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.

The Life of Death in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart

In Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, death is given its own life through personification. In chapter nine of the novel, the story is told of how one of Okonkwo’s wives, Ekwefi, had the misfortune of bearing nine children who died ininfancy before her tenth and only living daughter, Enzima, was born. Achebe writes, “Her deepening despair found expression in the names she gave her children. One of them was a pathetic cry, Onwumbiko–‘Death, I implore you.’ But Death took no notice; Onwumbiko died in his fifteenth month. The next child wasa girl, Ozoemena–‘May it not happen again.’ She died in her eleventh month, and two others after her. Ekwefi then became defiant and called her next child Onwuma–‘Death may please himself.’ And he did” (Achebe 47).

In this quote, Achebe gives the concept of death a human quality. Achebe is successful in utilizing this writing device because he personifies death in multiple ways within the same quote. He begins by having Ekwefi appear to be in direct conversation with death when her character names the child Onwumbiko, meaning “Death, I implore you” (Achebe 47). Not only is her character speaking to death, but she directly asks something of death where it states, “I implore you” (Achebe 47). This name reveals that she is asking death (albeit sarcastically) to kill another one of her children as if death were a person who was physically able to kill them. Later on in the quote,Achebe has Ekwefi speaking to death again as if it were a human, where he writes, “Ekwefi then became defiant and called her next child Onwuma–‘Death may please himself'”(Achebe 47). Again, she utilizes a name that calls on death as if it was a figure. Not only is the character of death defined, but it is also given humanistic qualities such as a gender, when it is referred to as “himself”. In addition, the notion of motivation for pleasure, that killing another one of the children would equate to the quote, “Death may please himself”, suggests that not only is death a male figure that can promote harm, but also that he does so for the enjoyment of it (Achebe 47). Achebe adds to this premise with the final words of the quote, wherein he states, “Death may please himself’. And he did,” by revealing that not only does the character personify death, but the narrator does as well (Achebe 47).The last three words, “And he did” tell the reader that the narrator also views death under these human-like qualities (Achebe 47). Within that line, there is both a confirmation from Ekwefi and the narrator that not only is death given human-like qualities through personification, but that ‘he’ acts on those qualities.

Within the novel, there is a large focus on how death, as well as how spirits within the afterlife affect the living. This emphasis on death as a figure that carries both a gender and deliberate emotional intentions begs the question of why Achebe feels the need to personify this natural occurrence. His personification of death could be surface level, wherein he is simply reiterating the way in which this culture has historically viewed death. Regardless, the use of personification in the conception of death brings a whole new life to Achebe’s words.

Blog Number 1

Works Cited

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