Erich Fromm’s Ideas About Personality In Things Fall Apart
Personality is built throughout someone’s childhood and a tragic event can cause it to change form. Whatever environment that a child is exposed to can influence how they begin to act, whether it be a good or bad change, they usually pick up their behavior from their guardians. In Erich Fromm’s, Sigmund Freud’s Mission (1959), there is an idea about how people tend to change their behavior or personality based on what their society is like. Fear is one of the main causes that makes them feel a need to change and want to fit in with their community. There could be someone that comes along in their life so they could help their atmosphere feel like a safe place where they could receive help. Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, is about a man who fears being like his father, due to him being lazy and feminine, and starts to force his own behavior and personality onto his son, Nwoye, which causes him to drift away from him. Okonkwo is an impatient man due to his fears which causes him to crash much to his demise since he is incapable of fitting into the new standards. Okonkwo has beaten up his son, Nwoye, which caused him emotional distress and led to him changing his religion to help cope with his past. Okonkwo’s beliefs that he had formed based on his past impacted the people around him which leads to Fromm’s concept of cultural identity starting to appear when Okonkwo struggles with fitting into the altered standards of Umuofia.
The main reason for Okonkwo’s aggressive actions was due to the impact his father left on him, causing him to do the same to his own son. Okonkwo had a fairly hostile personality, which led to some chaos, and this was because he had developed a fear of Unoka, his father. Unoka was like an ongoing nightmare for Okonkwo and he wanted to get rid of this eerie feeling he had experienced in his childhood, but the actions he pursued to get rid of it caused him to hurt others around him. In one situation with Ikemefuna, Okonkwo seemed to have Unoka on his mind and the unnerving feeling caused him to abruptly “[draw] his machete and cut him down” (Achebe 61). This was an unexpected event and seemed to be at the spur of the moment. What caused Okonkwo to do this was his thoughts about Unoka and this was “the force affecting this [choice]” (Fromm), since all he cared about in the moment was about how he appeared to others and did not want to let them down. He had an obvious “fear of [himself]” (Fromm), and would make certain decisions or choices only if he thought that it would display masculinity. The fear he had caused him to be destructive, demonstrated with his decision towards Ikemefuna, and he was more concerned with looking strong and keeping his identity rather than protecting the ones that he loves and displaying those horrifying emotions. Those emotions that Okonkwo despises resulted in him gaining an even worse relationship with Nwoye. Okonkwo’s action caused Nwoye “to look at [Okonkwo] critically” (Fromm), since anything can happen to him after he witnessed the death of his step brother, in which he had called Okonkwo father. This made Nwoye lose respect for his own father, since Ikemefuna was a role model to him. Even after that horrifying experience, Okonkwo “beat him heavily” (Achebe 57), and this reveals Okonkwo’s true self. The relationship between father and son in this situation represents repelling magnets in that they will never come together and will eventually drift apart completely. Nwoye began to develop different beliefs from his father and seeked guidance so he could learn the reason for his struggles, such as his experience with Ikemefuna.
Nwoye had many reasons for converting to Christianity, but it was mostly because of Okonkwo. Nwoye seemed to not have the same beliefs as his father, and ironically, it was somewhat similar to Unoka. From the start of life, Nwoye was different. He was like a snowflake, each pattern different and in no way the same, his personality was disparate compared to someone like Okonkwo. Nwoye seemingly becoming like Unoka is due to Okonkwo “repressing [Nwoye’s] feelings” (Fromm), to which made him boil up to the point that made him break and seek help from another religion to find out who he is. Nwoye had felt “a relief within as the hymn poured into his parched soul” (Achebe 147), since he had been forced to be in a religion that he did not want to be in, and is now able to feel a sense of freedom and to grow wings and fly away from the weight of Okonkwo’s constant compulsion put on him. Nwoye had found the missionaries and this was essentially a light that paved a path through a more welcoming life. Nwoye began to develop a similar feeling as Okonkwo, which was the fear of his father. At first, Nwoye had a “fear of being isolated [from his father] through having different thoughts” (Fromm), but unlike his father, he got over this fear and decided to find a group that was similar to a “psychoanalyst [that transcended] the [thoughts]” (Fromm). He wanted to be cleansed from the horrible things that had happened to him and wanted some relief from the situation. Nwoye also felt safe knowing that there was a group of people in the world that would not judge him for his behaviors, or if he were to act effeminate. Okonkwo began to feel overwhelmed with all of the changes that had happened with the village and believed that it was best to just leave the world.
Okonkwo ended himself since he was unable to fit into the new society. There were various events that led up to Okonkwo’s death, such as all of the other deaths that Okonkwo took part in, or the separation between his son and him. One major moment was when Okonkwo was in exile for commiting a crime and he felt like he had “[become] an outcast” (Fromm), which was similar to “a fish [on a] dry, sandy beach, panting” (Achebe 140). He was “panting,” similar to when a cat is stressed, since he knew that there would be commotion in Umuofia after he left due to the lack of masculine behavior in the village. He had also realized that he had to give up becoming one of the lords of the clan, since he was in Mbanta. This village, Mbanta, felt unknown to him, and this relates to what a fish feels like out of water, a foreign feeling. Once Okonkwo returned to his home village, Umuofia, he realized that it was overtaken by the Missionaries. He had witnessed that the “thoughts and feelings” (Fromm) of the village were split and everyone seemed to have formed different beliefs. This seems to have foreshadowed the death of Okonkwo. The death of the village, the effeminate behaviors and the Missionaries coming, displays that Okonkwo would eventually do something to fix this mistake, which was to end something. From the instant Okonkwo arrived he realized that the Missionaries made it so their “clan could no longer be like one” (Achebe 176). Okonkwo then went back to his normal customs, which was acting out with violence, and he had demonstrated this when he killed the messenger. He knew that the District Commissioner would have came back to give him a huge punishment, so he decided that it was best to give himself the punishment. He believed that this was a good decision, but this made most of Umuofia confused. Okonkwo demonstrated courage and strength in the past, so suicide was not ever considered.
Masculinity was a strong belief that affected the people that were close to Okonkwo, and with this, Fromm’s concept of cultural identity starts to appear in his inability to change his old beliefs and to fit into the current customs or expectations. Okonkwo had been in a depressed state since the village that he had known for his whole life was just not the same anymore, and this connects to the title of the novel, Things Fall Apart. The downfall of Umuofia caused relationships to fall apart, which ultimately led to the decision that Okonkwo made about his life. Nwoye’s childhood was full of fear, constantly worrying if his actions would please his father, and the death of Ikemefuna changed him. He now had formed different beliefs from his parent, which might seem unusual in some cases. For Nwoye, this change was for the better since he was able to express his true personality.
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