Sympathy for Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe takes place in a village near Nigeria around the early 1900s. Throughout the book, Okonkwo is a sympathetic character. He shows love and cares for his family, however is very worried about becoming lazy and soft. This causes him to become somewhat strict and uptight. Deep down Okonkwo is a warm-hearted person but he is just afraid to show it. Okonkwo grew up with an unproductive and irresponsible father and more than anything, Okonkwo strives to be the exact opposite. There are many instances in the novel where we see Okonkwo’s sympathetic qualities and actions. He has taught himself to show no mercy and weakness, and this is why his anger occasionally emerges throughout the book. Sympathy for this character is demonstrated through his thoughts and actions towards his adopted son Ikemefuna, his beloved daughter Ezinma, and most importantly, his village and the entire Ibo culture.
Okonkwo discovers a strong love and respect for his adopted son Ikemefuna and finds it difficult to choose either Ikemefuna or his self-respect and reputation. Ikemefuna came to Umuofia from a different village in trade and eventually became adopted by Okonkwo. For the next three years, Ikemefuna begins to adapt as a member of the family fitting right in and becoming close with Okonkwo’s other son, Nowye. Because of spending time with Ikemefuna, Nwoye starts to become more masculine and brave after a rough period of being known as weak. This was everything Okonkwo stood for so he was happy his son had started to make a change. The day came for Ikemefuna to be executed and Okonkwo was called upon to take part in the killing. Despite being a strong and authoritative man, taking part in the murder of one of your “sons” can destroy any man’s heart. “As the man…Okonkwo looked away” (Pg 61). This quote gives the reader a sense of Okonkwo’s humanity and sympathy for Ikemefuna. He was in shock and in disbelief of what just happened and wasn’t himself for the weeks that came after. Following Ikemefuna’s death, Okonkwo was not the same. He spent days in his Obi alone barely able to get out of bed. “Okonkwo did not taste…eyes of a rat” (63). This quote illustrates Okonkwo’s extreme misery that he goes through days following the death of his “son.” He is unable to eat and can barely get any rest. Although Okonkwo’s actions towards his son can not be forgiven, he shows deep sorrow and sadness as he finds it hard to accept what has happened.
How it works
Okonkwo’s favorite child is his daughter Ezinma who he would do anything for. He loves her because of her beauty and how she understands his feelings and thoughts. She is respectful and kind and that is why she is Okonkwo’s favorite. Okonkwo does not show her all the love she deserves because he is afraid of looking soft. He sometimes wishes she was a boy because he is all about masculine qualities however this shows how much he cares for her. In the middle of the book, Ezinma receives a very bad fever that is almost life-threatening. Okonkwo immediately takes action doing his best to save her and make sure she is safe.“Ezinma is dying…ran into Ekwefi’s hut” (76). In this passage, Okonkwo demonstrates his urgency as he takes no time in assessing the dangerous situation with his daughter and being ready to help in any way possible. Another example of Okonkwo’s devotion to his daughter is illustrated by the lengths he goes to save her. He helps dig endlessly for her iyi-uwa and also finds medicinal trees and shrubs. “Okonkwo returned from…trees and shrubs” (85). It is clear that Okonkwo loves his daughter very much and would do anything for her. This gives the reader of sense of him as more than a strict and angry father.
The culture and the way of life of the Igbo is lost during the course of the novel. The missionaries converting the tribe to Christianity resulted in the complete loss of their own traditions and values. This was devastating to Okonkwo. “Now he has won…we have fallen apart” (176). Okonkwo is describing how once the previous members of the village converted to Christianity, society began to fall apart. In the end, It is all too much for Okonkwo to handle and he ends up taking his own life out of sadness. “Then they came to the tree from which Okonkwo’s body was dangling, and they stopped dead” (207). Okonkwo killing himself at the end of the book is an important message that demonstrates the power of religion. Readers feel sorry for Okonkwo as he tried his best to fight his pain and misery. For being such a brave and powerful man, Okonkwo must have been an absolute rock bottom to feel the need to take his own life. After being exiled for seven years, coming back to absolute chaos in his village must have created a level of dismay that he could not handle. Anybody who is sad enough to take their own life deserves some type of sympathy.
In conclusion, Okonkwo gains sympathy from the readers due to his genuine love and care for his family and friends, his despair for his culture and village, and the battles and hardships that he goes through throughout the novel. The qualities that he contains portray him as a strange character. Although he is very intense and intimidating, He has good intentions and wants to do what’s best for both his family and the rest of the village. We see a gradual dynamic change in Okonkwo as he begins the book as a fierce warrior but ends it in distress as he eventually gives up on life as a whole. Because of these reasons, Okonkwo is a sympathetic character and should be given empathy by the audience.