In Chinua Achebe's novel, Things Fall Apart, how does Okonkwo often violate traditonal community observances?

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first occasion in which Okonkwo disobeyed his tribe's rules was when he beat his wife Ojiugo during The Week of Peace for having neglected her duties, to have her hair done. It was deemed an abomination to commit an act of violence during this period. Since Okonkwo had violated customary law, he was called before the Ezeani, the priest of the earth goddess, Ani, to account for his senseless conduct. Ezeani refused to accept his excuses and apology, and said the following:

"The evil you have done can ruin the whole clan.The earth goddess whom you have insulted may refuse to give us her increase, and we shall all perish." His tone now changed from anger to command. "You will bring to the shrine of Ani tomorrow one she-goat, one hen, a length of cloth and a hundred cowries."

On another occasion, Okonkwo's old, rusty gun went off and exploded into pieces during Ezeudu's funeral. A piece of shrapnel pierced the heart of the dead man's sixteen year-old son, killing him. Because Okonkwo had committed what was deemed a female crime, for inadvertently killing a clansman, he was banished from Umuofia for five years. Okonkwo fled with his family to his motherland, to a little village called Mbanta. Okonkwo's compound and all his animals were destroyed as further punishment.

Finally, the most tragic of Okonkwo's actions in violation of tradition, was to commit suicide. Okonkwo hanged himself after having killed one of the Commissioner's messengers and, instead of facing the humiliation of standing trial and being judged by the invader's laws, Okonkwo decided to take his own life.

When the District Commissioner asked men from Umuofia to remove Okonkwo's body from the tree, one of the men responded thus:

"It is against our custom," said one of the men. "It is an abomination for a man to take his own life. It is an offence against the Earth, and a man who commits it will not be buried by his clansmen. His body is evil, and only strangers may touch it. That is why we ask your people to bring him down, because you are strangers."

"Will you bury him like any other man?" asked the Commissioner.

"We cannot bury him. Only strangers can. We shall pay your men to do it. When he has been buried we will then do our duty by him. We shall make sacrifices to cleanse the desecrated land."

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Things Fall Apart

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