Okonkwo, as presented by Chinua Achebe in the novel Things Fall Apart, wished to be revered by all as a man of great wealth, power and control–the antithesis of his father. Okonkwo was driven by the need to exhibit utmost control over himself and others; he was an obsessive and insecure man.
Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, was “a failure,” “a loafer,” and “People laughed at him” (1426). This would bring great shame to any man as it did for Okonkwo. In Umuofia “a man is judged according to his worth and not according to the worth of his father” (1427). In Umuofia “achievement was revered.” Okonkwo became obsessed with the need to prove to everyone that he, unlike his father, was a man worthy of respect.
Okonkwo worked hard and in time his “prosperity showed in his household” (1429). Okonkwo had “a large compound,” “three wives” (1429), “two barns full of yams” and “two titles” (1427). Okonkwo had become a wealthy and respectable man. Still he feared that all would fall apart if he were to allow any slight deviation, any sign of weakness.
Weakness could be a slight disobedience of a wife, as happened during the “Week of Peace.” Ojiugo was not home in time to prepare Okonkwo’s meal and though it was “unheard of to beat someone during the sacred week” (1435), Okonkwo beat Ojiugo unmercifully. Likely, Okonkwo feared that others would view Ojiugo’s indifference to her responsibilities as a sign of Okonkwo’s inability to control his wife.
Okonkwo was just as demanding upon his children and he wanted his “son to be a great farmer and a great man” (1437). Okonkwo would become overly angry if Nwoye made small mistakes while learning. When Nwoye and Ikemefuna were splitting yam…
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…ch so that he chose “evil” and took his own life.
Achebe, for the most part, does seem to follow the Western formula for tragedy and the tragic hero. Okonkwo, while not born into wealth or privilege, does become a wealthy and powerful man in Umuofia. Okonkwo is neither “good” nor “thoroughly evil” yet does possess a “tragic flaw” that leads to a series of tragic events. Okonkwo begins in poverty and rises to the height of wealth and prestige among his people. He is so obsessed with control, control at all costs, that he begins to make tragic mistakes: beating his wife during Peace Week, killing Ikemefuna, having to flee Umuofia, killing the messenger and then himself. This fits the criteria of “disregard of divine law and trying to escape his fate,” as outlined in the study guide.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Ballantine, 1969.
Destiny, Fate, Free Will and Free Choice in Oedipus the King – A Puppet on a String
Oedipus – A Puppet on a String
Gather closer around the fire, children; tonight is the night I tell my tale, of queens and kings, huge she-monsters and evil gods. You all know that story, the story of Oedipus, the man doomed to kill his father and marry his mother, his life a twisted strand in the ball of the Fates. But do you know what happened afterwards?
Oedipus drifted, feeling his way through Greece, filling his remaining four senses with the delicate scent of the olive tree, the rough touch of the rocky outcrops, the sound of waves crashing and the tangy bitter taste of wine. After a time he found himself in Crete, home of the famous Labyrinth of King Minos, although by this time both King Minos and the Minotaur had long since left this world. Minos’ daughter, Ariadne, ruled the rocky isle.
Oedipus winced at the sharp stones under his feet and followed the ever increasing babble of the city. Suddenly he felt a sharp stone sting his side. “Ja, beggar, we don’t need any more of the likes of you around here!”
Oedipus cringed. “Please sir, forgive me,” the once proud king murmured. He moved towards the palace where he hoped he would receive a more hospitable welcome.
A wealth of scents greeted Oedipus’ nose as he ambled down an alleyway: the tang of citrus, the bitter scent of unwashed people and the crisp smell of linen drying. As he approached the palace gates, Oedipus began to wonder how he would gain entrance. In answer to his thoughts, a male voice said, “You’ll never get in here, you filthy peasant. Best go beg for a crust amongst the other sewer rats.”
The swish of linen followed, a scent of delicate perfume, and a female voice saying, “Antikretes, shame on you! Be hospitable. Why, this could be Zeus Himself in disguise.”
“If that’s Zeus then I’m Aphrodite’s girdle.”
“That’s enough. I don’t usually do this but there’s something different about him. Show him to a room.”
“Oh, Your Royal Majesty,” began Oedipus, suddenly realising whom he was talking to, but he was already being led away.
That night Oedipus had a strange dream. He could see again, and he was sitting on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea. Beside him was a beautiful woman with strange but wonderful eyes.