Things Fall Apart
by Chinua Achebe
Character Role Analysis
We’re going to go with Okonkwo. First of all, you just can’t ignore the fact that the whole novel centers around his story – his rise to wealth and a position of respect, his fall into exile, his inability to prevent white men from destroying his culture, and his suicide.
So it’s true that Okonkwo isn’t necessarily an awesome role model – he’s extremely aggressive, is motivated by fear, and emotionally distances himself from just about everyone he cares about. He’s not really a bad guy, though. Okonkwo has lots of admirable characteristics: he’s a hard worker, supports his family, takes responsibility for his own negative behaviors, and even secretly cares deeply for his family.
The problem with Okonkwo is he’s kind of a tragic hero, and tragic heroes come with tragic flaws – Okonkwo’s flaw is a strong fear of being weak and effeminate like his father. Because we can see where Okonkwo’s flaw comes from (i.e., a deadbeat dad), we can have sympathy for Okonkwo and really feel compassion for the guy when things in his life go downhill. As a reader, you also know you care for the guy at the very end of the book when the District Commissioner decides that Okonkwo is only worth one measly paragraph in a book. If you’re anything like us, you started feeling all defensive of Okonkwo, knowing that he deserves a full book to explain his story and complexity. Ah hah! There you go, that proves Okonkwo’s the protagonist.