In the story Things Fall Apart, why did Okonkwo kill himself?

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cmcqueeney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout the whole novel, Okonkwo struggles with the changes taking place in his tribe.  He is initially known as one of the strongest, most honorable tribesmen, but as the white man begins coming in and other tribal members begin to change as a result, particularly his own son, Okonkwo cannot handle the change.  He sees these other clansmen as weak, like he saw his father was weak.  The one thing Okonkwo fears the most is weakness.  By novel's end, Okonkwo has tried to remain strong against the tide of change, but he appears to be the only one.  When he kills the colonial official in the end, it is one last attempt to 'save' his tribe from the weakness and influence of the white man.  No one else backs his attempt however, so Okonkwo, in desperation, chooses the most dishonorable death possible, suicide, rather than allow himself to be handed over to the 'weak' white man.

sagetrieb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Okonkwo commits suicide because he loses his place as a man in his culture, a place now filled by the Church and Christian values.  From the beginning of the story, he worries about his manhood, seen in his rejection of his father who was womanly, having no titles, and perpetually indebted to his kinsmen. He commits murder out of frustration in defending his manhood, but his clansmen refuse to retaliate against the white man and defend his act of murder. His act of suicide is at once an act of defiance in asserting the traditional ways of his tribe but also an act of humiliation because those ways are no more:  Christianity has superceded them.  Ironically, his suicide can be seen as a womanly act—the act of a coward, so that Christianity has stolen from him the manhood he strived so hard to establish throughout his life.

Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Okonkwo kills himself because he has no choice, really.  He has killed a colonial official with a machete.  His own people have been divided by loyalties to the colonial regime and their own religion and culture.  They could have risen up and defended Okonkwo's actions, but they do not.  To avoid the punishment that is sure to come, Okonkwo takes matters into his own hands and hangs himself from a tree.

Okonkwo killed himself because he knew after killing the white man that no one from his clan will  join him, they were weak as women. He knew then that his clan has changed and even worse, became weak,which is his greatest fear. He didn't want to appear weak in the eyes of his clan, he was mourning for his warlike clan that became soft , he didn't want to suffer the consequences of killing the white,knowing how humiliating it is for someone like him and as a result, he hanged himself 

jess1999 | Student

Okonkwo killed himself because he realized that he was unable to stop the "white men". Because his father was considered unsuccessful, Okonkwo throughout his life had decided to become a man who earns a lot of titles, thus his biggest fear is weakness. After realizing that he is unable to stop the "white men" Okonkwo becomes depressed which is most likely why he decided to suicide, even though the villagers believed that suicide was very dishonorable. Another reason why he decides to commit suicide is because he could not face the fact of his cultures and ways changing, and having to adapt to another faith/culture.

kasie-123 | Student

okonkwo killed himself because he realised that he was too late to stop the colonization of the british people (due to his years of exile)he found out this at the amount of followers the religion gained so he rather die in disfavour of his gods than to live in a society of force beliefs and gods he don't believe in.

Wiggin42 | Student

Okonkwo is a stubborn man unwilling to accept the changes coming into his tribe. The suicide is an act of extreme stubbornness and cowardice. He felt that his authority and masculinity was put into question. He felt that he has lost power and control over his tribe. He committed suicide to "save his honor". 

fashionableb1 | Student

Okonkwo killed himself because he couldn't adapt or accept the changes happening in his life. Everything he ever knew like the customs, people, beliefs and traditions were basically falling apart in front of his eyes. 

zumba96 | Student

Okonkwo hangs himself because he believes he's useless to the clan  and that he is weak. It's ironic because he always tried to go against the 'White Man' and Christianity was taking over. He's knows he will be imprisoned and he's old fashioned and decides the best method to deal with his fail is to hang himself

atyourservice | Student

Okonkwo killed himself because he couldn't accept the change that his village was going through. Throughout the book Okonkwo was a strong respected powerful man, but after the church took over he wasn't so much of a figure. And during his last meeting (the one where he killed the messenger) he figured out his country had changed, and the people would not be fighting back, and being the old traditional man he was, he decided to use the last resort he could think of; which was killing himself.

lekifrank | Student

Okonkowo, being the strong willed man that he was, could not bear the thought of having his life ended by the very laws, the very people that he so strongly resisted. His suicide was a statement that he had given up, that the Christians had won, that he would rather die than live in a world ruled by the religion and laws of the white man, of outsiders. He was a strong man, powerful, respected. Yet under the white man he was seen as no more than an ignorant African. He was hailed as the greatest warrior in all the land, yet he was powerless against the converts when he was jailed and beaten.  This was not a world he could live in.

