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In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo feels his father was a failure because he was not respected by the tribe, he did not provide for his family, and he was lazy. Keeping these in mind, Okonkwo was respected by his tribe. To prove this point, he was sent as a negotiator when a fellow tribe member’s wife was killed. The reputation of Okonkwo was spread so far that when he went to the neighboring tribe to negotiate the terms they were quite willing to compensate with a virgin and a young boy. Okonkwo provided for his family. When he first started out he borrowed yam seeds from a neighbor but when it came to planting he first planted the seeds he saved and not the ones he borrowed. This proved to be wise because his crop, along with others, failed, but he was able to replant with the seeds he borrowed. Unlike others, Okonkwo was able to pay back his debt with lots to spare. Okonkwo’s riches were spread among his numerous wives and offspring. He held a strict house but well provided for as well. And this brings me to my third point. Okonkwo was not considered lazy. From his days as a wrestler to a homeowner, Okonkwo demanded perfection from himself and his family. He was constantly pushing for his wives and children to be better and work harder. These were the three main reasons Okonkwo felt his father was a failure and these were the aspects of life he constantly worked on.
To tackle this question, you will want to take three steps.
One: identify at least three weaknesses that Unoka possesses (keeping in mind that "weakness" is in the eye of the beholder and in the eye of one's culture). What has Unoka accomplished -- or not accomplished? What has Unoka neglected? (Chapter 1 has several excellent examples that will help you.)
Two: examine Okonkwo's actions. At the end of chapter one, you will find a brief list of Okonkwo's choices in his life that are in direct opposition to his father. Then, look forward into chapter two, beginning in the section, "Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand..." to find some more examples of actions that extend from those mentioned in chapter one.
Three: elaborate on these examples by explaining how these represent "compensation." To compensate means to counterbalance or make up for. How do Okonkwo's actions show that he is trying to be the opposite or make good for his father's weaknesses? A strong, elaborative answer will also evaluate Okonkwo's choices in light of the wisdom, emotional health, and ethics. What motivates Okonkwo to compensate for his father, and is this movitation smart, sound, and moral? In other words, does Okonkwo compensate for the right reasons? In your answer, take time to evaluate the compensation in light of psychology and ethics.
As you read the book (or if you have already finished it) keep in mind that you will want to look at the consequences of Okonkwo's choices (of his compensation) and see how things pan out for him. Was his course of action wise, healthy, and moral?
Keep in mind cultural mores of the Ibo in early 20th century Nigeria vis-a-vis modern American mores. Today's American citizen might judge Okonkwo differently in some ways and similarly in those who live in Umuofia.
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