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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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How do Okonkwo's impulsive actions contribute to his downfall in Things Fall Apart?

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In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo's rashness is a character trait that he cannot seem to change. Chinua Achebe suggests that he is a tragic hero, because his flaw is innate and sparks numerous events with negative consequences. Some of Okonkwo's hasty actions do not have immediate repercussions. Those that occur early in the novel largely serve to establish his personality and related behaviors and to provide foreshadowing of larger problems to follow.

One such hasty action occurs when Okonkwo beats his wife Ojugo for neglecting her domestic duties. Because this occurs during the Week of Peace, he must pay a fine. The relatively small consequence does not dissuade him from similar behavior—as he later beats his other wife, Ekwefi. The repercussions of this action are much greater. Initially, nothing happens to him, but he has hurt Ekwefi emotionally as well as physically.

When he overreacts again by shooting at her during the festival, that is when he accidentally kills Ezeudu's son. This action does have serious consequences: Okonkwo is banished. Although living away from his community for seven years does have some positive benefits, the banishment is the beginning of the end for him. It essentially alienates him from the developments going on there. When he returns, he is like a stranger in his own home.

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Throughout the story we see that Okonkwo's hasty actions have brought him reproach and trouble, starting with they led to his exile from the town, and in some ways this can be linked to the rash actions he takes on returning.  Rather than having any chance at reacting in a more measured and understanding way, he returns to see such massive changes and he cannot get rid of the bitterness that has built up inside him during his exile.

His decision along with the others to go and burn Enoch's compound and the church down demonstrate a willingness to act without an understanding of the problem or the opponent.  He is unable to contemplate the idea that life in Umuofia has changed for good and that his vigorous defense of it will not lead to things returning to normal.

His final act of confrontation, to kill the messenger from the court is clearly one of impatience and desperation and afterwards he realizes that the Igbo will not rise up together but that he has in many ways witnessed his own falling apart as well as the death of the Igbo way of life, hence he resorts to hanging himself.


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