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The protagonist of the novel is Okonkwo. The novel describes Okonkwo’s rise and fall in a culture that is bound by tradition and superstitious. Okonkwo also has his faults, and it is these faults that lead to his downfall. His impatience and quick temper make him break the rules of the Week of Peace and eventually is ostracized from his village for his rash behavior. His headstrong nature and impulsive attitude consequently bring about his own death at the end of the novel.
Okonkwo is respected for having reached a position of wealth and status, without any support from family. In fact, most of his ambition and desire stems from the rejection of his father’s lifestyle that is objectionable to him. Okonkwo refuses to bow down to the tenets of the Christian missionaries, even when almost the entire village has. His tenacity and tragic flaws that he cannot see make him a hero despite his unforgiving nature and rigid adherence to tradition. Okonkwo thus instills a feeling of respect and admiration in the hearts of the readers.
The antagonists are the Christian missionaries who wish to invade the content villages of Africa with their Western concepts and way of thinking and convert the people into Christianity. The customs of African culture are scorned and degraded. Gradually, many people are persuaded into converting themselves into Christianity, with a few exceptions, including Okonkwo. It is the missionaries who are the final cause of the death of Okonkwo. Their behavior toward the leader of the village is disrespectful and it is understandable that Okonkwo had to retaliate in the only form he knows, by resistance to Christianity and loyalty to his culture’s traditions. The reader sees the heartlessness of the district commissioner who is only concerned about the material he has accumulated for the book he wishes to publish
The climactic point in the novel arises when, Okonkwo, without his realizing it, shoots a young member of his community and kills him. Though this was an accident, Okonkwo has to abide with the law that deems he should be banished from his village for seven years. This is an unfortunate situation, since until then Okonkwo has been steadily rising in wealth as well as status in his community and very soon would have acquired more titles. The calamity however results in his downfall. He now has to live in exile for seven long years of his life in his mother’s land.
Another parallel climax in the novel is when the missionaries inculcate the lives of the villagers. Until then the people were governed only by the traditional Ibo culture and were custom-bound, but the invasion of the missionaries changes the lives of the villagers
The outcome of the novel is Okonkwo’s return to his village after his exile and his self-destruction. He discovers that everything has changed when he is not given the kind of welcome he had expected. Too much has happened since Okwonko’s departure and the villagers have other things to worry about. Okonkwo can no longer dream of becoming head of the village because he has lost too many years in exile, and when he returns, all of the customs, values and beliefs of the village have been destroyed.
With the invasion of the Christians, the villagers find themselves at a loss. With their sweet words and strong beliefs, the missionaries manage to dissuade the villagers from their own religion and customs. The Christians even begin living in the evil forest, in order to prove to the villagers that all their beliefs about its evilness are baseless. Twins and outcasts were allowed to enter into their church.
The missionaries also provide many good services to the villagers. They build a church, a hospital, a school and also a court and trading store for the villagers. Yet ultimately the core of their culture has been subjugated to Western ideology and the traditional economy as well as social well being of the village is gone forever.