Okonkwo’s life was dominated by fear and the fear of failure and weakness


“Things Fall Apart” is regarded as a tragic novel in which Okonkwo is the protagonist. The novel depicts the dramatic ups and downs of the protagonist’s life. The guiding force or motivation of his life was his fear and weakness. The author makes this comment at the beginning of the novel. 

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Background of hereditary fear 

The background to this fear of failure and weakness was his own father’s character and habits. In his youth Unoka, Okonkwo’s father had an artistic mind. He played the flute very well. His happiest moments were two or three moons after harvest. Unoka played flute and played games with them. His face was radiant with blessings and peace. As a child, he loved to fly kites. In his mature years, he was lazy and short-sighted, and quite incapable of thinking about tomorrow. If any money came into his hands, he would immediately buy liquor and finish it. He used to call his neighbors and hang out together. He was a debtor. Every neighbor of his always got some money from him. He was a failure man. He was poor and did not have enough food to feed his wife and children. 

Physical qualities  

The author first gives a vivid description of Okonkwo’s physical qualities. He is tall and has bushy and wide eyebrows that do not give him a very severe look. He breathes heavily. It is said that when he sleeps, his wives and children in their outhouses can hear his breathing. When he walks, his heels hardly touch the ground, and he seems to walk on springs as if he is going to pounce on somebody. Whenever he becomes angry, he cannot get his words out quickly enough, but he can use his fists. He was such that people could not call him weak or a failure. 

Aversion to failure  

Okonkwo feared failure and weakness from the example of his father’s life. In childhood, he endured poverty and privation, and it was natural that his father should develop hatred against the cause of such misery. Ambition haunted him from childhood. He did not indulge unsuccessful people. Even his relationship with his father was not good. 


His ambition to become a famous man, and his aversion to failure, both brought fresh vigor and inspiration from his early success in life. Okonkwo was a hardworking man. He started his life from a zero, but within a short time, he became a wealthy farmer. He had two barns full barns yams and married his third wife. Though he was young, he was already one of the greatest men of his time. One who knew his terrible struggle against poverty and misfortune cannot say that he was lucky. 

Hardness towards everything 

Nwoye, the eldest son of Okonkwo, caused his father great anxiety. Even at the age of twelve years, he seemed to be lazy, much like Unoka. He sought to correct him by constant nagging and beating. Here again, his fear of failure and weakness was at the back of his mind. When Nwoye seemed to develop manly qualities under the influence of Ikemefuna, Okonkwo came to have some love for the boy. But he did not express his love outwardly, he thought it a sign of weakness to do so. In the matter of killing Ikemefuna, his fear of weakness was responsible. Ezeudo, the oldest man, and the most famous forbade him to have a hand in the killing of Ikemefuna. But still, he did kill him with his own hand because of the fear of being thought weak.

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Okonkwo’s life is over. His fear of weakness and failure was not external but deep within himself. It was his own fear, lest he should be found resembling his father. All the factors of his character led to his tragic end. 

Mottaleb Hossain
Mottaleb Hossain

This is Motaleb Hossain, working on studying, a researcher on English literature and Theology.

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