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Okonkwo Character Essay

In his novel, Chinua Achebe takes the reader to the world of the Igbo tribe during the pre-imperialism Victorian era. Okonkwo, the main character, was a highly respected member of the Igbo tribe. He is the caretaker of a child, but with a stroke of irony, ends up killing him. After an accident, he and his family are forced into exile. By the time he returns, the Igbo tribe has undergone many changes. He finds these changes to his life and culture to be overwhelming, and thus takes his own life. Throughout the novel, Okonkwo’s words demonstrate his inner conflicts, his troubled past with his family, and his superiority complex. Okonkwo is a very conflicted individual because, throughout the novel he demonstrates severe internal discord. Achebe comments,”Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness” (13). Despite all of his showy manliness, deep down inside Okonkwo is ruled by fear.

He is afraid of coming off feminine and weak, like his father before him. He feels the need to surpass his father in every way, and does whatever he can to ensure his dominance. Okonkwo did not have a very warm upbringing. His harsh childhood is arguably the main reason Okonkwo is the way he is. “Okonkwo did not have the start in life which many young men usually had. He did not inherit a barn from his father. There was no barn to inherit.” (Page 16) His father proves unable to provide for his family, and in Igbo society, is looked upon as a bad father. This compels Okonkwo to be a better man than his father, but in some senses he takes it too far, and becomes a tyrant in his own home. “Okonkwo’s first son, Nwoye, was then twelve years old but was already causing his father great anxiety for his incipient laziness. At any rate, that was how it looked to his father, and he sought to correct him by constant nagging and beating. And so Nwoye was developing into a sad-faced youth” (Pages 13-14)

As the head of the household, he is free to do whatever he pleases and drives his wives and children to work too hard. Okonkwo hated his own father, and though he is trying to do right by his children, is only driving them down the same path he has been. Okonkwo feels the need to be dominant. He does whatever he can to establish his superiority, to make up for his fathers failures. “Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements. As a young man of eighteen he had brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat. Amalinze was the great wrestler who for seven years was unbeaten, from Umuofia to Mbaino.” (Page 1) He establishes his dominance early on, by proving to be a superior wrestler than everyone else.

He makes a name for himself, and proves that he doesn’t need anyone else’s help. “’I think it is good that our clan holds the ozo title in high esteem,’ said Okonkwo. ‘In those other clans you speak of, ozo is so low that every beggar takes it.’” (Page 69-70) Since he is very proud of his reputation, Okonkwo is pleased to know that positions of respect are publicly known and difficult to achieve. This means that his status in the community is an elite and meaningful accomplishment. As you have seen through the evidence I have given, Okonkwo’s personality is very dark. It’s been shown that he was very conflicted, had issues with his family, and felt the need to be superior. In conclusion, these many issues lead to the man’s downfall, and eventual suicide.


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