In Things Fall Apart, how does the main character Okonkwo's fear of being thought a coward affect the story?

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mrs-tolley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo's decisions determine the direction of the story, and his decisions are often based on his fear of being thought cowardly. At the beginning of the story, Okonkwo is considered great because he is a great wrestler, a great warrior, and a successful man with two barns filled with yams, three wives, and many children. But Okonkwo has a weak chi, and has difficulty connecting with his nurturing feminine side.

Okonkwo adopts a boy, Ikemefuna, gifted to his village from a neighbouring village. He loves Ikemefuna and thinks he will be a good role model for his son, Nwoye, who he considers lazy. When the Oracle of the Hills and Caves demands that Okonkwo take Ikemefuna's life, Okonkwo has a decision to make. He talks to an elder, who advises him not to kill Ikemefuna, but Okonkwo chooses to kill the boy regardless because he does not want to appear cowardly. This decision sets in motion the rest of the events that make up the story.

When Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna in a ritual, his relationship with his son Nwoye is ruined. Okonkwo is later banished to his mother's village for seven years. During the time he is away, Christian missionaries arrive in Igboland. Okonkwo's estranged son Nwoye is among the Igbos who embrace the new religion. When Okonkwo finally returns to his village, he joins the uprising against the Christians, and finds himself pitted against his own son.

Okonkwo's fear of being thought cowardly causes him to ignore the advice of the village elder and destroy his relationship with his own son. It also makes him constantly ignore his nurturing side and make decisions that result in violent actions, including his final decision to take his own life.

You can read more about Things Fall Apart on eNotes here, and learn more about the main character, Okonkwo, here.