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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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What causes Okonkwo's downfall in Things Fall Apart?

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Anger, violence, pride, an inability to adapt, and a fear of being like his father all take part in the downfall of Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart.

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The story of Things Fall Apart comes closer to Aristotle's definition of tragedy than most of the extant Greek tragedies do. In many ways, Okonkwo resembles Oedipus, a great man, respected by those around him, who falls from his high position principally through the operation of fate. It is true that Okonkwo, like Oedipus, has a flawed character, but also like Oedipus, it is difficult to see how he could have avoided his downfall. The society in which he lives disintegrates around him, and there is nothing he can do to stop it.

Okankwo is a harsh, stubborn man with a foul temper. However, these faults do not directly contribute to his downfall. It is possible that, if he had not been exiled to Mbanta, he could have defended Umuofia from the encroachment of the white men by fighting and persuading his tribe to fight. It is doubtful whether this would have made any difference, but even if one assumes that it would, the direct cause of Okonkwo's exile is not his own violence but the accident of the exploding gun, which is to say, fate.

Achebe's aim in showing Okonkwo's flaws of character is not to suggest that they cause his downfall but to show a characteristic leader of Igbo culture in all his complexity. This culture has sustained itself for many generations with harsh, imperious men like Okonkwo in command. It is the external forces of British imperialism that cause Okonkwo's downfall and the collapse of the society he represents, and this is what Obierika tells the district commissioner at the end of the novel.

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One could argue that Okonkwo's downfall is directly related to his fear of being viewed as weak or becoming like his inept father Unoka. As a young man, Okonkwo was determined to become a successful, masculine warrior and grow up to be the complete opposite of his father. Okonkwo's fear of being viewed as weak and effeminate influenced him to become a callous, violent man. Okonkwo's aggressive, hostile personality leads to several bad decisions, which results in his downfall.

Okonkwo's first significant mistake is beating his wife during the Week of Peace, which is considered an offense against the earth goddess. Okonkwo then becomes Ikemefuna's surrogate father and grows attached to the boy. Tragically, the Oracle declares that Ikemefuna will be sacrificed and specifically instructs Okonkwo to not play a role in the boy's death. However, Okonkwo fears that he will be viewed as weak and kills Ikemefuna against the Oracle's instructions.

Okonkwo's violent actions ruin his relationship with Nwoye, but he remains callous, hostile, and insensitive. During Ezeudu's funeral, Okonkwo accidentally shoots his gun and kills Ezeudu's son, which results in a seven-year exile. Okonkwo loses his titles and is forced to move his family to Mbanta. When he returns to Umuofia, Okonkwo cannot adapt to the changing culture and responds with violence by decapitating a messenger sent from the European colonists. In order to avoid arrest and humiliation, Okonkwo hangs himself. Each of Okonkwo's tragic mistakes stem from violence, which is related to his fear of being viewed as weak. Okonkwo was never able to overcome his fear, and his hostile demeanor led to his demise.

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Okonkwo is incapable of self acceptance. He bases his success and failure on his father's success or failure and in turn puts those same pressures on his children. He cannot cope with the evolution of the tribe and village when the missionaries arrived and his world begins to "fall apart."  Like many elders in a traditional society, he feels he has no place in the "new" village and the old ways are as unnecessary as he is. Because he measures himself and others by standards that are no longer valid - he feels invalid and unnecessary.

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Okonkwo has an excessive fear of being like his father, so as a result, he begins at an early age to prove to his tribe that he is strong and brave. As a result, he becomes an aggressive, angry, violent man in trying to distance himself from his father. His father was lazy and a poor provider for his family. Okonkwo's determination helps him succeed, but it also is partially responsible for his downfall. His anger and violence causes him to committ acts that damage his reputation. The more he achieves, the less he enjoys it because his fear of failure is always there, reminding him that he must continually prove himself to be better than his father. During his exile, Okonkwo learns the value of promoting unity within his community, but it's too late. When he returns to his village, the missionaries have already influenced his tribe, and it is Okonkwo's excessive pride that won't allow him to accept this. He's angry that his people don't support him in his fight against the Europeans, and he allows his fear of failure to blind him to the inevitability of European interference in the traditional beliefs of his people. Again, Okonkwo's anger and violence get the best of him, and he committs his final desperate act of vengeance. His suicide signals his spiritual alienation from his traditional beliefs.

