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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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What positive and negative characteristics of Okonkwo exacerbate his situations?

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Probably Okonkwo’s most notable positive characteristic is diligence. He applies himself and follows through with almost everything that comes his way. This is seen in his application of his physical strength to fighting, whether as a wrestler or a warrior. It is not enough that he has natural strength; he works to improve and uses the strength both to bring personal prestige, as in wrestling, and for victories in battle for his people.

One characteristic that is both positive and negative is his strong sense of honor. Okonkwo is committed to upholding the honor of himself and his people, even if it means doing things that cause him personal pain. This conflict, and the fact that it cannot be totally resolved, is demonstrated when he kills Ikemefuna. First, despite his reluctance, he joins the group that pursues the boy, and then finally he becomes the person to wield the death blow.

The most negative situation in which Okonkwo finds himself, and one exacerbated by his negative characteristics, comes in the aftermath of his brutally killing the District Commissioner’s messenger. He acts rashly and out of pride. Thinking himself a leader, he expects others to follow. Although he anticipates that his clansmen will also take up violent resistance, their reactions show that this is not the case—not merely the battle, but the war has been lost. For all his people, life will never return to the traditional ways. Men like him will not be valued. Ultimately, his loss of hope does him in. Unable to envision the way he would live as a colonized man, he takes his own life.

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One of the great attributes that Okonkwo has is his great powerful stature and appearance and he uses it to great effect in battle and in working very hard to grow and harvest a good living for his family.  But he cannot take pride or pleasure in this great power thanks to his incredible insecurity.  It often drives him to lose his temper and do things that he later regrets.  So this positive thing often becomes a negative one due to his insecurity and inability to control his temper.

Another positive trait in Okonkwo is his great loyalty both to his family and to the traditions of the Igbo.  This brings him great renown due to his several wives and success in war but it also leads to great conflict and eventually his death because of his inability to be flexible in any way.  In this way what is again a positive aspect of his personality becomes a negative one.

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