Okonkwo’s Fondness for Ezinma

Some might consider the protagonist of “Things Fall Apart,” Okonkwo, to be a household tyrant. Whether intimidating his wives with violence or murdering his adopted son, Ikemefuna, every act of aggression is meant to prove his masculinity. However, in Chapter 11 I saw a compassionate side to Okonkwo that feels worthy of discussion.

Overtime Okonkwo’s soft spot for his daughter, Ezinma, becomes apparent. He wishes she was born male, which is rather interesting considering that Ezinma is an obanje: a child who repeatedly dies and returns to its mother to be reborn. Her mother, Ekwefi, gave birth to nine children prior. I’m inclined to say that Okonkwo is empathetic toward Ekwefi, although he’d never outwardly express it.

When Chielo, under the spiritual influence of Agbala, took Ezinma away from Okonkwo’s compound for unbeknownst reasons, though, he dealt with the situation quite admirably. Primarily I was surprised by the manner in which he didn’t react to Ekwefi leaving the compound without permission to ensure Ezinma’s safety. Considering that Okonkwo “rules his household with a heavy hand,” I expected him to later reprimand Ekwefi for her boldness. Instead he showed no objections. Ultimately I believe Okonkwo allowed Ekwefi to leave freely because he was equally concerned for Ezinma’s wellbeing.

Secondly, in the following chapter we sense how troubled Okonkwo was with Ezinma’s abduction. Apparently he traveled back and forth from him obi to Agbala’s temple on four occasions, allowing “manly intervals” of time to pass before another visit. Although Okonkwo’s rigid perception of masculinity can be drastic, I respect the way he dealt with this whole ordeal. He demonstrated to Ekwefi that he would go to great lengths to protect their daughter. In my opinion this was his most redeeming moment as a father, a husband and a warrior.

Advertisements

About Jacob Atkins

young professional delving into convoluted world of freelance journalism, investigative reporting, and foreign correspondence. Originally from Maine, educated in Washington, D.C. and soon-to-be living in Santiago, Chile- I'm an introspective extrovert with nomadic tendencies

Posted on September 3, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. bersabellyeshitla

    I see how some may see Okonkwo as a household tyrant but I personally believe that Chinua Achebe throughout the books also depicts the many weaknesses of Okonkwo. Yes, Okonkwo acts violently, but more importantly he seems to have trouble controlling his anger. From killing people to shooting guns and choking his son, Okonkwo resorts to violence to get his message across. Unlike Obiereka he fails to question any of the traditions that he may necessarily not agree with. Because of this, he isn’t able to see Nwoye’s questioning of their traditions as brave. He is only able to see strength as a physical characteristic that embodies what is stereotypically “masculine.”

    I agree that Okonkwos love for his daughter Ezinma is apparent. I believe that it is through that admiration that Okonkwo actually showed strength and courage. He went against Chielo and Agbala to ensure that his daughter was safe despite the tradition.

    Okonkwo’s perception of being a good man was overall narrow. Scarred by the ways of his father, Okonkwo lived in fear of being a failure. His perception of masculinity and the right way of living as a man influenced his thoughts and actions that ended up driving him to kill himself.

  2. Thanks for your response. I may be critical of Okonkwo and his inflated sense of masculinity but I do realize that a lot of it stems from the tribal mentality, perceived gender roles, and the overcompensation for his father’s “weaknesses.” We all would agree that he was incapable of controlling his anger: I believe his primary weakness was not knowing how to deal with his anger without resorting to violence, which to him was the only viable option as a man, and what ultimately resulted in him taking his own life. Violence, whether inflicted upon others (or himself) is all he knew.

    For me, this is one of the most tragic components of Okonkwo’s legacy: the manner in which he continuously resorted to violence when confronted with undesirable emotions, whether it be anger, sadness, or disappointment. For example, in part 3 of the novel Okonkwo tried to convince the tribe to resort to war in order to fend off the Christian missionaries. We hear time and time again how Umuofia is a “manly tribe” known for winning fierce battles against neighboring tribes, and Okonkwo would rather fight an all-out war instead of a “war of blame.”

    We can see how Okonkwo prepared for battle on page 199 when a childlike excitement came over him as he was rummaging through his war dress, shaking out his smoked raffia skirt and examining his head gear. On the same page he swore vengeance against the white man for how they treated him in jail, which left him feeling very humiliated.

    When the tribe gathers in the village to hear Okika speak about the “rooting out the evil” that is the White man, essentially motivating the tribe that war is upon them, Okonkwo initiated the first battle but was gravely disappointed that nobody else joined him. The speech was interrupted by five court messengers, one of whom Okonkwo decapitated. However, nobody in the tribe followed suit and Okonkwo stood looking at the dead man, realizing to himself that Umuofia would not go to war. I believe this was the moment where he lost all hope and therefore decided to take his own life. The warrior tribe of Umuofia, once known for their strength, failed him. If the warrior-mentality no longer prevailed, what else did he have to live for?

%d bloggers like this: