Okonkwo is widely known and respected as a wealthy farmer, a man of titles with three wives, and a fearless warrior.
Okonkwo lives in fear of becoming like his father who Okonkwo sees as being effeminate and weak. Okonkwo even joins in the group murder of his adoptive son, Ikemefuna, out of fear of seeming weak and cowardly. His behavior causes him huge internal guilt and also alienates him from his son, Nwoye.
Even though Okonkwo doesn’t get into any kind of trouble for helping to murder Ikemefuna (since he wasn’t a member of the clan), he’s in hot water when he accidentally kills a boy during a funeral. Since killing a clansman means exile for seven years, Okonkwo has to leave town along with Mrs. Okonkwo, Mrs. Okonkwo, Mrs. Okonkwo, and the kids.
As if Okonkwo doesn’t have enough on his plate, the white Christian missionaries show up, start converting villagers, and force the English system of government on the Igbo people. Essentially the white men are destroying the clan’s unity. Even Okonkwo’s oldest son joins the Christians. Now Okonkwo is faced with enemies of a different kind – not simply fear of himself or his sons becoming womanly, but the potential that his whole tribe will be impotent and not fight the white men.
Okonkwo exercises his long-repressed desire to physically lash out at the missionaries. In an expression of his masculinity, he hacks off a court messenger’s head. When none of the other villagers back him up, Okonkwo realizes that his clansmen will never go to war against the white men.
Okonkwo has clearly committed a serious crime. The District Commissioner heads to Okonkwo’s house to retaliate. It’s unclear what Okonkwo will do.
The District Commissioner shows up only to find that Okonkwo has killed himself. Obierika accuses the District Commissioner of forcing a great man to kill and dishonor himself, but he does get the District Commissioner to agree to bury Okonkwo.
The District Commissioner walks away from Okonkwo’s body and thinks of the suicide as strange and intriguing material for the book he’s writing, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger. In the end, the District Commissioner might write a paragraph on Okonkwo.