The central aspect of Okonkwo's character that is accentuated throughout the novel is his pride. There are numerous examples that illustrate his sense of self and his ambition, even arrogance, such as references to his success as a farmer, his skill as a wrestler, the relationship with his family, and the respect and envy he has gained in his community.
Okonkwo's pride is an extension of his fear of failure. "His whole life [is] dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness." Okonkwo tries everything to be the complete opposite of his father, Unoka, who was an utter failure—a man who could not even be given a proper burial and had to spend his last days in the forest because he suffered from the "swelling" that was deemed an abomination.
When the oracle declares that Ikemefuna, the boy left in Okonkwo's care, has to be executed, Ogbuefi Ezeudu asks Okonkwo not to have any part in the boy's death. Okonkwo, however, decides to accompany the group of elders who are to lead the boy out of the village and kill him. During this trip, one of the elders draws his machete and strikes Ikemefuna. The blow does not kill the boy, and when he cries out, Okonkwo "[draws] his machete and cut him down."
Although Okonkwo secretly grew to love Ikemefuna, he kills the boy because he does not want to be perceived as weak. The fact that he has never openly displayed affection for the young lad is a further indication of Okonkwo's fear of displaying weakness. All his actions are related to his desire to retain his misguided pride—he always has to prove how strong he is, even when he breaks sacred rules in the process.
Okonkwo's actions in bringing about Ikemefuna's death also foreshadow his own death later in the novel. It is his pride that drives him to commit suicide instead of facing a humiliating arrest by those he despises. His suicide adds further irony because his act is seen as an abomination: Okonkwo, just like his father, cannot be buried. Only strangers can bury him, and Obierika asks the District Commissioner if he and his men would do so upon payment.