He is known as a great wrestler and warrior of the nine villages of the tribe. He is a very powerful and influential member. Throughout the story, certain unfortunate events occur, preventing Okonkwo’s rise to the top. Those who knew his father knew him to be lazy and unmanly. This is something that Okonkwo would spend his life trying to change. Okonkwo is depicted in the story to be a very strong and fearless man, ruling his household with a firm hand.
He stifles any emotion that would make him seem weak or like a woman. He shows little affection toward his children and his wives. His greatest disappointment is the fact that his son is not turning out to be the man that Okonkwo wants him to be. He sees his father in his son, Nwoye, rather than himself. This is greatly displeasing to Okonkwo. This might be why Nwoye’s mother is never mentioned by name, since she produced a “woman” for a son.
He does find that Ikemefuna, a boy brought into Okonkwo’s home from another village, is turning out to be a better son than Nwoye. Eventually though, Okonkwo realizes that the boy must die. Though it is obvious that he is disturbed by this, he does not show it, and even slays the boy himself, lest he should be thought weak. This is one example of Okonkwo’s character. He is willing to put aside all feelings he has for the boy in order to do what he feels must be done to retain his sense of strength.
During a burial ceremony for one of the tribesmen, Okonkwo accidentally kills the dead man’s son. The prescribed punishment for this is exile for seven years. Okonkwo and his family then move to his mother’s old tribe to serve his exile. This accidental death is just one of many crushing incidences Okonkwo has to deal with.
He serves out his seven years as he is supposed to, with grand ideas of his return to his village. When the seven years are up Okonkwo does not necessarily return in triumph. Though his daughters are beautiful and worthy of marriage to a king, he is unable to immediately induct his sons into the group that he wishes. When Okonkwo returns to the village, he finds that the white man has moved in, bringing Christianity with him. This is a struggle that shows Okonkwo’s inflexibility and objection to change from tradition. Eventually, Okonkwo slay’s a man working for the British and ends up hanging himself as a result of his actions.
Suicide is forbidden by the clan, so in the end, Okonkwo, despite his strict adherence to the rules, takes his life in violation of them. It seems throughout the book that Okonkwo just doesn’t seem to have anything go in his favor. His son is not the man he should be. He beats his wife during the week of peace. He accidentally kills a man and must flee at the time he should be taking the highest total.
When he returns, he is unable to cope with change and dies as a result. Okonkwo is an inflexible, strong willed, fearless man. However, it is his need to appear strong and unwillingness to accept change that is his undoing. In an article discussing the book, Melissa Culross recognizes this fact, stating, “Okonkwo is unable to adopt to the changes that accompany colonialism. ” Okonkwo is the representation of the old way of life. It is traditional and not accepting of change.
There are many noble qualities about Okonkwo, as in the old way. He cares a great deal about the customs and cultures of his tribe. He worships his gods and does his best to appease them. When the white man comes bringing new gods and spreading the news that the old gods are either false or dead, it would be a natural reaction to rebel against these ideas.
Eventually, it is necessary to concede some things to change. Nothing can remain the same forever. It is frivolous to resist it. When Okonkwo and the clan try to rebel, it is impossible, and it ends in tragedy. No matter how strong something is and how firm its foundation and structure, resistance to change will crumble even the strongest.