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Just as the title of this novel suggests, Okonkwo's downfall is caused by his inability to follow the mores of his culture and to adapt to colonization. His pride aids him breaking the mores of the clan. First of all, he beats his wife during Peace Week, which is unheard of. Next, he shoots a young boy when his gun explodes: "Violent deaths were frequent but nothing like this had ever occurred" (Chap.13). For this crime, he is banished for seven years. Next, as the Whites take over, Okonkwo kills the messenger: "Okonkwo's matchet descended twice and the man's head lay beside his uniformed body" (Chap.24). Lastly, Okonkwo commits the greatest sin of all, suicide.

As the culture of the clan falls apart so does Okonkwo's life as he fails to adjust to his role within the clan and later, his role as the clan's society is changed through the pacification by the White man.

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What problems did Okonkwo face in Things Fall Apart that led to his downfall?

Okonkwo is one of Umuofia's most prominent warriors and the story's protagonist, whose fear of being viewed as weak directly contributes to his downfall. He fears being a failure like his father and develops into an aggressive, intimidating man whose intolerance and violent instincts lead to his demise.

Okonkwo is initially punished for beating his wife during the Week of Peace and is haunted by guilt after killing Ikemefuna against the oracle's instructions. Okonkwo's decision to participate in Ikemefuna's death completely ruins his relationship with his son, Nwoye, who ends up converting to Christianity, and it leaves Okonkwo feeling guilt-stricken and ashamed. Okonkwo also accidentally kills Ezedu’s son during a funeral, which is considered a female crime against the earth goddess and so results in his seven-year exile.

During Okonkwo's exile, he loses his titles, and the Christian missionaries establish a base on the outskirts of Umuofia. The Christian church gradually gains power and influence as they begin converting more and more villagers. When Okonkwo returns to his homeland, he encourages his fellow villagers to fight against the colonists and ends up decapitating a white messenger when his clansmen refuse to take up arms. Rather than suffer the humiliation of being arrested by the white colonists, Okonkwo commits suicide, dies without a proper burial, and his body is left in the Evil Forest like his father's. Okonkwo's intolerance and aggression contribute to his downfall, and his violent actions directly lead to his demise.

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What problems did Okonkwo face in Things Fall Apart that led to his downfall?

In Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe vividly illustrates the tragic story of proud warrior Okonkwo as he faces the challenges presented by a rapidly changing Umuofia. Okonkwo faces a number of problems in the novel. Chief among them is the pervasive influence of Western settlers that changes the face of his region and ultimately marginalizes the traditional norms and values that Okonkwo holds dear. This influence becomes especially prevalent when he is in exile in Mbanta. His oldest son Nwoye rebukes his relationship with his abusive father and joins the Christian church. Okonkwo feels betrayed, and considers Nwoye dead to him:

“How could he have begotten a woman for a son? At Nwoye’s age Okonkwo had already become famous throughout Umuofia for his wrestling and his fearlessness. He sighed heavily, and as if in sympathy the smoldering log also sighed. And immediately Okonkwo’s eyes were opened and he saw the whole matter clearly. Living fire begets cold, impotent ash. He sighed again, deeply” (153).

After Okonkwo returns from exile, he realizes that the region has changed forever. The major problem that Okonkwo faces is that his values are no longer seen as relevant. Umuofia has been too heavily influenced by Western norms and institutions:

“Umuofia had indeed changed during the seven years Okonkwo had been in exile. The church had come and led many astray…. But apart from the church, the white men had also brought a government. They had build a court where the District Commissioner judged cases in ignorance” (174).

Thus, the problems that Okonkwo faces can largely be traced to his inability to adjust to change. His inflexible will makes him a living relic, and this why he faces so many problems in the novel.

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In Things Fall Apart, what is Okonkwo's tragic flaw?

In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo has a tragic flaw. His tragic flaw is his fear of becoming like his father. Unoka, Oknokwo's father, is lazy and loves a life of leisure. Okonkwo deals with his fear on a daily basis. He becomes obsessed with hard work in his determination to never be called weak or woman, as did the children call Okonkow's father.

Okonkwo is driven by his passion to excel and become a leader in the community. He allows his masculine desires to overtake him. He becomes abusive to his family, insisting they work as hard as he does.

