Onkonkwo: The Personification of Umuofia’s Ideals

In Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, the main character Oknonkwo is strong, powerful, well-respected, and as some critics have noted, almost a legend even within the book. Oknonkwo’s personality literally embodies his town’s, Umuofia’s, ideals to the point that he is a personified version of Umuofia and the entirety of its ideology.

Achebe’s novel begins with the vivid description of Okonkwo, and his massive feat in “throwing the cat” (Achebe 3). Indeed, his physical strength, and the imagery of this man flexing every muscle in his body to its “breaking point” is powerful, yet it is the first line of the entire novel, “Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages” (Achebe 3) which is most telling as it mimics Umuofia’s own description later in the novel. Umuofia is described as being “fear by all its neighbors” (Achebe 9), meaning that if it is feared it is also known by all of its neighbors. The two descriptions seem to coincide, and though not the most convincing, it begins to set up a theme of character and setting essentially being one in the same.
One such example of this, again dealing with the descriptions within the first few pages of the novel, has to do with the anger Oknonkwo exhibits, and the fear which Umuofia incites. Indeed, Achebe does give Oknonkwo more depth than being an emotionally void, hypermasculine, angry man, but as he is originally described, as a man who “never showed any emotion openly, unless it be the emotion of anger…the only thing worth demonstrating was strength” (Achebe 18). Though this makes him originally difficult to connect with, it sets a parallel with the aforementioned strength of Umuofia, and the fear it provokes in its neighbors. For the town teaches, that strength is dignified and the “only thing worth demonstrating”, and weakness is worth both scorn and ultimate exile.

Umuofia’s idealization of strength, and thus Oknonkwo’s own embodiment of this ideology, can be seen in Oknonkwo’s former relationship with, and the later thoughts regarding his father, Unoka. Unoka is, from the beginning, slandered as a lazy, greedy, emotional man who ultimately died from his own weaknesses. It is even revealed that “it was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father” (Achebe 10), and later that Oknonkwo was “possessed by the fear of his father’s contemptible life and shameful death” (Achebe 13). This relationship is a driving factor in giving an explanation to the “hard” persona which Oknonkwo exhibits so early on. However, if Oknonkwo is indeed a personified version of Umuofia, then this hatred simply stems from the defamed reputation the father had. As Oknonkwo so wholeheartedly embodies all Umuofia’s principals, his father being an overwhelmingly “weak” man, is both emasculating and embarrassing to be associated with. The simple fact that Unoka died physically in a shameful way, and spoke of love before doing so goes to exhibit his separation from Umuofia and its ideals. Though the revelation of his fear so early in the novel is seemingly a weak, Oknonkwo’s tireless, even “possessed” efforts to differentiate himself from his father is demonstrative of the indefatigable ideology of Umuofia.

Oknonkwo character, while both hypermasculine and stoic in his hard-working efforts to maintain power and be well-respected, even feared, within Umuofia is not just an embodiment of the town’s ideals but is an outward characterization of these ideals. Thus, Oknonkwo and Umuofia are inseparable in that Oknonkwo is the personification of Umuofia.

B1. Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 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.