“Worry about your character, not your reputation. Your character is who you are, and your reputation is what people think you are” (John Wooden). The quote is about when people become too obsessed with their images, they would actually lose their true characters. In Things Fall Apart, the author Chinua Achebe implies this message throughout the story. It is an archetypal modern African novel written in 1958. The novel is about the tragic fall of the protagonist Okonkwo, and the Igbo culture. Okonkwo is a fiercely competitive and influential leader within the Igbo tribe. Later on, he accidentally shoots and kills a boy during a funeral.
The town exiles him for seven years to his mother’s homeland, Mbanta. Realizing that his clan will not go to war against the white men after the white missionaries bring Christianity and wins over Igbo outcasts, Okonkwo hangs himself. Although he first earns personal fame and brings honor to his village, his personal flaws of failure and uncontrollable anger do not allow his true greatness as a human being to be appreciated. Sometimes carrying a reputation that makes you look better than you actually are will bring about your downfall. Okonkwo is one of the strongest men in his tribe. Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements.
As a young man of eighteen he had brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat” (3). Okonkwo is both respected and feared. The quote shows that Okonkwo fights for his reputation to be influential in the community. Men gain reputation through fighting and wrestling. Reputation earns men power and titles. “Okonkwo’s prosperity was visible in his household. He had a large compound enclosed by a thick wall of red earth... [Okonkwo] offered prayers on the behalf of himself, his three wives, and eight children” (14).
Okonkwo gains great achievements because he works hard and is always ambitious. He’s demanding to himself, and he drives people around him to work as hard as he does. Organized household and big family bring him fame and a source of pride. He appears to be a good father and a good husband, but in reality, his excessive requirements are not always appreciated by his eight children and three wives. Okonkwo’s endeavors to his household, farming and family are often just a prove of achievements. One of Okonkwo’s major flaws that bring him a downfall is his fear of becoming a failure. Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man.
But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo’s fear was greater than these. It was not external, but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father” (13). The author suggests that Okonkwo is ruled by a deep fear of being considered feminine and weak. He is afraid to be like his lazy and carefree father.
Okonkwo’s father “was poor and his wife and children had barely enough to eat. People laughed at him because he was a loafer, and they swore never to lend him any more money because he never paid back” (5). It’s shameful for Okonkwo to have no great achievements on crops and household, instead, his father is even a loafer. As a young boy, Okonkwo had to rely on himself to become a successful and respected man. Therefore he strives to work hard and to be someone that was exactly opposite of his father. Okonkwo’s fear allows him to gain more respect from his tribe, but it doesn’t allow him to become a truly mature leader.
His strong desire to carry a reputation that makes him look better than he actually is leads to his fear of himself. Okonkwo would do anything to show his strength and capability of being a great ruler. He even strikes down a child that calls him father. “He heard Ikemefuna cry ‘My father, they have killed me! ’ as he ran towards him. Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak” (61). The quote shows that Okonkwo thinks a reputation is even more important than the life of a child. This also shows that he thinks killing someone he loves would make him appear strong.
Striving to have a reputation influences someone’s morality and sometimes it may hurt people. When Okonkwo’s first son, Nwoye, overheard that Ikemefuna was to be “taken back to his village, [he] burst into tears, whereupon his father beat him heavily” (57). Okonkwo feels unsatisfied with Nwoye because he thinks he’s lazy and feminine. He corrects Nwoye with constant nagging and beating instead of teaching him what is right and what is wrong. Later on, it causes Nwoye wants to resist his father and join what Okonkwo dislikes. It’s understandable for Nwoye to abandon his old tribe and choose to become a Christian.
Obsession on reputation sometimes leads people to the wrong track and it leads Okonkwo to face his own son’s betrayal. As a result, the proud Okonkwo hangs himself after realizing that his old tribe and his reputation would never be the way they were. Okonkwo’s fear of becoming a failure and his strong desire to control others is what cause him to lose his true characters. Therefore, reputation is not the most important thing in our lives and obsession may lead you to a wrong track. As we refer Okonkwo’s story to life, there’s one question that everyone needs to ponder, what is the true meaning of reputation?