Things Fall Apart Questions and Answers
by Chinua Achebe

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What motivates Okonkwo?  

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Madeleine Wells eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Okonkwo is primarily motivated by a deep-seated need to differentiate from his father. Specifically, he is intrinsically focused on demonstrating his complete alignment with the traditional masculine ethos.

The text tells about how Okonkwo persevered and prevailed during a miserable yam planting season. First, an eight-week drought destroyed many harvests. Next, the rains came with a ferocious intensity, further destroying more yam crops. Many farmers endured great loss that year, and some were prompted to take their lives in desperation. Okonkwo, however, endured and prevailed.

Yet, his pride was marred by anger and frustration. Okonkwo was his family's primary breadwinner. As such, he had to support his entire family, including his mother, sisters, and father (Unoka). Okonkwo especially despised Unoka's weakness. As a son, he had to do the work of the father. For his part, Unoka was content to depend upon Okonkwo. Unoka's only contribution was philosophical words of advice about life and suffering.

This irritated Okonkwo greatly. So, for the rest of his adulthood, Okonkwo was determined to prove his masculine prowess in every way: in battle, in material pursuits, and in romantic conquests.

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kapokkid eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Likely Okonkwo's biggest motivation is that of trying not to be seen as his father was, a weakling or a failure.  This drives him to work incredibly hard, to fight like a lion and acquire two titles and become the veritable big man on campus in Umuofia.  It also contributes to what is likely his biggest flaw, his single-mindedness combined with a wicked temper.

He is unable to think outside the bounds of Igbo culture and this governs many of the decisions he makes.  Even after being exiled, he cannot think of any other system as having anything to offer and can only see the white man and christianity as a threat to which the only response is blind and angry resistance rather than any thought to compromise, etc.

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