Ultimately, Okonkwo allows his fear to totally consume him. He is so afraid that he will lose his title until he takes his own life. In the end, he dies without a proper burial, just as his father died without a proper burial. Okonkwo allowed his fear to take contol of him. His life ends in tragey.

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In Things Fall Apart, what is Okonkwo's tragic flaw?

Okonkwo's tragic flaw is his fear of being perceived as weak or effeminate like his father, Unoka. Okonkwo grew up ashamed of his father, who was a debtor and alcoholic. Unoka was not a violent man and preferred to drink palm wine all day rather than work to pay back his debts. Unoka died a titleless man and his body was thrown into the Evil Forest because it was considered an abomination to the earth goddess. In order to avoid the same reputation and fate of his father, Okonkwo developed into a determined, aggressive man, who earned titles and was known for his ferocity in battle. Tragically, Okonkwo's fear of being viewed as weak or feminine influences him to become a callous, violent man. Okonkwo's hypermasculinity leads to his demise as he harms his friends, family, and self. Okonkwo's tragic flaw influences him to murder Ikemefuna, which ruins his relationship with Nwoye. His violent nature also disrupts the Week of Peace and leads to the death of an innocent young man, which results in his exile. Okonkwo's fear of being perceived as weak also influences him to murder a colonial messenger at the end of the novel. Overall, Okonkwo's tragic flaw is his fear of being perceived as weak and effeminate, which makes him a violent, callous man and leads to his demise.

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In Things Fall Apart, what is Okonkwo's tragic flaw?

Okonkwo's tragic flaw, is, as in classical literature, hubris or pride.  He fears being viewed as weak or feminine (as his father was viewed), and this fear causes him to act rashly.  His rash actions cause his banishment and alienation from his son, who eventually abandons him to join the Christian missonaries.  Interestingly, Achebe compares Okonkwo's pride in the first half of the novel to the western colonizers' pride in the second half of the novel. 

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What are the main reasons of Okonkwo's downfall?

The main reasons for Okonkwo's downfall are his reluctance to accept change and his desire to be the absolute opposite of his father. He refuses to accept any kind of change in this novel, the most obvious example being with the white missionaries. He refuses to accept any of the changes that the missionaries bring to Umuofia. He reacts to adveristy (after his exile) the same way he always had - with violence. As for his desire to NOT be like his father, he will do anything to prevent others from seeing him as weak. The most obvious example of this is his killing of Ikemefuna. He was told not to participate in this killing, yet he felt he would be seen as weak if he didn't. This shows he has no balance between the masculine and feminine in his life. Once he kills Ikemefuna, his life spirals downward to his ultimate death.

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In the novel, Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe, what causes things to fall apart?

Let us consider the final speech in the novel, which gives us Okika's assessment of what has happened to the tribe and what has caused their way of life and culture to "fall apart." This comes from the final chapter of the book and refers to the vast numbers of the Umuofia clan and how some of them have deserted their culture:

They have broken the clan and gone their several ways. We who are here this morning have remained true to our fathers, but our brothers have deserted us and joined a stranger to soil their fatherland. If we fight the stranger we shall hit our brothers and perhaps shed the blood of a clansman. But we must do it. Our fathers never dreamt of such a thing, they never killed their borhters. But a white man never came to them.

We can see the dire situation that the tribe faces at this juncture. Brother is turned against brother, and the blame is very firmly laid on the white man and the way that he has entered their lives and disrupted the normal cycle of living. The power that the white man has means that they are able to bring the traditional culture of the Umuofians to an end and force a change in their previously stable and tranquil lives. Achebe therefore well and truly puts the blame on the white European colonialists for the cultural destruction this book explores.

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How is Okonkwo's downfall caused, in part, by circumstances beyond his control?

Although Okonkwo is in part responsible for his downfall, there are also factors beyond his control that bring about his fall. For example, he is selected to house Ikemefuna, a boy who his tribe takes in as a peace offering when a rival tribe kills a girl from Okonkwo's village of Umuofia. While Ikemefuna is living with him, Okonkwo grows to love him. Then, in another situation that is beyond his control, locusts invade the village, and the oracle decrees that this is a sign that Ikemefuna must be killed. Okonkwo helps to carry out this killing, which harms him psychologically. 

