Thursday, June 18, 2009

Okonkwo

Tomorrow I finish my history class once and for all. I thought to commemorate that I would put one of the papers I wrote here, a book response to Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. For those of you English majors/grammar enthusiasts please, be brutal.

Is Okonkwo a tragic hero or a cowardly failure? Would you be heroic or suicidal if overpowering invaders, for whom resistance was futile, destroyed your culture and turned your children against you?
In classifying Okonkwo as either a tragic hero or a cowardly failure, it is to be asserted that Okonkwo is a tragic hero. He is a tragic hero because through his work and diligence he strived for prominence in his clan, seeking to do right by his culture, seeking to protect it from those invaders who desire to end centuries of tradition and culture. However, by acting through his hubris of strength, or the avoidance of appearing weak, he instead helps perpetuate the end of his clan’s culture and becomes what he sought to avoid in life: a disgrace to his tribe.
Okonkwo is characterized by embracing all that is manly and strong, while viewing and eschewing any characteristic that his father had as weakness, even gentleness. Though he is strong and made a name and reputation for himself, he is driven by the fear of appearing weak, of being associated with his disgraceful father. This fear had swallowed him up since his youth and though it helped him achieve what he became in his clan. It was through allowing himself to be driven by that fear and the need to appear as strong that he was prone to rashness, such as when he killed Ikemefuna. Regardless of the rash impulses detailed in the book, he obeys the traditions of his clan, and until his seven-year exile, views his tribe as manly and strong.
It is his seven year exile that feeds his hubris; he views his motherland as weak, sees himself as stronger than them, and longs to return to his own clan. Because of his less-than-grandiose return to his clan, combined with the Christian presence, he viewed his tribe as changed, as weak due to their inaction in the face of drastic change. His hubris had gotten a hold of him and he longed for the days of glory and battles long past. Because of his hubris and the cruelties inflicted by the District Commissioner, he longed to chase them out and thus tragically fell. He is a tragic hero because he hastily killed the messenger at the meeting, and saw the fear from the crowd from the result of his actions. The other messengers had escaped. He failed his clan and through that action endangered the clan.
To cement his failure he hung himself, not out of fear of punishment, but of his own failures. Like his father he now disgraced the town and thus hung himself. Okonkwo’s death is more than just the fall of a tragic hero, but also symbolizes the spirit and energy that the clan is now bereft of. The laws of the clan state that only strangers can take down a hanged man’s body. This, however, is symbolic of the death of the clan and their traditions, their defeat and powerlessness in the face of an adversary that divided them to overwrite their laws and customs. The clan could not now govern itself, and so is ruled over by others. They were driven and divided, their spirit as broken as the body that hung in the tree and could now not do a thing to prevent the loss of their own customs and traditions. Okonkwo’s suicide was not a cowardly act. He was not afraid to go and defend that which he loved.
He constantly expressed his bravery, either through his four trips to the cave to rescue Enzinma if necessary, to his expressed desire to fight against the invaders. He was a warrior through and through but was perceptive enough to recognize that his clan and people were not ready or willing to drive off the strangers that dared change their customs and laws. Had he the ability to speak, to arouse his people to action, he would have tried to persuade them to go to war following the killing of the messenger. But he did not have the ability to give others courage. He could only fight for freedom, and he would have done so had he not seen defeat and fear in the eyes of his clansmen. He saw them divided and weak, which broke his spirit. He hung himself not because resistance was futile, but because there was no spirit in resistance. So the option came down to hanging himself, dying by his own choosing, rather being caught, tried, and killed by the hands of foreigners. Through strength and will he rose to fame in his clan, but by rashness and fear he fell to disgrace.

2 comments:

Kelsey said...

Hey, you commented on my blog this morning and I'm just trying to figure out who you are...like if I know you or not! Haha sorry...

Sam, The Nanti-SARRMM said...

You do, from the 180th ward. I just use pseudonyms cause I don't like using my real name on blogs.