main character, Okonkwo, is just that. In addition, the hero obeys the existing social norm. He is insanely afraid of appearing weak, cowardly, and a loser to someone. Often this trait of his becomes a tragedy for others. It is she who manifests herself in the darkest episode of the novel when Okonkwo’s adopted son is sacrificed to the spirits. In response to the boy’s cry for help, the foster father raises a machete. The same character trait of the main character, of course, leads to a sad ending when the British come, and because of pride, the leader is not ready to obey them.
The author shows the life of African tribes by the example of Okonkwo, a warrior and one of the most respected people of the clan. The main character, at first glance, seems to be a strong and strong-willed person who has achieved incredible success with his work. In fact, he carefully monitored his words and actions all his life for fear of appearing weak and infirm. It is for this reason that Okonkwo has been trying to become a decent person all his life, carefully observing the rules and traditions, going to succeed in the most direct way. He stood up for the old foundations and took very much to heart that his people were ready to bow their heads because of their uncontrollable pride. Therefore, Okonkwo resists the progress that the colonialists are making, defending the old cruel traditions. In addition, Okonkwo’s hypermasculinity affects his son Nwoye, who does not fit into a life that is too cruel for him (Hickey, 2016). The main character’s attitude towards women causes rejection; it is dismissive and overbearing. For this reason, Ekwefi also suffers; she has already lost nine children and is insanely afraid of losing her tenth daughter.
The laws of the tribe are also based on the patriarchal masculinity inherent in Okonkwo. Only a part is based on superstitions; many of them are explained by this logic. Having looked closely at the patriarchal way of life, the significance of the part of the laws that the Okonkwo leader supports can be realized. In the case of manslaughter, the murderer is expelled from the village for several years, goes to his wife’s settlement, and his house is wiped off the face of the earth. After a certain time, he can return. Okonkwo interprets this law as pleasing to the gods so that the punishment for spilled blood does not fall on the tribe. Nevertheless, more mundane, hypermasculine foundations are also visible in it. If the unwitting murderer remained in the tribe, and the relatives of the deceased would often see him, the law of blood-revenge could be fulfilled (Kwadwo, 1999). When feelings are still fresh, a man from the family of the murdered man could not cope with them, and the number of victims would only increase.
The life of the main character, Okonkwo, is a balancing act between his desire to succeed and the respect of the whole village to meet the requirements of people and gods. The main thing for this harsh, even tough, and overly principled man, up to the point of murder, is not to lose face in front of the public, to preserve honor in the eyes of others (Pitzel, 2015). Okonkwo is shown to be an implacable fighter for defending his well-being; for his sake, he is ready to risk everything, even his own child.
Okonkwo embodies the obsolete old world, and its inherent negative qualities, such as uncontrolled pride, a severe fear of failure, and hyper-masculinity, emphasize the cruelty of old customs. In the finale, Achebe gives a verdict to the old world – the old must go anyway, despite the fear of the new and the dislike of the colonizers. The abrupt and unexpected ending was justified by the hot-tempered and extremely proud character of the hero.
Achebe, C. (2019). Things Fall Apart. Penguin Publishing Group.
Hickey, C. (2016). Hypermasculinity. The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Gender and Sexuality Studies, 1–3. Web.
Kwadwo Osei-Nyame. (1999). Chinua Achebe Writing Culture: Representations of Gender and Tradition in “Things Fall Apart.” Research in African Literatures, 30(2), 148–164.
Pitzel, B. H. (2015). American tragic heroes. Outskirts Press.