Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart: Character Analysis & Quotes

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  • 0:00 Material Success
  • 1:22 Chi
  • 2:07 The Warrior
  • 3:51 A Man of Tradition
  • 4:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

This lesson focuses on an analysis of Okonkwo, the main character in 'Things Fall Apart' by Chinua Achebe. The lesson also examines significant quotations related to this character.

Material Success

Okonkwo is the protagonist or main character in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Okonkwo's father Unoka was a drunkard who owed money to everyone. Unoka was not a good provider, and his wife and children often went hungry. As a result, Okonkwo is ashamed of his father and is determined to rise above his upbringing to become a successful citizen and brave warrior.

Okonkwo gets his start by asking the wealthy Nwakibie to subsidize his first crop. 'I began to fend for myself at an age when most people still suck at their mothers' breasts,' Okonkwo explains. 'If you give me some yam seeds I shall not fail you.' Nwakibie admires Okonkwo's ambition and gives him eight hundred yams to plant. 'I have learned to be stingy with my yams. But I can trust you,' Nwakibie says. 'I know it as I look at you. As our fathers said, you can tell a ripe corn by its look.'

'Fortunately, among these people a man was judged according to his worth and not according to the worth of his father.' Okonkwo is able to work hard and become a successful farmer in spite of his father's failures. He eventually has three wives and eight children, and becomes a respected member of the Umuofia tribe.

Chi

Okonkwo has conflicting ideas about his chi, or personal god. Okonkwo believes his chi rewards his hard labors. 'But the Ibo people have a proverb that when a man says yes his chi says yes also. Okonkwo said yes very strongly, so his chi agreed.'

On the other hand, Okonkwo avoids responsibility for his own actions by blaming his chi when he faces misfortune. 'Clearly his personal god or chi was not made for great things. A man could not rise beyond the destiny of his chi. The saying of the elders was not true--that if a man said yea his chi also affirmed. Here was a man whose chi said nay despite his own affirmation.'

The Warrior

Okonkwo is a valiant warrior, but his tendency toward violent response creates problems in his relationship with family and friends. 'When he walked, his heels hardly touched the ground and he seemed to walk on springs, as if he was going to pounce on somebody. And he did pounce on people quite often.'

He represses his emotions because he believes manly behavior requires stoicism. In addition, Okonkwo stutters. These limitations, along with insecurities due to his dad, may be behind Okonkwo's tendency to lash out as a first response when he is angry or afraid.

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