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.