Things Fall Apart Theme of Fear
Many of the characters suffer from fear of some sort. Okonkwo fears becoming like his lazy, shameful father, Ekwefi fears losing her daughter, and Nwoye fears his father’s wrath. While most characters fear events that are outside of their control, Okonkwo is consumed by a terrible internal worry about himself and his identity. Rather than mastering his fear, he allows it to dominate him and drive his actions. Fear leads him to lash out in some pretty nasty ways: beating his wives, abusing and alienating his oldest son, partaking in the murder of his adoptive son, etc. Overall, fear in this novel leads characters to behave in negative ways that can bring the wrath of the gods, guilt, and the community disapproval upon them.
Questions About Fear
- What does Okonkwo fear? How does he (over)compensate for it?
- What is the difference, if any, between fear of external things – the gods, loss of family members, etc. – and fear of internal aspects of oneself or one’s nature?
- According to what we know about Ekwefi, what is a mother’s greatest fear?
- How can fear be a positive force? What useful things does fear push some characters to do?
- How does fear of the unknown and misunderstanding of different cultures affect the Umuofia and the Christians? Does either side ever really try to understand each other? If so, name the specific characters.
Chew on This
Although Okonkwo performs every action with the deliberate purpose of appearing fearless, he is ultimately ruled by fear – the fear of appearing to have fear.