Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – A Response Paper
Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, depicts the importance of social institutions of the Igbo tribe as well as the injustices that happen among its people. One of the most interesting aspects of the story is the importance of masculinity, courage and wealth among the Igbo tribe. Up to what extent do the tribe leaders demonstrate their power and influence? Are strong beliefs and principles enough to make one a hero and a good leader? Does being a good follower make you a great leader as well?
The main character of the story, Okonkwo, is described as a great man and wrestler of the Igbo tribe who is courageous, highly respected and hard-working. He shows no signs of weakness or emotions. Although the story revolves around him – his embarrassing past brought about by his lazy and irresponsible father, his achievements, wives, children and role as an influential clan leader – it clearly reflects the practices, culture and beliefs of the Igbo tribe. From a reader’s point of view, there are several aspects of the story that can trigger emotions. Some are shocking and revealing while others can be confusing at some point.
The book tells the story of Okonkwo and how he has established a name for himself for all his hard work and contributions in his tribe. Thus he is honoured and respected unlike his squandering father. It is interesting to know that despite of all the negative things that Okonkwo’s father has done to the other tribe members, none of these had affected Okonkwo’s social standing and achievements. This clearly reflects that the Igbo tribe honours their people based on their personal accomplishments and not by their family background.
At some point, readers will also be inspired by Okonkwo’s character. All the embarrassment he endured during his childhood has made him a better man. He vows never to become like his father who is coward and caused nothing but trouble and failed to provide for his family. For these reasons, Okonkwo strives to become different. He works hard for prowess and becomes wealthy enough to support his three wives and children. Readers will find it interesting to know that influential and honourable men of the Igbo tribe can also have more than one family. It gives the impression that for the Igbo tribe, the number of wives that a man has reflects his position in the society, his wealth and influence.
One of the most shocking aspects of the story is when Okonkwo participated in the murder of Ikemefuna, the young boy who was taken by the tribe as a peace settlement between two villages and lived with his family for three years. The story shockingly reveals Okonkwo’s involvement in the murder of Ikemefuna despite the father-and-child bond that had already developed between them. He is too proud to show his emotional attachment to the boy and he does not want to be thought of as weak. This shows how much Okonkwo values his power and reputation in his tribe above all things. He disregards his emotions in order to fulfil the rules set forth by the tribe’s elders. His brusque and harsh disposition caused his life to fall apart. He also resists change and continues to fight for his tribe’s culture. As a result of his actions, he brought a lot of trouble and sorrow to his family and to himself. He fought hard for his tribe’s beliefs and principles that he ended up breaking the most important of all when he decided to hung himself to death. Okonkwo worked hard all his life to achieve honour and respect in his tribe only to lose it all in the end.
Okonkwo’s character in Things Fall Apart can be compared to that of Achilles’ in the movie Troy. Achilles is also a brave warrior who fights hard to achieve immortal fame even though his choices only brought him doom. Clearly, a man’s courage and principles are not enough to make him a great leader. More than that, power does not always equate to success and fulfilment. Both Okonkwo and Achilles view action and aggression as true masculinity and they refuse to show signs of weakness.
As a reader, I find Okonkwo as a typical tragic hero. His story teaches a highly significant lesson. He worked so hard to achieve honour in the traditional society which is why he cannot adapt to a new culture. For this reason, he resisted change. He fought for the Igbo tribe’s tradition, culture and belief which later on led to his downfall.
In conclusion to Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, it is clear enough that courage and honour are not enough to resist change. It is bound to come regardless of the circumstances. No amount of bravery, power and masculinity can stop change from influencing traditions and culture.
The clash between tradition and change will remain constant; and those who cannot adapt are the ones who are most likely to lose in the end. Lastly, the people who attempt to resist change are only those who are afraid to lose their influence, position and honour in the traditional society.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1958.