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Free Study Guide-Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe-Free Booknotes
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THE TRAGIC FAULTS OF OKONKWO

Okonkwo, for all his greatness, has his faults, which ultimately lead to his downfall. His greatest fault, or hamartia, as seen in the protagonist of a typical Greek tragedy, is his pride. His own success as a self-made man, makes him impatient of others who are not as successful. For example, at a meeting of the tribe’s elders, he calls another man a woman and says, “This meeting is for men.” This man who had contradicted him had no titles, and so Okonkwo felt that he was not worthy enough. However, Okonkwo had to apologize to him.

Okonkwo is hard and stern with his family, particularly his son, Nwoye, who does not take after him. It is Okonkwo’s inner, psychological fear that he too would be a failure like his father, that makes him proud and hard. He is strict with his wives too and never shows his inner emotions. It is this that drives him to break the rules of the Week of Peace, by beating his wife when she does not send him his food as required. Breaking the rules of the week of peace is considered a sin against the Goddess of the soil, Ani. So this is both a personal error and an error against the rules of the tribe.

At the New Yam festival, too, he almost shoots his second wife, Ekwefi, with a gun as he thinks that she has cut down his banana tree when she has only cut a few leaves. This again shows his impulsive nature and volatile temper, faults which later rebound on him. When the Oracle of the Hills and Caves orders the death of Ikemefuna, Okonkwo, in order to show his fearlessness and impartiality, strikes the final blow with his machete, even as the boy is calling him “My father, they have killed me!” Ogbuefi, the oldest man in the village had asked Okonkwo not to participate on the killing of the boy as he called him his father. By killing the boy himself Okonkwo commits his second offense against the tribal laws.


At the funeral of the leader of the tribe Ezeudu, there is much dancing and firing of crackers and guns. Okonkwo fires his gun, but it explodes and a fragment of metal kills Ezeudu’s own son. For this final fault against the tribe - a killing of one’s own kinsmen - he is banished for seven years.

At the end of the novel, when Okonkwo cannot take more of the vile behavior of the District Commissioner, it is his impulsive nature that pushes him to behead one of his messengers. Though this was a brave act, he commits suicide realizing that his clan is no longer with him. The reader thus sees Okonkwo as a puppet of his own actions and nature, all which finally lead him to his doom.

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