The Clash Between Okonkwo and His Society

A famous philosopher named Aristotle once said, “He who is unable to live in a society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god” (Moncur ). Ever since the first humans, people have sought to live and grow where other people are. This organization of people living together as a community is called a society. For the members of it, society furnishes protection, continuity, security and identity. Without a society to be a part of, man is nothing. Therefore, if a man comes into conflict with his society, he must either accept these differences or be destroyed. This nightmare comes to life in Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, when the main character, Okonkwo, clashes with his society’s beliefs. The conflict that exists between Okonkwo and his society is what ultimately leads him to his downfall.

Very early on, Okonkwo disagrees with many of his culture’s most important values. These are held sacred in his clan, and have been practiced generations before him. The clan practices these values because they are tributes to the gods and goddesses. They are practiced as signs of respect for these deities in order to not make them angry. Achebe emphasizes the importance of being respectful, “a man who pays respect to the great paves the way for his own greatness” (Achebe 19). If a man shows respect, the clan will commend him for it and he too will one day be great. One of these values is the Week of Peace. The Week of Peace occurs during the carefree season between the harvest and the planting of the yams. During this week, every clansman is obligated to remain peaceful with one another. No one may fight each other, and husbands may not beat their wives or their children. If the peace is broken during this sacred week, the offender must face severe punishment. They are considered an abomination to the earth goddess and cannot escape her wrath. Another unique value arises when a prominent member of the clan is murdered by a member of a neighboring clan. To atone for this crime, the family of the murderer must give up its son, Ikemefuna, to Okonkwo’s clan as a sacrifice. The boy is taken from his family, and sent to live with Okonkwo in his village. There, he lives in Okonkwo’s compound for many years and becomes a part of the family. He works hard for Okonkwo, and befriends Okonkwo’s son, Nwoye. After some time, Ikemefuna must finally be taken away and slaughtered. It is customary for the grandees to come along on this ritual and perform the sacrifice. Okonkwo is one of these high ranking men. However, he is asked not to come on the ritual because Ikemefuna has been living with him and looks up to him as a father. It is important to the clan that Okonkwo respect these requests and do as he is told. But he often pays no mind to these rules and does what he wants to.

Because Okonkwo rejects so many of the clan’s values, Okonkwo inevitably comes into conflict with his society. One of the first principles that Okonkwo rejects is the Week of Peace. During this time, one of Okonkwo’s wives is off at a neighboring compound spending time with her friend while she is supposed to be cooking dinner for Okonkwo. Okonkwo becomes enraged when he discovers this, and beats her severely when she returns. Okonkwo is well aware that violence is forbidden during this time, but he disregards the rule. Achebe illustrates Okonkwo’s stubbornness, “Okonkwo was not the man to stop beating someone halfway through, even for fear of a goddess” (Achebe 30). Okonkwo will do whatever he thinks is necessary to deliver punishment, no matter the consequences. When the clan discovers what Okonkwo has done, they become outraged. Not only does Okonkwo risk his own well-being by doing this, but he jeopardizes the entire village as well. If the gods feel dishonored, they may not help the clan with its crops, and all will suffer. Because of this heinous crime, Okonkwo must pay tribute to the gods that he dishonored by giving them a goat, a hen, a length of cloth, and one hundred cowries. Even as he does this, Okonkwo feels that he did nothing wrong. He thinks that he is wasting his time, and it is not important for him to heed the clan’s values. Another request of the clan that Okonkwo disregards is for him to stay behind during the sacrifice of Ikemefuna. Okonkwo is told that the boy looks up to him, and it would be wrong to take part in his killing. But Okonkwo does not want to look weak to the other men. Therefore, Okonkwo goes against his better judgment, and disregards what the clan has asked of him. When Okonkwo finally cuts down the boy himself, the imminent conflict between Okonkwo and the clan is realized. It can be seen in this situation that Okonkwo is willing to take drastic actions, even ones that oppose his.

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