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Conflicts within the Main Character

in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart

To be submitted as Final Paper of Prose II

Lecturer: Dr. Novita Dewi, M.S., M.A.

A Paper

Fransiskus Atita Nahur (081214125)


Yogyakarta, December 2010

Conflicts within the Main Character
in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
By: Franky A. Nahur, Sanata Dharma University

It is natural that human beings are never satisfied. The higher they get success they
higher they want. Many people fight their unfortunate fate to get success. Some other
surrender at ease and live in grief and meaningless. In order to avoid them, ambitious people
try their best to success. However, sometimes these two contradictive ways meet in same line
whether it is sadness or happiness.
The main character in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo, was an ambitious man.
All Okonkwo believed in was that he was able to determine and change his fate. He denied
being like his father, Unoka, though he fell in the same end-line just as his father whom he
hated and underestimated along his life. He judged his father as a failed man, though he
himself was a failure like his father. Garret Wallace (1994) comment that was the same line
where the honour and disgrace met. This tragedy leads us to come up with a simple question:
why did Achebe portray this plot of life of a respectful man?
The novel has many things to be explored, indeed. The novel is a story of pride,
defensive, ambition, local wisdom as well as culture, gender and politic especially the impact
of colonialism of white man in Africa in 1890s. These aspects are like a sum of history and
documentary of Nigerian tribe before the colonialism and new religion came. This paper
discusses more the main character’s characteristics in terms of how the conflicts happened
along the character’s life. Those are like unstable situations and conditions which were very
tendentious. Those unstable situation and condition created the conflicts in that novel.
The Characteristics of the Main Character
Okonkwo was a son of Unoka. In the beginning of his life Okonkwo tried his best to
achieve his dreams to be a honour man in Umuofia. He was lucky to have a big body. He was
strong and brave. His reputation was admitted by the people since he defeated Amalinze the
Cat. Amalize had been the single winner in wrestling contest during seven years. At once,
Okonkwo became well known and respected in the entire nine other villages around Umuofia
(chapter 1). He had three wives and eleven children. He had plenty of yams in his barn. He
was respected also by the elders in the village. Okonkwo is the one who became the delegator
to Mbaino to negotiate the best way before they declare to war the village.

As a strong man, Okonkwo adored his manliness. For him, a man must never be
spoiled like women. Women were identified with weakness, meek, and spoiled. Unoka, his
father, was his bad example which must be not followed. He cursed his father for being lazy
and debtor during his life. He judged his father as a failure, too. Unfortunately, his first son
Nwoye seemed to be the same with Unoka: meek and lazy. Okonkwo was sick of him and
beat him many times (chapter 3).
Avoiding these considerations, Okonkwo became a harsh man. He was a warrior who
liked war and fight. He beat his youngest wife and treat his wives and children harshly. He
was impatient even with the goddess. In this case he was quite stubborn with the goddess
rule, for he beat his youngest wife on the day before planting season (chapter 4).
However, Okonkwo had good interest on Ikemefuna, a boy who became the guarantee
of Mbaino village to end warfare with Umuofia. The boy lived in Okonkwo’s house during
three years and called him father. However, for the sake of his manliness, Okonkwo ended
the boy’s life. The case of Ikemefuna’s death was the turning point of his anxieties during his
life. This case unconsciously led him to deep grief where he found himself like women.
Another incident, made Okonkwo commit a murder of a boy on the day of Ogbuefi
Ezeudu’s death. Things came to change his life uncontrollably. He and his family must be
exiled out of the village for seven years. He went to a place where he had no right to be
respected. During the time, white men brought new religion, new structure pattern, new rule
and government to his village. This threat his role and image as a respect man in his village.
He confronted with the new comers by killing one a messenger of District Commissioner. He
ended his own life by hanging himself behind his house. Because of this way, he was
considered as an abomination that must be buried by strangers inappropriately.
Irony and Conflicts
What we can see in the life of Okonkwo is full of ironies which portray the conflicts
within the main character. Even though he was a brave and harsh man, his life was
complicated. He mentally seemed to be not stable. He was brave but he had fears and anxiety.
Unfortunately, whatever he was afraid about happened to him instead. We may ask how
come those things happened. But, Achebe certainly portrayed this from reality. At least there
are six points of conflict happened to Okonkwo. All of them are the reflection of the major
themes Achebe is proposing.
1. External Conflicts
a. The first external conflict happened between Okonkwo with his father. This conflict
implicitly described trough Okonkwo’s feeling to Unoka. He totally disagreed with

