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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe
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What are some quotations that support the downfall of Okonkwo in the novel Things Fall Apart? 

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One quote that hints at Okonkwo's downfall is seen in chapter 13. In this chapter, Okonkwo hears that Ezedu is dead. He reflects on the last conversation that they had before the respected man died:

A cold shiver ran down Okonkwo's back as he remembered the last time the old man had visited him. "That boy calls you father," he had said. "Bear no hand in his death."

Ezedu was a highly respected warrior in Okonkwo's community; still, Okonkwo acts against his advice:

Ezeudu had taken three titles in his life. It was a rare achievement. There were only four titles in the clan, and only one or two men in any generation ever achieved the fourth and highest. When they did, they became the lords of the land.

Ezedu's reference to "that boy" concerns Ikemefuna. Ikemefuna is a fifteen-year-old boy who is taken (along with a young virgin girl) from a neighboring clan. This clan gets involved in a conflict with Umuofia (Okonkwo's clan). Okonkwo is sent to Mbaino (the other clan) as an "emissary of war" (chapter 2). The other clan offers these two children to Okonkwo to maintain peace between the clans.

And so for three years Ikemefuna lived in Okonkwo's household (chapter 2).

While living with Okonkwo, Ikemefuna starts to be treated like part of his family. For most of this time, the conflict with the neighboring tribe is entirely forgotten:

For three years Ikemefuna lived in Okonkwo's household and the elders of Umuofia seemed to have forgotten about him. . . . He had become wholly absorbed into his new family (chapter 7).

Later, some of the town leaders come to speak privately with Okonkwo. After they leave,

Okonkwo sat still for a very long time supporting his chin in his palms. Later in the day, he called to Ikemefuna and told him that he was to be taken home the next day (chapter 7).

Okonkwo's body language suggests that something is upsetting him. We soon find out that the men have decided to kill Ikemefuna as an act of justice against the neighboring tribe. The men set out together (supposedly to take Ikemefuna back to his home). Eventually, Ikemefuna is told to keep walking forward and not to look back. He notices that Okonkwo moves to the back of the group, and Ikemefuna grows afraid. A man then raises his machete against Ikemefuna:

As the man who had cleared his throat drew up and raised his machete, Okonkwo looked away. He heard the blow. The pot fell and broke in the sand. He heard Ikemefuna cry, "My father, they have killed me!" as he ran towards him. Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak.

In this scene, Okonkwo disregards Ezedu's advice. He participates in the killing of Ikemefuna (who is like a son to him). This murder (and his refusal to listen to Ezedu's wisdom) hints at Okonkwo's coming downfall.

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Okonkwo grows up to become a brave warrior who is known throughout Umuofia as a violent, but successful man. Okonkwo's drive to be successful comes from his determination to not follow in his father's footsteps. Achebe describes his personality by writing,

"And so Okonkwo was ruled by one passion – to hate everything that his father Unoka had loved. One of those things was gentleness and another was idleness" (13).

Okonkwo's fear of becoming gentle and his determination to be viewed as manly leads him to make several rash decisions which result in his downfall.

In Chapter 13, Okonkwo accidentally kills Ezeudu's sixteen-year-old son during a ceremony. Achebe writes,

"And then from the center of the delirious fury came a cry of agony and shouts of horror. It was as if a spell had been cast. All was silent. In the center of the crowd a boy lay in a pool of blood. It was the dead man's sixteen-year-old son, who with his brothers and had been dancing the traditional farewell to their father. Okonkwo's gun had exploded and a piece of iron had pierced the boy's heart" (124).

After killing Ikemefuna, Okonkwo's misfortune continues, and he is exiled from the village of Umuofia for seven years. Okonkwo's dream of attaining titles as a village leader is shattered by his offense against the earth goddess.

In Chapter 24, Achebe describes Okonkwo's thoughts about Umuofia's decision to deal with the white men. Achebe writes,

"If Umuofia decides on war, all would be well. But if they chose to be cowards he would go out and avenge himself" (199).

When the white messengers arrive and tell the villagers to disband their meeting, Okonkwo takes matters into his own hands. Achebe writes,

"In a flash Okonkwo drew his machete. The messenger crouched to avoid the blow. It was useless. Okonkwo's machete descended twice and the man's head lay beside his uniformed body" (204).

Okonkwo's bitterness and anger towards the white men, coupled with his inability to control his emotions, cause him to make the fateful decision to kill the messenger. Murdering the messenger is the final act which leads to his eventual suicide.

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