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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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Is Okonkwo a victim of bad chi, or does he cause his own problems?

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While it could be argued that Chinua Achebe depicts some events in a manner that suggests that Okonkwo is a victim of the Igbo gods, I argue that Okonkwo has brought about many of his own hardships through his stubborn nature. Okonkwo is staunch and inflexible in the face of the great change that sweeps over Umuofia, and this, in part, leads to his eventual downfall. Early in Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo is described as a man driven by fear:

"Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness" (13)

This sets up the fact that Okonkwo is determined to be a "manly" warrior, and his bellicose personality serves as the main source of friction in the novel.

Moreover, nearly every single event that afflicts Okonkwo and his family is the direct result of Okonkwo's actions. It is not a "bad chi" that forces Okonkwo to accidentally kill a young clansman. Indeed, his wife mocks his handling of guns earlier in the novel (38-39). He is not talented with guns: "He was not a hunter. In fact, he had not killed a rat with his gun" (38). Thus, Achebe foreshadows the events that eventually push Oknokwo and his family into exile, and this event--alongside many other happenings in the novel--cannot be blamed on bad chi or malevolent gods. The blame falls largely on Okonkwo and the fact that he is afraid of change.

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