How does society contribute to the tragedy of Things Fall Apart?

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In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Achebe foregrounds a changing society as a major contribution to the tragic circumstances that befall the doomed protagonist Okonkwo. Indeed, the massive changes that result from the influence of Western Christian missionaries leaves the inflexible Okonkwo feeling trapped and disenfranchised, and he eventually takes his own life as a result. Okonkwo is shown as being deeply affected by the changes to Umuofia after he returns from his seven year exile to Mbanta:

“Okonkwo was deeply grieved. And it was not just a personal grief. He mourned for the clan, which he saw breaking up and falling apart, and he mourned for the warlike men of Umuofia, who had so unaccountably become soft like women” (183).

Okonkwo’s return to Umuofia is underwhelming, and he longs for the past and the warrior culture that he left behind when he was initially exiled. As he lives in the altered region, he has unsavory encounters with the incipient white government officials. Okonkwo is unable to adjust to the changes, buckles under the pressure, and commits suicide. Obierika directly blames the officials and the surrounding society for driving his best friend to this:

“That man was one of the greatest men in Umuofia. You drove him to kill himself, and now he will be buried like a dog” (208).

Thus, society plays a major role in the ultimate tragedy of the novel. The changes to the region drive Okonkwo to suicide.

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