In the class we have discussed who the “real” main character is: the village itself or Okonkwo. There might be controversies over this, but here I am going to focus only on Okonkwo and see him as the main character. It is true that in some parts we cannot even find Okonkwo, but it is also undeniable that Achebe has spent so many words on him.

I find it really interesting to take a closer look at Okonkwo’s mindset because he is actually even more struggling than other people in his mind. There is a considerable discrepancy between his appearance and his mindset. At the very beginning of the novel, Okonkwo is depicted as a “tall and huge” (3) man and a heroic warrior. But very soon Achebe started to point out that Okonkwo’s “whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness” (13). He is a man confined, limited, enclosed, and tortured by his own “fear”. This results in his inability to show his real feeling to others. The clearest evidence can be found in the interaction between him and his beloved son, Ikemefuna. Okonkwo likes this son a lot, but he fails to show his love to his son. He could not praise his intimate family members, not to mention “become as enthusiastic over feasts as most people” (37).

To source back the origin of his overwhelming fear, we can find that the fear comes from his father Unoka, a weak man, a loser, a failure, a loafer, and a debtor. Though not directly stated, we can clearly see that Okonkwo blames his father for being such a spiteful person. “[Okonkwo ] had no patience with unsuccessful men. He had had no patience with his father” (4). The depiction of Unoka in chapter one makes a drastic contrast between Unoka and Okonkwo, seemingly foreshadowing how Okonkwo behaves in the daily life, i.e. draws the boundary between himself and his father.

Okonkwo tries to beat his father, but he has never succeeded. He pretends to be strong, but this only shows the readers how weak he is. He is haunted by his father Unoka all the time and never has a chance to really overcome the irresistible fear from his father. He remembers his father when people mentioned the concept “father”. He remembers his father’s quotes when he was faced with difficulty. His father’s influence is evidently shown between the lines.

Oronkwo may be tougher or more violent, but not necessarily stronger. His most tragic failure is the inability to show affection. What he should beat or kill is not the haunting image of his unsuccessful father but the fear lying at the bottom of his heart. His enemy is himself.


Posted on September 4, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. alexandramarcus21

    I also noticed the amount of fear Okonkwo felt during the novel, or his questionable strength. As you pointed out, Okonkwo and other members of the village many times are describe to be ridden with fear; a characteristic sometimes that inhibits those from reaching their full potential, or even towards the end of the novel, standing up to the white man. Okonkwo, in particular, might root his fear in his father, like you say, “try[ing] to beat his father, but…never succeed[ing].”
    From the beginning of the novel, Okonkwo’s father seemed to be the baseline for failure, a testament to what a poor father, husband and clansmen would behave like. Okonkwo fears he will be like his father, an emotion so overbearing he overcompensates in other parts of his life (such as a strong member of the clan). Readers meet Unoka early on in the novel, and he explained as “a failure” (5).
    Okonkwo spends his whole life in fear of becoming like his father, constantly criticizing others for being cowards. In the end of the book, after committing the abomination of taking his own life, Okonkwo is described as “one of the greatest men in Umuofia” (208). Unoka died with a huge debt and left the clan resentful, while Okonkwo died and was viewed almost as a hero. As you pointed out though, “his enemy is himself.” His “inability to show affection” out of fear of becoming weak like his father drew him to such circumstance he wasn’t able to live with himself. He feared his destiny.

  2. sirrohansharma915

    Both of you make interesting points. My view is similar to Davis’ because I feel that Okonkwo tried so hard not to be his father, that he ended up being his father in a way. He loses the respect of his son and the village by trying too hard. It is important for men to balance their both masculine and feminine sides. Okonkwo tries too hard to be masculine and powerful and in the end it backfires on him

  3. I agree with the fact that Okonkwo never shows affection in the story, but I think it is important to point out that he does at least feel affection. One clear example in which we can see his affection, is on page 172 when Achebe describes how Okonkwo feels about his daughters, especially Ezinma: “…He [Okonkwo] never stopped regretting that Ezinma was a girl. Of all his children she alone understood his every mood. A bond of sympathy had grown between them as the years had passed”. With this quote it is clear that Okonkwo loves Ezinma, and thus has affection for her. I think this affection that Okonkwo keeps hidden is another aspect to why he is constantly in a struggle with his own self; while he tries to gain status in his clan as being a “macho man” that is unable to show warmth towards another, he, on the inside, does have some of the same characteristics of his father, the same characteristics for which he despised his father. In the end, because of this struggle, he ends up failing just as his father did. I think Okonkwo realizes this early on and knows that he is bound to fail and that is where the fear, which you mentioned, stems from.

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