Okonkwo: A Complexly Simple Outcast

Iyasere’s argument regarding the complex simplicity of Okonkwo in contrast with the adaptability of Umuofia in regard to change, while interesting, negates its own premise, and blames Okonkwo’s demise on his own emotional immaturity. Though I would agree with his early on assertion that the death of Okonkwo was not because he was a “victim of Umuofia’s traditional laws and customs” (Iyasere 371), the claim that the “duality of the traditional Ibo society” is used to “intensify the sense of tragedy and make the reader understand the dilemma that shapes and destroys the life of Okonkwo” (Iyasere 372).

Iyasere begins with the Umuofia traditions values, and states that these are “inflexible” particularly in response to threats and the “overall stability of the clan” (Iyasere 374). Yet, the beginning of Part Three within Things Fall Apart negate this claim completely by first stating that “the clan was like a lizard; if it lost its tail it soon grew another” (Achebe 97), and later stating that in Okonkwo’s seven year exile, “the clan had undergone such profound change during his exile that it was barely recognizable” (Achebe 103). Thus, according to the text, Umuofia and the clan are not stuck to their traditions, nor are they inflexible. Moreover, I would go so far as to say the Umuofia people are relatively accepting, given that they are not the ones—it is only Okonkwo—who actively and violently despise Christians. Instead, the Umuofia people give the white men a plot of land, though in the ‘Evil Forest’, and allow them to co-inhabit. They do not react violently, and though they do not agree with the white man’s religion, they allow it to exist and function just as their own does.

The idea that Iyasere illuminates—that Okonkwo is an outcast in every society due to his own immaturity—is one that I feel is key to understanding both his character and the ending of the novel. The idea that Iyasere states in that Okonkwo “does not grow and change with age and experience; as a man he is dedicated to the same stereotypes he formed in his youth” (Iyasere 380), is one which mimics the intricate hierarchy of elders to their successors. This is also seen in Part Two of Things Fall Apart when Uchendu tells Okonkwo “‘you do not know the answer? So you see that you are a child’” (Achebe 78), as he demonstrates to Okonkwo that his ignorance is childish, and thus inferior to those who have been enlightened with knowledge. Given that the only emotional outburst which Okonkwo has indicated to be acceptable is anger—and childish tantrums at that—the explanation that Okonkwo is stuck in the mindset of his own youth is revealing to the ending of the novel. For if Okonkwo is truly incapable of growing and becoming tolerant of change, which he proves countless times throughout the beginning of the white man’s co-inhabitance, his only option is to leave the world which does not accept him, and go to the one which does. In this case, Okonkwo’s perception of his religion will accept his anger and his final act of violence for it was in the name of preservation for a clan moving away from these customs. In this sense Okonkwo is complexly simple, as his complex justifications for outburst and violence comes from a simple mindset based on youthful immaturity.

Blog Post #2

Works Cited
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York City: W. W. Norton & Company Inc, 2009.
Iyasere, Soloman O. “Narrative Techniques in Things Fall Apart.” Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Ed. Francis Abiola Irele. New York City: W. W. Norton & Company Inc, 2009. 370-385.

3 thoughts on “Okonkwo: A Complexly Simple Outcast

  1. I also agree with the claim that is being made here. As pointed out by Iyasere, there are various instances in Things Fall Apart when two contradicting factors are played out simultaneously, such as when a conservative African clan tolerates the existence of British Christian missionaries in the Evil Forest. Such juxtapositions are the tools of Achebe and it’s interesting how you call Okonkwo a “complexly simple outcast” because this term is a contradiction itself. It appears that Achebe purposely has Okonkwo act like a simple, immature child to highlight the effects of the story’s juxtapositions and complex themes.

  2. I really like your focus here on the part of Okonkwo’s identity that is still tied to his youth. I hadn’t really considered his disposition to be mostly ‘youthful immaturity’, rather I assumed it was one plagued by a distorted perception of masculinity. However, to challenge this, I would argue that this immaturity is not particularly youthful in nature, as I typically associate youthfulness to being carefree and irresponsible, but rather an immaturity due to a serious stunt in his emotional growth as a child- something that has been stunted obviously due to his father. Regardless, your conclusion on the ironic simplicity at the root of Okonkwo’s complexity is a great take!

  3. I think your analysis of Okonkwo is very interesting. I like how you conclude that even though Okonkwo is outwardly complex, his motives and overall character come from a simple idea. However, I would not say that Okonkwo is immature. To the reader, his actions may seem unnecessary and rash but to Okonkwo that is his way of defending his masculinity which his society places a high value on. The way that I would connect your idea of immaturity would rather be the idea that Okonkwo is unable to change and accept which is a childish characteristic. BC#4

Comments are closed.