Book: Things fall Apart(1958)
Author: Chinua Achebe
To understand where we are, it is most important that we understand where we have been and in the character of Okonkwo, we see this relevance. Okonkwo is a Janus-faced character in the book. Why do I say Janus-faced? I mean a character who holds up the future for us while looking backwards too.
In Okonkwo, we see a people (most certainly, the Ibos); a culture and a universe. Okonkwo is a famous wrestler, who loves his land and his properties and “who ruled his household with a heavy hand” (11). He lived his life in the fear that he might be seen as a failure like his father; Unoka. The fear of living in Unoka’s shadow is not removed from the reason he beat his third wife during the holy week and again, why he killed Ikemfuna.
Okonkwo is the man but he can easily be any other African male. He is a man who knows fear but would never admit it. For instance, when Ezinma his favourite daughter is carried by Chielo to get treated, Ekwefi her mother follows immediately but it was when she thought that she had been waylaid by an evil-doer that we understand that Okonkwo had been following suit all along (86-87).
The culture in which he thrived and fell is one that we can relate to as Africans especially if our interest is on the social stratum where the male is Lord and therefore dominant. To understand this, we look at Okonkwo’s life in exile among his mother’s people at Mbanta. Although no longer a youth, he works so hard that he becomes quite wealthy. He was persistent at maintaining his ‘supremacy’ just as he did when he nearly disowned his weak son ‘Nwoye’ for been accepting of Christianity which he was really against as it threatened his culture. He couldn’t accept his son or anyone blighting his authority or beliefs.
In understanding Okonkwo therefore, a people, a culture and a world come alive every day and this inarguably makes him my Favourite Nigerian Character in a Book.