Okonkwo, the protagonist of Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart, embodies the archetype of a tragic hero. With an iron will and relentless determination, he forges his own destiny through unwavering effort. However, Okonkwo's character is a complex amalgamation of virtues and flaws, encompassing bravery, diligence, ambition, alongside a short temper, impulsiveness, anger, and intolerance.
Physical Appearance of Okonkwo
As described by Achebe, Okonkwo stands tall and stout, commanding attention. His brows are bushy, lending a fierce intensity to his gaze. A broad nose dominates his face, accentuating his aggressive demeanor. His body language and behavior exude strictness, severity, and harshness. Walking on his toes, with raised heels, he displays an air of impatience. Unable to contain his anger, he swiftly resorts to action, often employing his fists to chastise his own family members.
Achievements of Okonkwo as a Man of Action
Okonkwo's relentless diligence and unwavering determination propel him to remarkable success. His achievements reverberate throughout neighboring villages, earning him widespread renown. A formidable wrestler, he emerges victorious in numerous inter-tribal competitions. His collection of titles acquired from tribal conflicts attests to his audacity and courage. Okonkwo's wealth, bravery, violence, and staunch adherence to family traditions contribute to his esteemed status.
Additionally, Okonkwo proves himself as a diligent and proficient farmer. Despite a challenging start due to a disastrous farming season marred by excessive rains, which leads one of Umofia's farmers to succumb to despair and take his own life, Okonkwo remains resolute. He defiantly declares, "Since I survived that year, I shall survive anything," demonstrating his unwavering spirit and determination.
Fears of Failure Hovering over Okonkwo
Okonkwo's anxieties stem from the legacy of his father, Unoka, a lazy man with no standing in the tribe who accrued heavy debts and died with them unresolved. Okonkwo dreads the possibility of sharing his father's ignominious fate, thus fostering a stern approach to family matters. He staunchly opposes any resemblance between his children and Unoka. Despite this, Okonkwo is not devoid of love; he exhibits tenderness, particularly towards his daughter Ezinma, who wields significant influence over him. After the tragic killing of Ikemefuna, only Ezinma understands her father's turmoil, preparing food for him during his three-day fast. Okonkwo's affection for Ezinma is intertwined with a longing for a son in her place.
Tragic Flaws of Okonkwo
Okonkwo's tragic flaw emerges from his fear of weakness and failure. He slays Ikemefuna not out of a desire for vengeance against a neighboring village but solely due to the dread that abstaining from the act would brand him a coward, akin to his father Unoka. Although he harbors affection for Ikemefuna, Okonkwo conceals it, believing that openly loving a child signifies weakness. This fear engenders his short temper and harsh treatment of his own offspring.
A fateful accident further contributes to Okonkwo's tragic descent. During Ezeudu's funeral, Okonkwo's gun explodes, resulting in the death of Ezeudu's sixteen-year-old son. Taking a life is considered a crime against the earth goddess. Consequently, Okonkwo is exiled for seven years, spending this period in his mother's village, Mbanta.
Okonkwo after Seven Years of Exile
Hopeful that his seven-year exile will reinstate his honor and status in Umofia, Okonkwo returns only to discover a burgeoning campaign by missionaries. Unwilling to accept changes in customs, traditions, religion, and other social aspects, Okonkwo confronts the overwhelming transformation. While the people of Umofia are resigned to embracing the alterations, Okonkwo remains steadfastly opposed. Faced with the fear of failure and weakness in the face of white missionaries, he ultimately succumbs to despair, choosing to end his own life.
Okonkwo meets his demise as a true tragic hero, unwavering in his allegiance to ancestral culture, customs, and traditions. Possessing an unwavering resolve, he engages in countless battles and emerges victorious. Despite his many heroic qualities, he ultimately fails due to his narrow perspective, impulsive nature, anger, and propensity for violence. Okonkwo's inability to adapt to the changing environment in Umofia precipitates his downfall.