In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo's life is dominated by fear. What is he afraid of?
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Okonkwo's life is dominated by "the fear of failure and of weakness". In the patriarchal hierarchy of his tribe, honor and respect are measured in strength and courage, and Okonkwo's constant fear is that he will not measure up. On the surface, there appears to be little basis for Okonkwo's feelings of inadequacy. He has a prosperous household with three wives and his crops provide an abundant yield. He has also proven his bravery in battle many times over, having personally captured numerous human heads. Despite all this, Okonkwo's fear runs deep. It is "not external but (lies) deep within himself". He is constantly on guard never to show any sign of weakness in all his relations and endeavors.
Okonkwo's father, Unoka, had been a gentle man with little ambition. He abhorred warfare and so was considered a coward, and, spending his days in idleness, he never took a title to prove his manhood. Unoka was scorned by the others in his tribe, and Okonkwo, having been teased because of his father when he was young, deeply "resented his father's failure and weakness". As an adult, then, the basis of Okonkwo's constant fear is that "he should be found to resemble his father".
In his eyes, Okonkwo's first son, Nwoye, is prone to laziness. Terrified that Nwoye will end up like his grandfather Unoka, Okonkwo harrasses the boy mercilessly to shape up. Because of Okonkwo's fears, his relationship with his son is in shambles; "Nwoye (is) developing into a sad-faced youth" (Chapter 2).
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