janlracz | Student

Okonkwo hopes that by killing the messenger, he would spark a war. When the tribe erupts in confusion and turmoil, he realizes that the tribe is no longer strong and his disappointment is too much for him to handle.  Okonkwo did not want to change the ways of the tribe and because of his intense fear of being weak like his father, he lashed out.  When the tribe refuses to stand with him, he knows that the old ways are dead and he has the same disdain for his tribe that he had for his father.  Also, he understands the punsihment that he will be given by the white government and would rather hang himself than allow the  kotmas the satisfaction of hanging him.

devudilip | Student

Okonkwo in things fall apart is a reflection of a greek tragic hero. and like a tragic hero he also has a tragic flaw or hamartia, that is his over obssession with manliness. his suicide can be seen as aresult of his inner conflict. his manly mind hesitate to compromise with the situation. he did not want to be hanged by the british. he has also lost his faith and comradeship in his clan. he did not want to be a part of this disintergrating clan as a ancestrol spirit, as these spirits are to be orphaned in near feature. he feels that it is more honourable to hang himself than to die a honourable death and become an immortal spirit of the clan. also, like caesar, okonkwo dead is more powerful than okonkwo alive. he may become a legend and thus inspire generations to come to retaliate against the whites and thus regain their ethos.

curly133 | Student

At the novel's conclusion, Okonkwo hangs himself as he feels that he can no longer exist in his clan, which has become weak and will no longer fight its enemies, namely the White Man. Okonkwo finds that everything he ever strove for has become redundant under the rule of white men and the influence of Christianity. Ironically, Okonkwo became that which he was trying to avoid becoming: a disgrace to his clan like his father.

ameliab555 | Student

Okonkwo kills himself because his worst fear is the fear of failure, and he sees himself and he tribe as failing.  Throughout the book the Igbo people are colonialized and their culture is slowly taken over by the British.  Okonkwo tries to grasp onto the traditions but he isn't strong enough to stop the flow of change by himself.  His son leaves to become a Christian, the tribe won't go to war against the British, and he faces execution for killing the white man.  His son will also not continue to offer sacrifices to his ancestors, so he is already doomed to displease the gods (so commiting suicide is no worse then dying a regular death).  He can't adapt so he kills hiself rather than find a middle ground to live in, between Igbo and British culture.

mchiarella15 | Student

Okonkwo kills himslef because he sees that the introduction of Christianity into his tribe has turned his once strong clan into an affeminite one. Since he fears weakness, he cannot stand being associated with this kind of tribe. On top of this, he also killed a court messenger, and as stated previously in the book, intentional murder is the worst offence possible.

so he:

1. wanted to disconnect himself from a womanly trible


2. killed a court messenger

thecrowing63 | Student

Okonkwo was left alone. in Chapter 24(i believe, near the end) he realizes that after he murdered one of the white men, the rest of the clan did not react. They didn't jump in to help him, they just let the rest of the men escape. In letting them escape, Okonkwo was left with the realization that the "white men" conquered their tribe with Christianity, regardless of whether it was by conversion or force. (Though in my opinion, what kind of Christian would mistreat equal members of the human race in such a way? I am not religious, but from what I've understood about religion, that doesn't seem like a very Godly thing to do.) Okonkwo knew the tribe had lost. Placing myself in Okonkwo's position, I probably would have done the same. Being strong-willed and stubborn as he is, I would have much rather preferred dying in DISFAVOR of MY OWN gods than try and live and cope in a world run according to the rules of a god I don't believe in. It was a way for Okonkwo to rebel against the norm of the Christian society. Yes, it was an abomination to commit suicide, BUT it was a way for him to keep himself tied to his religion and his beliefs. It had not been uncommon for Okonkwo to do things in disfavor of the cultural practices of his clan. The Week of Peace? Basically his suicide could have been symbolic to where he really stood in the cultural/religious aspect. He tried his hardest to not displease his Gods but always managed to screw up somewhere. Yet he maintained himself totally untied to the Christian religion. That shows how devoted he was to the Kingdom under his supreme god.

roma72 | Student

Okonkwo knew that the British would hang him, therefore he chose to hang himslf rather than let his enemies do it.

hadjer | Student

Okonkwo's life is dominated by fear,the fear of failure,so when he felt himself helpless and could not change the circle of events and he became useless for his comunity,he  run away from this feeling wich was killing him and chose another way to die,to suicide and it was a mercy for him.