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Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe- 5 Meaningful Quotes Revolving Around Okonkwo

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In the essay Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, there are five meaningful quotes that revolve around Okonkwos status during his life. In the beginning of the novel Okonkwo became an important part of his village early in his life when he defeated Amaline the Cat in a wrestling match. His victory made him a celebrity among the nine villages of Umuofia because Amaline had been undefeated for seven years. At this point, Okonkwo began on the path to high social status among his village, which was his goal throughout his life.

The first quote that the narrator metaphorically describes is how great status can be achieved at a young age, Age was respected among his people, but achievement was revered. As the elders said, if a child washed his hands he could eat with kings. Okonkwo had clearly washed his hands and so he ate with Kings and elders. (Chapter 1 Pg. 8) This quote implies that Okonkwo worked very hard at a young age to be able to eat with the elders. Age respected among his people means that the older a person is, the more respect he will attain. However, Okonkwo was not old at all so he focused on attaining that same respect through means of achievements.

Thus by attaining much honor at a young age, Okonkwo will gain even more value as he gets older. So when Okonkwo was older, the elders of Okonkwo’s village held him in high esteem. Due to his place in society, they entrusted him with the life of a boy sacrificed to them by the people of a neighboring village as a peace offer. Although Okonkwo has reached a high place in his community, this quote also reveals that Okonkwo strived to become a man as fast as he could therefore he must have not had much of a childhood. This could also explain why Okonkwo was so harsh toward others including his children and wives. However, the root of his missing childhood was because of his father.

Okonkwos father was known as Unoka. Okonkwo hated his father because he was a lazy debtor. Unoka could never afford to purchase a title for himself or to have more than one wife, and so he was looked down upon by his neighbors and his own son because his primary joy was in music and merry-making rather than work, wealth, and warfare. The people of Okonkwos village called Unoka an agbala, which is an insult for calling a man a woman. When Okonkwo heard this term, he was crushed because to him that meant that his father (who had no title) was basically a woman. That’s when Okonkwo became obsessed with social status and because of that obsession; he would do anything to protect his image as a strong man in his village. Through his fear of his fathers passiveness in life, Okonkwo did everything against what his father did. Thus instead of becoming lazy and gentle, Okonkwo transformed himself into a hardworking and aggressive man. Unoka even looks up to Okonkwo when he has attained respect, “You have a manly and a proud heart. A proud heart can survive general failure because such a failure does not prick its pride. It is more difficult and more bitter when a man fails alone.” (Chapter 3, Pg. 25)

This shows that Okonkwo was a great man indeed. His pride and willpower has made him into a real man with a strong heart. Unoka tells his Okonkwo he is strong because Unoka himself is weak and has experienced failing alone. Using the words more difficult and more bitter shows that although it is incorrect grammar, Unoka magnifies the expression even further by basically saying if one has failed alone, it is very difficult and perhaps seemingly impossible to get back up. Okonkwo vowed, perhaps not knowing it, that he would never become like his father and fail alone, but instead strive to be the best so that when he fails everyone else around him will fail as well. Thus whatever Okonkwo could not do was generally not a bad thing to look upon since nobody else could do better.

A mans status in Okonkwos village is highly valued. Okonkwo was determined never to do anything his father did. Okonkwo would never show weakness or his flaws in fear of being seen as his father. This determination is exemplified when Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna, the young boy that was sacrificed from the other village in order to keep peace. Okonkwo showed great interest in Ikemefuna and treated him like his son. However, Ikemefuna was boy from another village sacrificed to keep peace, thus soon there came a time when Ikemefuna had to die. The narrator shows that Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna, The pot fell and broke in the sand. He heard Ikemefuna cry, My father, they have killed me! as he ran towards him.

Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak. (Chapter 7 Pg. 61) Although Okonkwo loved Ikemefuna and had much affection for him, Okonkwo was forced to leave all of his emotions behind in order to kill Ikemefuna and not be seen as a weak man who could not kill another man. Okonkwo showed no mercy as he was blinded by his fear of his fathers submissive attitude. Oknokwo had to protect his status as a true warrior in his clan and if he was not able to slay Ikemefuna, then Okonkwo fears that he might be called an agbala just like Unoka, Okonkwos father. This quote also shows that Oknokwo is willing to sacrifice virtually everything in order to keep his high rank among his tribe.

For two days after Ikemefuna died, Okonkwo did not eat. He was uneasy about killing the boy, but he tried to ignore his guilt because it wouldn’t be manly to do otherwise. Okonkwo is still very determined to keep his status in his village and does very hard not to show his emotions. Disappointed with himself, Okonkwo ponders, “‘When did you become a shivering old woman,’ Okonkwo asked himself, ‘you, who are known in all the nine villages for your valor in war? How can a man who has killed five men in battle fall to pieces because he has added a boy to their number? Okonkwo, you have become a woman indeed.'” (Chapter 8, Pg. 65) Although Okonkwo is a ruthless man and unforgiving, he still has his weaknesses no matter how hard he tried to get rid of them. This proves that Okonkwo is still a man as simple like any other and that he has feelings under all of his achievements.

In an effort to divert his thoughts, Okonkwo went to visit his friend, Obierika. While they are talking, Okonkwo asks why Obierika did not go with the elders to kill Ikemefuna, and Obierika says that although he respected the Oracle’s instruction to kill the boy, he did not want to take part in it. He points out that Okonkwo would have done well to stay out of it, too, because such an action as killing someone who considers you his father will displease the Earth. Of course Okonkwo did not consider this because he is too obsessed with his pride and position in his tribe.

One day in Okonkwos village a man called Ezeudu had just died. Ezeudu had been such an important man to Umuofia, cannons were shot and rifles fired in his honor. During one such salute, Okonkwo’s gun had exploded and killed a young boy in the middle of the funeral crowd. Although Okonkwo’s crime was accidental in nature, he was forced to flee from his home because killing a clansman was a crime against the earth goddess. Okonkwo took his family to Mbanta. His kinsmen there receive them with open arms and help them restart their lives and endure the seven years away from home. Okonkwo seemed defeated because living in exile was like starting all over from scratch. The narrator puts it as knowledge only attained when one is young, “It was like beginning life anew without the vigor and enthusiasm of youth, like learning to become left-handed in old age.”(Chapter 14 Pg. 113)

All the work that he had put into developing his status among his village was erased now, and he was forced to begin again. While maintaining status was easy enough, Okonkwo much prove during his seven years in exile that he is the best of the best. The metaphoric quote shows that Okonkwo is determined to rebuild or learn but it will be very difficult because most of his time had been spent on maintaining that status instead of building it. However, although Okonkwo has been quite damaged psychologically, he managed to live through the exile and get his family back to Umuofia. Okonkwo regretted his exile primarily because it stunted his social growth. Although he grew quickly and prospered in Mbanta, his progress there meant nothing because it did not increase his stature in his native village.

Okonkwos status was quite centered throughout the novel. Through these quotes Okonkwo status is exemplified and his obsession of maintaining that high rank is seen. Through the fear of his fathers passiveness, Okonkwo was driven to strive and achieve great accomplishments. His determination never faltered once, which is seen especially when Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna. All in all, status is highly regarded in Umuofia and without it one is terribly looked down upon.

Source Used:

Things Fall Apart, Chinua AchebePublisher: Anchor (September 1, 1994)Language: English

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