A Powerful Motivator

In Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, it follows the Umuofian tribesman Okonkwo. Okonkwo was a man who thought highly of pride and was a significant man in the tribe. The tribe of Umuofia saw Okonkwo as a man with a bad temper.

Okonkwo had a quick hand towards his wives and children. He was especially stern with his son, Nwoye, who seemed to be too feminine at his age. Okonkwo took pride in his large farm and many wives. But he didn’t get his riches handed to him. Okonkwo earned his titles at a young age by working hard on his farm and proving his strength to the elders of the village by wrestling.

A powerful motivator in his life was his father, Unoka, who did nothing but bring shame to himself and his son’s life. Unoka was a poor father, a pitiful fighter, and a liar. As a young boy, Okonkwo saw first-hand how much of a failure his father was. He promised to himself that he would be a very hard worker and not have the same fate as Unoka. Before any task or decision, Okonkwo asked himself, “What would my father do? Because I must do the opposite.” Before judging the character of Okonkwo, a reader must look at the psychological consequences that Okonkwo endured during his childhood.

The wretchedness of his father was engraved into his mind and he did not want to have any resemblance to him. Unoka’s deceiving and swindling ways had impacted Okonkwo’s life to the point where he feared of failure and assured that none of his kin will inherit any of the attributes that his father held. Okonkwo feared of the defeat and dishonor that his father endured. Although Unoka was a good musician and participated in fellowship, he lacked ambition He was, “indeed possessed by the fear of his father’s contemptible life and shameful death. To not end up like his father, Okonkwo worked very hard on his yam farm and did not become lazy and deceitful like his father. Unoka’s lack of care of Okonkwo as a child had an effect on how he treated others, especially his own wives and children. Okonkwo could be described as an impulsive, reckless man due to the actions he resorted to throughout the book.

One account is when Okonkwo heavily beat his wife for not cooking for the children. Okonkwo was so overwhelmed with anger that he forgot it was the week of peace(25). The relation Okonkwo had with his mother increased the tension between him and his father, as well as anyone close to him. The mere non-existent relationship with his mother caused Okonkwo to have difficulty expressing his distant feelings for others including his wives and only son, Nwoye. Ruling his home with a “heavy hand”(19), Okonkwo’s children and especially his wives lived in fear of his unexpected outbursts. It was hard to express his feelings towards his step-son, Ikemefuna. But for Nwoye, Okonkwo did not hold back his anger on him. Okonkwo was ashamed of Nwoye because he was becoming as lazy and useless as his own father. Though it is not the shamefulness of his son that is causing his random fiery outbursts of rage, but the fear of him becoming his father that fuels his anger. Although Unoka is no longer in his life, the thought of him always lingers.

The presence of Unoka still affects the decisions that Okonkwo makes. Okonkwo was fearful that sparing Ikemefuna would make him seem weak like his father so Okonkwo killed him. Okonkwo’s self-confidence turned into pride and his desire to be strong had given him a sense of totalitarian control over his household. As a child, Okonkwo had seen what an unsuccessful man looked like. He has had a sense of his father’s failed life vicariously. According to Sigmund Freud, “Events in our childhood have a great influence on our adult lives, shaping our personality”(Mcleod).

A traumatic experience or serious event that happened when a patient was a child, could form an illness later in his or her life. This event that has happened in the past can be hidden from the patient’s consciousness. Okonkwo’s anxiety of wanting to be strong could be caused by his recurring thought of his father’s failures in the past. Perhaps these past events have been moved into Okonkwo’s subconscious where he cannot retrieve them. Okonkwo may have a very strong displacement mechanism as well that he cannot control. Displacement is to satisfy an impulse by substituting it with an object(Mcleod). Okonkwo has always had a sense of hatred towards his father. Okonkwo can no longer meet or speak to his father, therefore, Okonkwo satisfies these impulses of anger by excessively beating his wives and children. Okonkwo was referred to as a “Roaring Flame”(Achebe ch.17) by fellow tribesman because of his quick temper.

As a child the superego, “an entity hypothetical conceptualizations of important mental functions”, forms within your brain(Mcleod). The superego uses a morality principle and helps a person behave in a socially acceptable manner. The superego develops when the child identifies with the same sex parent. In this case, Unoka is the same sex parent. At such a vulnerable stage of growth, Okonkwo’s mind has seen the type of traits to not pick up and adapt to. Okonkwo’s mind is programmed to despise the traits that his father had such as laziness and unmanliness. Now as an adult, seeing his only son, Nwoye, pertaining to these attributes triggers an area in Okonkwo’s subconscious to retaliate. People displaying weakness, pitiness, or even laziness can also trigger an area in Okonkwo’s subconscious to lash out quickly in any given moment.

Psychologically, it is important for a father to be present in their children’s life at a young age. A father teaches and demonstrates masculinity, self-control, and self-confidence. A father acts as a role model and teacher to younger children. Okonkwo’s father was a part of his life but did not teach Okonkwo any standards of how to be a man. Okonkwo was forced to find success through himself and discover his own purpose as a man in an African tribe. Okonkwo’s neglect of manly understanding can be to blame for his explosive anger. Unoka was “unable to see his own contributions to distress and conflict” in his relationship with Okonkwo(Coleman). Okonkwo was unaware of how much damage his father had done in his life. His anger and detachment of feelings was caused by the negligent relationship between him and his father.

Unconsciously, Okonkwo puts his father to blame for his actions. This relationship with his father had Okonkwo suffering by not controlling or modulating his emotions, and not trusting others(Coleman). Okonkwo’s worst fear, the idea of being weak, controls his body, his actions, and his life. Reiterating on Okonkwo’s fear of being weak is important because it has the most impact on his social and personal life. Okonkwo had developed an anxiety disorder of fear. Specifically, he had developed a social anxiety disorder. Having this disorder made Okonkwo, “ feel nervous spending time in social settings, feel self-conscious in front of others, and worry about being rejected by or offending others”(APA). Okonkwo saw a firsthand account of what a life of an unsuccessful man looked like. This idea tormented Okonkwo and plagued his mind. Okonkwo never tried to resolve his relationship with his father. Unoka died from an iniquitous death and left his son to hate and abominate him.

Okonkwo didn’t fix his relationship nor did he cope with it. This avoidance had a backfire effect and made Okonkwo’s disorder worse. Before a reader read Things Fall Apart, they wondered what exactly would fall apart. After reading it, the reader can identify and realize that the negative psychological effects that Unoka had on Okonkwo lead to his tragic death at the end of the book. His anger could not be retained and for Okonkwo, being weak was not an option. Okonkwo’s own actions lead to his demise and his mental disorder is put to blame. Unoka’s lack of support for Okonkwo at a young age put him at a disadvantage in life. The role of a father in their child’s life is very important for the child to be normal at an adult stage. In Okonkwo’s case, his unresolved issues with his father and uncontrollable anger led to everything in his life to fall apart. 

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