The novel Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe tells the story of a man named Okonkwo who lives in a small village in Nigeria. The author presents the story of Okonkwo in order to show the struggles between a community rooted in tradition and how it adapts to change. Okonkwo struggles with both his changing community, and proving his masculinity. Throughout the novel, the author also provides a look at the strong discourse between women and men in the Umuofia society. Okonkwo was a great and authoritative man in his village.
In trying to stray from living a life like his fathers, he felt he had to prove himself to be a strong, dominant man. He did this by becoming a great wrestler and winning matches which he took pride in. Though he is powerful, he has many faults that eventually overcome him. Okonkwo struggles to adapt to a changing community when the white missionaries come to his village. Okonkwo being exiled from his village is the catalyst for the problems he faces. He is banned from his clan for seven years because he accidentally kills the great warrior Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s 16-year-old son.
Even though this is considered a female act and was by accident, the rule is that you and your family must be exiled for seven years. Okonkwo returns to his mother’s clan and is challenged when adapting to a land where he is not the powerful figure. “His life had been ruled by a great passion—to become one of the lords of the clan… then everything had been broken” (131). He realizes that the possibility of becoming a lord in his clan is gone. In his mothers land, he has to grow all new crops and make a new living for him and his family.
He felt like he had lost all that he worked for in his life and therefore lacked the drive he once had. Okonkwo’s friend Obierika pays a visit to him after a few years and tells him about the white men that have arrived in their village. He explains that the village called Abame has been destroyed after they killed the white man who approached them. Okonkwo disagrees with their decision to kill the man, but does thing they should have been more prepared to attack. This is bothersome to Okonkwo because he is apprehensive about his old village and how things will look when he returns.
He is worried his men will become weak and will let the white men take over. When Okonkwo eventually returns to his old village, he hopes he will return to an unchanged place, however, that is not the case. The white man’s church has grown bigger and attracted many people to convert. Okonkwo is astonished by the way things have changed. He is angry his people did little to drive the white men away. His friend Obrieka explains how kinship is weaker now and it is too late to get the white men to leave. Okonkwo notices that his clan does not make a big deal out of his return, which also infuriates him.
Throughout the novel, women are shown as weak and men are more powerful. While in the seven-year exile, Okonkwo feels like the kinsman from his motherland are weak because they are not warlike as the men from his clan are. He despises that he must live in a womanly place. All his life he has tortured and beaten his wives and never showed much remorse for women. He even wishes that his daughter Ezinma were a man because of her masculine spirit. Women also have no say in whom they will marry, because their fathers search for the best suitor and arrange the marriage for them.
Uchendu, Okonkwo’s uncle points out to Okonkwo that the most common name given to children is Nneka, which means “mother is supreme” he asks him what this means. Okonkwo does not know how to respond. Uchendu tells him that a man stays in their fatherland when life is going well but returns to his motherland when needing to seek refuge and comfort. This bothers Okonkwo because it shows that females have power and are important in the community, which he does not agree with. He does not want to admit that women might hold greater power than men in certain aspects of life.
Okonkwo constantly battles with wanting to be different from his father. He becomes obsessed with his father’s failures and desperately wants to avoid becoming like him. He works hard to get the power he has and wants to seem manly and strong unlike his father. In trying to appear manly, Okonkwo often behaves aggressively. He abuses his wives and his anger often gets the best of him at times. He even shoots a gun at one of his wives, but misses. He wants to prove he is not weak so much that he goes along on the trip to kill Ikemefuna, who came to be like a son to him.
He even takes his on machete and strikes him with it to show his strength. Okonkwo’s friend Obierika, who is also well respected and a manly, powerful man, does not want to go along to watch Ikemefuna be executed. These are all ways that Okonkwo tries to prove his masculinity, showing that his view of manhood is much different from others. Instead of acknowledging the differences he has with his mother’s kinsman and learning from them, he refuses to ever appear weak and holds onto his aggressive behavior.
Okonkwo is unhappy living in his motherland but instead of making the most of the situation, he lets it weigh on him and often regrets having to leave his clan. Uchendu states, “But if you allow sorrow to weigh you down and kill you, they will all die in exile” (134). His uncle is trying to help him and give him some perspective that might change his attitude about being there. Okonkwo’s behavior and unwillingness to change throughout the story eventually leads him to commit suicide.
Overall, I think this novel provides us with an understanding of how the missionaries affected the small villages in Nigeria. The story of Okonkwo shows how one must be accepting of change because it is inevitable. We also get a look into what the relationships between men and women were like. Throughout the novel, the struggle between powers played a major role and I think this is one of the major reasons why the missionaries were able to get a good hold of the society. Men like Okonkwo were so obsessed with gaining status that they failed to save their community from the white men.
In the end of the story, when the author talks about how the commissioner could use Okonkwo’s story to write only a short paragraph proves how trivial his life actually was in the grand picture. His death seems unevitable because of the events in his life leading up to that point. He had such an obsession with being manly and not appearing “soft” that he seemed to have the wrong ideas of what it really meant to be a man. His stubbornness to change made him resent everyone around him. He was unhappy and eventually fell apart because he was unwilling to change.