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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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Why does Okonkwo sacrifice himself at the end of the book, and how does his death attempt to influence Ibo society?

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One could argue the Okonkwo's suicide was an act of desperation and a way to avoid being taken captive by the colonial administration, which would surely torture, embarrass, and murder him. Okonkwo is depicted as a resolute, callous man, who has an affinity for violence and respects the Igbo tradition. He vehemently opposes the European colonists and their culture, which has significantly undermined the traditional ways of life in Umuofia. After failing to persuade the villagers to take up arms against the colonial regime, Okonkwo loses his temper and ends up decapitating a white messenger. Okonkwo is aware of the consequences of his actions and realizes that his villagers will not defend him. Therefore, Okonkwo goes back to his compound, where he commits suicide. While one could certainly argue that Okonkwo acted out of desperation, his suicide could serve as a message to the other members of the tribe. Okonkwo's death could foreshadow the future of Umuofia if the villagers succumb fully to colonial influence. Okonkwo knows that his culture has jeopardized everything by refusing to fight and would rather die than to be controlled by colonial Europeans. Therefore, Okonkwo's death is a message warning the villagers about the end of their traditional culture at the hands of European colonists.

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I'm not sure whether the death of Okonkwo is a sacrifice or an act of desperation. Okonkwo has tried to save the Ibo traditions but he realizes that too many people have converted and they will not fight the white colonists. Since he knows he is outnumbered and cannot win, he commits suicide. Ironically, his act brings many of the Ibo's back to their traditional beliefs about suicide. The Ibos had always considered suicide a great sin and they continue that tradition when Okonkwo commits suicide. Obierika understands the irony of the situation when he tells the District Commissioner,“That man was one of the greatest men in Umuofia. You drove him to kill himself; and now, he will be buried like a dog . . . ” In other words, by killing himself, Okonkwo has brought his people back to their traditional beliefs and that will lead to a disrepectful burial like his father's, something Okwonkwo tried his entire life to avoid.

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