his lazy father. However he did not explicitly show any confrontation to his father.
His dislike to his father manner can be seen when he tread his oldest son, Nwoye.
The boy was the second type of his father to whom he should confront (chapter 1
and 2).
b. Okonkwo’s adoration of his manliness made him neglect women’s power. Even he
considered women are weak. In fact, his culture had clear distinction between
women and men in terms of roles in household and planting. But, it did not mean
that women had no important part. In this case, Okonkwo faced Chielo, an ordinary
woman but had role as Agbala’s priestess. Somehow Okonkwo became quite
stubborn to this goddess. He broke the law of the Week of peace (chapter 4). When
Ezinma was taken away to the cave by Chielo (when she was entranced by Agbala’s
spirit), Okonkwo challenge her (chapter 11).
c.The third external conflict was happening with the white men. Their presence was
really threatening the elder’s role in the society. Besides, they brought new religion
and teaching that frontally neglected their tradition and religion. The white men
came and threatened the society as if they had no worth and wisdom. Okonkwo and
other spiritual leaders disagreed with the new comers (chapter 21, 23 and 24).
2. Internal Conflicts
a. Okonkwo was surprised when he found himself was in deep ad long grief after the
death of Ikemefuna. He experienced it but then he denied it again as if it was not the
part of his personality. He cursed himself as woman. His big ambition taken him out
from that reality. However, unconsciously he had been fighting for days. He then
“When did you become a shivering old woman, you, who are known in all the
nine villages for your valour 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, p. 65)

b. Okonkwo was loyal to the rule of the society and the tradition of their ancestor.
When he had to be exiled out of the village, he found it was difficult since he had to
go to a place in which he has no right to be respected as a great man. He received
the reality, though he had deep struggle into it. This must be a self conflict for him.
He was lucky that he had a wise uncle, Uchende, who receive him with compassion.
c. The last internal conflict that was experienced by the main character happened
between his ambition and his despair. His ambition to be a respected man was not

lasting long anymore because of guilty feeling and despair. After killing the
messenger of District Commissioner, he realised that he had killed their brother. It
was never taught by their ancestors. It means that he broke the rule once more. He
broke it again at the time he had to maintain it. He just did what he was afraid about.
This grief made him end his life by hanging himself. He was failure
Returning to the previous question, why did Achebe portray this plot of miserable life
of a respectful man? We may not think Okonkwo a respectful anymore because of his greedy
in the beginning and disgrace at the end of his life. After recognizing his anxieties, we may
consider that he was fragile. On one hand, he was portrayed as a good example of modern
principle that when you believe you can do something, you can do it. “If a man say yes to his
chi, his chi will say yes.” This saying represents the belief that someone is the controller of
his/her own destiny. On the other hand, Achebe wanted to show that Igbo’s society had the
philosophy of life even before the England colonial came.
However, like his other literary works, Achebe is portraying the tradition of Igbo for
“western”. It was true that the belief had been existing since before the colonialism, but it did
not mean to neglect the tradition and the role of their goddess. Achebe is an author who
always sets out cultural conflict. Okonkwo was obedient to the tradition, but his boastful and
harsh manner even challenge it. Manliness and iron fist are finally not the guarantee for
stabilizing and maintaining power or status.
The issue of gender in this novel is one of the ironies for Okonkwo. He totally did not
want to be considered having womanliness in his personality. Moreover, it’s only men who
made decision in consensus. In fact, he has to be obedient to goddess and the power of
women in owing children in the family. When he and family were exiled, they had to go back
to his mother’s family/clan. Through the voice of Uchende, this was reaffirmed again to
"It is true that a child belongs to his father. But when the father beats his child, it seeks
sympathy in its mother's hut. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is
sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness, he finds refuge in his motherland. Your
mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why we say that mother is
supreme." (chapter 14, p.134)

In the case of questioning for whom this novel was addressed, Achebe meant to show
the colonialist countries that the colonialized countries had their own system of society, that
they had already had what so-called democracy. Okonkwo and the tragedy of his life were the
impact of the colonialism. This novel is also a protest to “Western” countries that

underestimate African people as weak or wild. The colonialism had made the element of the
genuine society fall apart.
….The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were
amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan
can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have
fallen apart. (Chapter 20, p. 176)
The leaders of the society were in dilemma whether to receive the new religion or to maintain
their own religion, while others of his people had joined the new religion. Okonkwo was
frustrated and killed himself. He chose the worst step in the end of his life.
The conflicts within Okonkwo were the way through which Achebe described the
system, traditional and local wisdom of Igbo. But the conflicts tense culminated when the
colonialism came. It was really a big disturbance for the leaders who really need respects of
their people. In this novel, Achebe is trying to remind both western people and African
people to realize the existence of traditions and change. For African, the underestimate of
western people with their colonialism was hurting. For western, the tradition should be
respected. A change is quite hard to be done, but somehow it should be as it should be.
Without despair it can be done well.
Tradition to be respected, the change to be accepted, no frustration.

Achebe, Chinua. 1994. Things Fall Apart. Anchor Books: New York
Directessays.com. Why the Book is Entitled Things Fall Apart. Retrieved December 18th
2010, from: http://www.directessays.com/viewpaper/12349.html

Gradesaver.com. 2009. About Things Fall Apart. Retrieved December 18th 2010, from

Jeiyfo, Biodun. 1993. Okonkwo and his mother: 'Things Fall Apart' and issues of gender in
the constitution of African postcolonial discourse. Retrieved December 18th
2010, from: http://www.accessmylibrary.com/article-1G1-

Wallace, Garret. 2009. “Living Uncontrollable Destiny” in IB English (January 29th 2009).
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