Things Fall Apart is a novel written by Chinua Achebe in the late 1950s. The novel tells the story of Okonkwo, a man from the fictional African village of Umuofia. Things Fall Apart is considered to be one of the most important novels in African literature, and it is often studied in classrooms around the world.
One of the themes of Things Fall Apart is hubris, or excessive pride. Okonkwo is a proud man who is constantly striving to prove his worth. He is afraid of looking weak, and he feels that he must always be in control. As a result, Okonkwo often makes rash decisions that have negative consequences for himself and his community.
Hubris is a deadly flaw in Okonkwo, who is a strong, powerful man. Hubris is identified to the reader early on in the book; it’s excessive pride or self-confidence. I believe that Okonkwo knows he has a propensity for pride because he would rather fight with his fists than attempt to reason something out because he knows he can win with his fists. “When enraged and unable to express himself fast enough, he resorted to using his hands.”
This is seen when he tries to take his own life after the death of Ikemefuna. “And so Okonkwo was driven by fear, the deepest and most abject kind of fear because it was mixed with shame.” (Achebe 59) He is ashamed of his failure to protect Ikemefuna and instead of accepting that, he would rather die than face that fact. Okonkwo’s hubris leads to his downfall in many ways, but most importantly it leads to his exile.
After the death of Ikemefuna, Okonkwo accidentally kills a boy during the funeral ceremonies. “It was an accident… But if you are determined to think evil, you will always find evil.” (Achebe 77) The commissioner believes that Okonkwo did this on purpose, because of the history between him and Ikemefuna. Okonkwo denies it, but is exiled for seven years nonetheless.
This is devastating to him, because he has to leave his home and start all over again. He is also not allowed to take any of his belongings with him, which means he has to start from scratch. This act of exile only fuels Okonkwo’s hubris, because now he has something to prove. He is determined to come back stronger and more successful than ever before.
Okonkwo’s hubris ultimately leads to his downfall, because it is the driving force behind all of his actions. He is so determined to prove himself that he doesn’t think about the consequences of his actions. This leads to him killing Ikemefuna, which leads to his exile. If he had just been able to control his pride, he might have been able to avoid all of this. But alas, hubris is a tragic flaw that often leads to the downfall of otherwise great men.
The fear that males are gaining more power over women stems from his father’s failure to control them, and he tries to avoid this fate. To the contrary, in Igbo culture, it is typical for a guy to be full of himself since it is a male-dominant society where the more masculine a person is, the more respected he is. This self-assurance can be read as pride or confidence because if a man is confident, he will be a better fighter and overall individual.
When he was beating his wife, she called him a woman and this greatly insulted him because in Igbo culture, to be called a woman is the greatest insult to a man. So, not only did he have a fear of being like his father, he also had to prove that he was better than any other man in order to gain respect. This hubris eventually led to his downfall because it blinded him from making wise decisions and it made him act impulsively.
The narrative of Riverschallenges the modern view that an entire people is defined by its literature. The book explores various aspects of Okonkwo’s character, particularly his pride and hubris. Nwakior begins with a discussion on Okonkwo’s greatness: “And so, despite being young, he was already one of the greatest men of his time” (Achebe 8).
All of the great men surrounding Okonkwo telling him how destined he is to become one of them does not surprise me, for pride gets in the way. Because he does not want others to perceive him as weak like his father was, Okonkwo allows his ego to get in the way.
Things really start to change for him when his gun accidentally goes off and kills a boy. The village believes that this is an omen and they are right, it is the beginning of the end for Okonkwo. He loses everything he has worked so hard for and in the end, takes his own life. Hubris is defined as “excessive pride or self-confidence” (Merriam-Webster). This definition perfectly describes Okonkwo and how his hubris leads to his downfall.
Okonkwo’s hubris is first seen when he beats his wife during the Week of Peace. Even though it is looked down upon to beat your wife during this time, Okonkwo does not care. He is too proud to show any weakness, even if it means breaking the law. “Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements” (Achebe 8).
Because of his great accomplishments, Okonkwo believes that he is above the law and that he can do whatever he wants. This type of thinking leads him to believe that he is better than everyone else and that his opinion is the only one that matters.
Another instance where Okonkwo’s hubris is seen is when he refuses to take part in Ikemefuna’s ceremony. The elders had given Ikemefuna to Okonkwo to take care of and he had grown attached to the boy. However, when the time came for Ikemefuna to be sacrificed, Okonkwo was not able to go through with it. He could not bring himself to kill the boy even though it was tradition.
When he tries to explain this to his friend, Obierika, Obierika does not understand why Okonkwo is so attached to the boy. “You know our customs. It is an abomination for a man to look back when he is running away from his chi” (Achebe 69). Obierika is trying to tell Okonkwo that it is against their culture to get attached to someone that is going to be sacrificed. However, Okonkwo is too proud to listen to Obierika and he continues to defend his actions.
It starts on a Tuesday when he strikes his wife. “When Okonkwo was enraged, he forgot that it was Week of Peace time. His first two wives fled in terror, pleading with him that it was the holy week (Achebe 29-30). It is evident to the reader that Okonkwo’s sense of pride prevents him from anything, not even culture’s religious beliefs. Another occurs after this event, but this time he loses something tremendous.
“And so Okonkwo’s compound was deserted and silent for seven market days. No one went there to commiserate with him, because it was against the law of Umuofia to mourn with a man who had been sent away from the land. His wives and children had left with him”(Achebe 37). He is now an outcast, exiled from his homeland because he accidentally killed a young boy while trying to shoot a bird.
Exile was the worse thing that could happen to somebody in Igbo culture. You were removed from your land, your family, and your friends. You were basically starting all over again. During this time of exile, we see Okonkwo at his weakest. He is now living with his mother’s people, and working for them. This is something that he would never do back in Umuofia.
“Okonkwo was very unhappy in his motherland. He worked like a slave on his farm from cock-crow to nightfall. And when he returned home he would find that one of his kinsmen had been sitting idly in the shade of a tree doing nothing”(Achebe 41). Here, we see Okonkwo struggling with the concept of idleness, which is very different from the culture he was raised in. In Igbo culture, hard work is highly valued.
After seven years of exile, Okonkwo finally returns home to Umuofia. He is now a changed man, and his hubris is at an all time high. “He had suffered enough and it was time he took up his rightful place in the council of elders. He would show those who had sent him away that Okonkwo was still Okonkwo. The fire in his heart had died down but it was smoldering under the ashes”(Achebe 54). Okonkwo is now determined to prove to everyone that he is still the great man that they once knew.