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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe
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In what ways is Okonkwo a good or a bad father in Things Fall Apart?

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Okonkwo is a good father in that he is an extremely hard-working man that is able to financially provide for his family. He is a respected member of the community, and he embraces his leadership roles. Okonkwo also recognizes traits in his own father that he doesn't like, and he...

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Okonkwo is a good father in that he is an extremely hard-working man that is able to financially provide for his family. He is a respected member of the community, and he embraces his leadership roles. Okonkwo also recognizes traits in his own father that he doesn't like, and he works at not emulating those behaviors. All of these things are positive traits that Okonkwo models for his children.

Unfortunately, for every good fatherly trait that he has, a reader can find an equally bad fatherly trait in Okonkwo. It's not that Okonkwo only doesn't want to be like his father. Okonkwo genuinely fears becoming that. He genuinely feels that his father was too feminine, and Okonkwo tries to compensate by being hyper-masculine. He beats his wives and doesn't have a good handle on his emotions. He is driven by fear, and that leads to destructive behavior, like killing Ikemefuna and disowning his oldest son. Okonkwo holds his children to high standards. That is a good thing; however, he can't figure out how to show that he loves them, and that is a bad thing.

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In the novel Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo displays dominance among his family and clan, and he is well respected. He is famous for his personal achievements, such as defeating the Cat in a wrestling tournament, and holds many titles. He is a hardworking and successful farmer, which results in his wealth. However, Okonkwo also fears failure, rules his household with a heavy hand, and displays a great amount of anger.

"Okonkwo never showed any emotion openly, unless it be the emotion of anger. To show affection was a sign of weakness; the only thing worth demonstrating was strength." (pg. 28)

Although he admires his children, he does not often show them affection, because he believes showing affection is a sign of weakness. Many of Okonkwo's actions could be used to justify the idea that he is a "bad" father. He threatens his adopted son with a big stick when the son refuses to eat, he threatens to break the jaw of his oldest son for the way he cuts yams, and he openly beats his wives in front of his children. Okonkwo's involvement in the killing of his adopted son and the lack of attention towards and respect for his oldest son, Nwoye, ultimately results in Nwoye's conversion to Christianity, partially to get away from Okonkwo.

No matter the lack of affection he shows, Okonkwo does instill in his children a good and solid work ethic, which could be considered a trait of a "good" father. His favorite child, Ezinma, whom he wishes was born a boy, does not whine or question any job given to her; she does it with a good attitude. Despite his departure from the clan and family, Nwoye always shows respect for others' differences. However, regardless of the morals he instills in his children, Okonkwo's violence, threats, and lack of attention and affection give grounds for him being labeled a "bad" father.

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Okonkwo is a good father in that he provides for his family and protects them when necessary. He is also a successful man who demonstrates to his children the importance of hard work and motivation. He teaches Ikemefuna and Nwoye necessary skills to become successful farmers and even travels to the Oracle of the Hills and Caves in order to protect Enzima. However, Okonkwo is a callous, strict man who does not express his feelings of admiration to his children. Okonkwo believes that any form of positive emotion or communication makes him look weak. For this reason, he does not tell Enzima how much he admires her or lets Ikemefuna know that he is proud of him. Okonkwo is also intolerant and insensitive. He neglects his son Nwoye because he feels like Nwoye is too feminine simply because he does not share any of his "masculine" interests. Although Ikemefuna is not his son, he takes part in his murder despite being told not to participate. Nwoye ends up resenting his father and Okonkwo's children never develop a healthy relationship with their father because of his insensitive disposition. 

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