Later, in another event beyond his control, his gun discharges by accident at a funeral and kills an attendee, and Okonkwo is sent into exile for several years as a result. Finally, while he is away, Europeans and Christian missionaries move into his village, and their sympathetic leader is replaced by a man with a more domineering personality. The advent of European colonialism is another force well beyond his control, and, ultimately, it is the force that destroys him.

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How is Okonkwo's downfall caused, in part, by circumstances beyond his control?

In Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart, the protagonist Okonkwo experiences a fall from grace caused, in part, by his own means. However, there are factors that contribute to his downfall that are completely beyond his control: namely, imperialism, or colonialism. 

During the context of the novel, Nigerians are for the first time interacting with white people. This historical period was characterized by white people going into non-European cultures and appropriating their land, resources, people, and culture. Europeans acted in an ethnocentric manner, meaning they believed that their way of life was inherently superior to all others; this affected their perspectives on others' religions, traditions, cultural norms and mores, relationships, political structures, economies, and more. 

In part, Okonkwo's downfall is directly related to the rise of white imperialism, which he was powerless to prevent and was directly affected by. 

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What is the tragic flaw of Okownkwo that leads him to be a tragic hero in Achebe's Things Fall Apart?

Okonkwo was raised by a father who was lazy and ineffective in a tribe where masculine prowess and accomplishment had supreme value.  In contrast, the tribe holds loathing for men who are agabala, which means weak and lazy. Okonkwo had a deep inner terror that he would be like his father: weak, ineffective, lazy, unmanly, despised. No one knew of his inner terror. The tribe admired him, respected him, awarded him with honors, recognized him as the best and fiercest warrior in the tribe.

Okonkwo had long since conquered the image of his father's failure and proven himself to be a leading man in the tribe. Yet the spectre of his father's despised traits and his terror of being similar continued to drive him and compel him to continually act in heartless and reckless ways that proved his manhood. It was because of this driven compulsion to prove himself over and over and unendingly that Okonkwo made rash choices and risky decisions--actually, Okonkwo’s actions must be said to be guided less by reasoned decisions as by compulsions of terrified impulse. He might be likened to the falcon and his reasoning self to the falconer in the quote:

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

Because he, like the falcon, could not act based on truth and tribal reasonableness, he fell apart, his center could not hold, he unleashed anarchy upon his world. Okonkwo's tragic and fatal flaw of being compelled by driving terror lead to his fatal end as a tragic hero.

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In Things Fall Apart, what is the cause of Okonkwo's fear and how did it contriibute to his eventual downfall?

Throughout his entire life, Okonkwo's most pressing fear and the force that drives him to work so hard and fight so hard and just try to appear so hard is the fear that his father's laziness and reputation will follow him despite everything he does.  He is absolutely unwilling to accept anything less than the biggest titles and victory in wrestling or in war, etc.

This incredibly deep fear prevents him from ever considering any sort of compromise, his world view is very rigid and when things don't go according to his expectations or according to tradition, he is unable to adjust in any meaningful way.  This leads to the catastrophic series of events that end with his hanging.

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In Things Fall Apart, why does Okonkwo as a modern hero meet the fate that he does?

As a modern hero, Okonkwo meets fate when he hangs himself. As fate would have it, Okonkwo's village is falling apart. The things that made him a great hero are no longer a part of his heritage. The Christians have come in and changed the village men's way of thinking.

Okonkwo can no longer depend on the leaders in the village to support his way of thinking. When Okonkwo came home, he expected things to be the same, but the white man had arrived:

During Okonkwo's exile, the white man arrives in both Umuofia and Mbanta. Mr. Brown, a missionary, begins winning converts to Christianity, though generally these are only outcasts or men of low rank. However, with time, the new religion gains momentum. Nwoye becomes a convert after realizing that the new religion will providehim a remedy for the death of Ikemefuna and the twin born children. When Okonkwo learns of Nwoye's conversion, he beats theboy. Nwoye leaves home.

Even Okonkwo's son has defied his father. Okonkwo is losing hope. When he urges the leaders of his village to fight the white man, they choose not to fight. In utter hopelessness, Okonkwo hangs himself. He cannot bear to live under the white man's control:

Okonkwo knows that his people will not choose war.Embittered and grieving for the destruction of his people's independence, and fearing the humiliation of dying under white law, Okonkwo returns home and hangs himself, which is seen as weak and an attack against nature, so much so that others from Umuofia cannot touch his body.

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