Okonkwo’s Defiance of the Victim and Hero Character Roles

In the beginning of Solomon Iyasere’s article, “Narrative Techniques in Things Fall Apart”, Iyasere reflects on two different arguments and offers his own take on the matter. The two views in discussion are related to Okonkwo and the way in which the viewer reads his character. While the author Killam offers the view that Okonkwo is the perfect

representation of achieving the highest values in Umofian society, Eustace Palmer carries the opposite view. In contrast, Palmer views Okonkwo’s character to be the victim of Igbo society due to the fact that most of his actions, including his successes, are driven by fear. However, in Iyasere’s opinion, assuming the roles of victim or hero to Okonkwo defeats the purpose of Achebe’s writing. Iyasere argues that, “this vision is based on a limited perception of that society…[and] to urge that he is either, as do Killam and Palmer, is to reduce the work to a sentimental melodrama, rob okonkwo of his tragic stature, and deny the reader’s sympathy for him” (Iyasere 371). I agree with Iyasere’s argument that the reader should not be too quick to assume Okonkwo’s role as the victim or hero. Achebe writes a very complex character identity for Okonkwo, allowing him to be seen iin both good and bad lights, which helps to create a very multidimensional character. By assuming the title of victim or hero, the reader misses the very important note that, although Okonkwo is a character in a story, he is representing the idea of a very real type of person who could have existed in the real world. For a western society reading this story of a foreign culture, it is entirely important for the characters to be seen as potential human beings, with all the multidimensionality of human emotion and thought. It is of even greater importance to read in this manor because this is one of the first novels written about colonialization that does not specifically look down on or patronize the presented culture.

In part two of Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, a few years after Okonkwo is exiled to his motherland the christians begin to infiltrate the clan. Furious about the fact that these people have brought changes into his world, Okonkwo states, “If a man comes into my hut and defacates on the floor, what do I do? Do I shut my eyes? No! I take a stick and break his head” (Achebe 92). He follows this statement with the thought, “This is a womanly clan…Such a thing could never happen in his fatherland Umofia” (Achebe 92). Here, Achebe is utilizing this statement as a foreshadowing technique to the very same form of colonization that is also occurring in Umofia during his absence. To conflate Okonkwo’s actions to fear, as Palmer originally suggested, would only minimize the impact of the colonialization and white oppression that Achebe is writing into the story. To turn Okonkwo into a victim, acting only out of fear, takes away the power of his character, and in turn, the power of his people as a whole. Okonkwo is not defenseless, and to victimize his character and to strip him of his equal power would allow a sense of patronization from the reader. In contrast, the reader cannot follow Killam’s view that Okonkwo is the hero and representation of Igbo values within the society because, as Achebe forshadows in this quote, in Okonkwo’s absense, Umofia is following the same lines as Okonkwo’s current residence. Okonkwo ultimately defies the values of his own society in his eventual hanging of himself, which is ultimately correlated with the original foreshadowing within the quote. Just as Iyasere argues, to tally up Okonkwo’s actions as either a victim or a hero takes away from the dynamic character structure offered by Achebe. It not only reduces Okonkwo’s character, but it also reduces the perception of Igbo society as a whole, which directly contradicts the purpose of providing a text on colonizers to colonizers.

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart, Francis Abiola Irele, W. W. Norton and Company,                        2009.

Iyasere, Solomon. “Narrative Techniques in Things Fall Apart.” Things Fall Apart. Frances                  Abiola Irele, W. W. Norton and Company, 2009.

2 thoughts on “Okonkwo’s Defiance of the Victim and Hero Character Roles

  1. You accurately recognize Iyasere’s argument of Okonkwo being neither hero or victim but rather a multidimensional character with a complex personality. I also agree with Iyasere’s argument as there are numerous examples in the novel where Okonkwo displays juxta positing characteristics, such as when he is pleased with Iwoye’s progress inwardly but displays his affection in a harsh manner outwardly. Achebe’s usage of juxtaposition can thus highlight Iyasere’s arguments of how Okonkwo has both redeeming and cruel qualities as he is neither a hero or victim. Such contrasting factors also highlight the multilayered society of Igboland as place that is simultaneously capable of accepting and dehumanizing people.

  2. I find your analysis on Okonkwo’s hero/victimhood in conversation with Killian and Palmer’s arguments to be especially important when thinking about the way colonization operates in the novel. When you write that focusing on victimhood minimizes the impact of colonization, my mind was immediately drawn to the fact that the process of colonization is not solely accomplished through such harsh manners that the colonized instantly become petrified victims. Rather, by acknowledging that Okonkwo’s relationship with the white men was not one borne out of fear, and that he was still affected by their colonization, points to the different ways colonialism seeps into the lives of Okonkwo and the people of Umuofia.

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