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Things Fall Apart: Is Suicide a Choice?

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His suicide is his prescribed fate and his punishment for his mistakes in life for which he is responsible. As Achebe wrote in his work Morning Yet on Creation Day the people of Igbo believed that : “…when a man’s misfortune is somehow beyond explanation [it] can only be attributable to an agreement he himself must have entered into, at the beginning, alone with his chi; for there is a fundamental justice in the universe and nothing so terrible can happen to a person for which he is not somehow responsible”(165). Andrew Foley in his article Okonkwo’s fate and the worldview of Things Fall Apart gives a broad explanation of the fate and downfall of Okonkwo and one of them is the “justice of divine”. Two conclusions can be drawn here: the cause of Okonkwo’s death is due to the powers of the deities. This is a punishment either from the side of the goddess in whom the people of Umuofia believed or it is the cause of his disobedience to the Christian church (Foley 52). However, Foley denies his view by words that Christianity’s role in Okonkwo’s demise seems limited to historical coincidence rather than evidence of a specific divine intervention in human affairs (52). The desire that he tried not to die the same shameful death as his father is not achieved. Fate spares no one, consequently, there is nothing to be done even if one lives without violating the rules, customs of culture and the desire of the gods. Moreover, if to consider the acts of the protagonist, such as murder, disobedience and cruelty, then his suicide is the order of higher forces to punish him in this way.

And the fact that Okonkwo commits suicide and is cast into the Evil Forest seems an ironic reenactment of his reviled father’s fate, which he has sought all his life to avoid (54). In contrast, another author denotes that it is not Okonkwo’s fault to end his life by killing himself saying : “One cannot somehow lay the blame on Okonkwo. His action at the end, hasty though it was, was quite in accordance with the traditional values. It was an act of conviction, almost religious, and the end vindicated the character of Okonkwo, who emerges as the lone representative of the Igbo value system while the entire community lay around him in a shambles” ( Sarma 69). His death should so resemble that which he ardently seeks to avoid can itself be looked at in two incompatible ways. It can be seen as fate, as something predetermined (by gods, by his unconscious, by the dialectical progression of History), or as mere accident; it may be inescapable, and hence meaningful, or simply bad luck, and hence meaningless (Greenberg 438). Individuals with higher moral and religious objections to suicide perceive more reasons for living (Gearing and Lizardi 333). In Religion and Suicide authors discusses the rates of suicide among representatives of different religions emphasizing the advantages of being a man of high morality and belief in order to stay alive and serve to God (338).

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Okonkwo does not want to live or die as a woman (Okhamafe 142 ).A male without any title is often called an agbala (a woman). Where a male stands in the general economy of Umuofia more or less depends on whether the male is a man or a woman (135). Okonkwo will not have a son who is not a man. Similarly, Okonkwo cannot have a womanly Umuofia, an Umuofia of only women. When Umuofia becomes a woman, Okonkwo also becomes a woman. Okonkwo can no longer live when he ceases to be a man. He would rather die than live as a woman, so he commits suicide (137). This article particularly evaluates the misogynistic behaviour of him. He tries to be a strong, powerful man. Man who cannot provide his family by yams is considered as a woman for him. Okonkwo acts too impulsively, too violently, to think of the consequences of his actions. This habit of impulse is made clear, for example, when Okonkwo beats his wife during the sacred Week of Peace – a week of harmony, restraint, and decorum: ‘And when she returned, he beat her heavily. In his anger he had forgotten that it was the Week of (Iyasere 306). In spite of the fact that Umuofia owes her religion and morality as well as her economic growth and development to the female ideal as embodied in Ani, the earth goddess; the people still marginalize and deride women and girls generally. Nearly in all cases when crucial issues of communal importance are discussed and considered, men always see to it that women are sidelined, excluded and shut (Anyokwu 27). Also he is ashamed by his father’s life and death. Okonkwo confirmed that man’s role is not music, as his father preferred it to the man’s responsibilities (Okhamafe 135). Okonkwo is in competition with the gods and acts out of his pathological fear of being thought weak – his fear of being perceived as like his father Unoka (Iyasere 307). He never received the hero’s welcome he dreamed of. He returned to a different Umuofia from the one he had known. In the present Umuofia, ‘men [have] unaccountably become soft like women (Achebe 126). What matters is an humble, if not penitent, perseverance through suffering and a determination to seek a positive change. Instead, Okonkwo returns from exile practically unchanged by the experience, having ‘regretted every day of his exile’ (Harris 97). The conclusion is that life does not teach him and does not correct him. Trying to be independent, unshakable, strong, he forgets that he lacks strong moral strength. Excess physical strength clouds his eyes. He is afraid to seem weak and helpless. But he loses his power more and more.

Fraser Robert in his article A NOTE ON OKONKWO’S SUICIDE comes around with that it is the impact of the changes in his society. After exile he comes across with unfamiliar Igbo people who are totally different. Fraser states : “The explicitly shameful nature of suicide also rules out the possibility that Okonkwo killed himself in order to retain his integrity, after the Roman manner. No possible sort of honor could accrue from a course of action which would result in his being hurled into the bad bush to rot like his despised father Unoka. Okonkwo is a man far too careful of social acceptance for that. Igbo society has been plunged into anomy by the intervention of the British. In this new world of slipping realities the villagers have lost their bearings. Okonkwo, in some ways their most typical hero, is completely at a loss to explain the change. Okonkwo is, in one sense, a victim of colonialism, in another of himself. Caught between the two, he destroys himself through mere confusion” (Fraser 34). Patrick C. Nnoromele in the The Plight of a Hero in Achebe s ‘Things Fall Apart’ remarks : “Okonkwo, who had a resolute hunger to become a hero, was not afraid of the forces that surrounded him. However, he was so overwhelmed by the cumulative effects of his experiences on the road to heroism that he felt the only thing left to do was to commit suicide. Okonkwo had to maintain his integrity as a hero. The truth of this profound, but ambivalent act is reflected in the Igbo proverb that says: ‘The thought that led a man to truncate his own existence was not conceived in a day.’ It was not just one single thing or event that forced Okonkwo to kill himself. His suicidal act was an ultimate expression of the compound effects of his own experiences in his unflinching desire to become a hero. Okonkwo was a hero. Hence, he had to depart from the battlefield as one. A hero would rather die than be captured and/or hurniliated by the enemy. Okonkwo’s death cheated his enemies, the European colonizers, of their revenge” ( Nnoromele 155). Macdonald says: “Okonkwo knows they will never go to war and that his act of hope has now sealed his destruction because he is completely alone in his opposition to the new authority. The only alternative to the ignominy of hanging in the white man’s goal is to take his own life, ironically an abomination to all he stood for in the past” (59). But Alan R Friesen in Okonkwo’s Suicide as an Affirmative Act: Do Things Really Fall Apart? has a positive view on protagonist’s suicide reporting that it has benefit for the Igbo society and things do not really fall apart: “ Although Things Fall Apart can be interpreted in the tragic mode, the novel is much more meaningful if we interpret Okonkwo’s suicide as an act of willful resistance rather than an act of shame and dishonour. Within the text itself, the effects of Okonkwo’s suicide are barely felt in the colonial world; the commissioner is still planning on writing his study, Nwoye is still lost to Igbo culture, and even Obierika’s fierce words fall upon deaf ears. But on the other hand, if we consider Okonkwo’s suicide to be a positivity rather than an act of defeat, then in a sense Igbo culture still lives on; perhaps things do not fall apart after all” (11).

Baumeister, R. F. in Suicide as escape from self described that suicide is analyzed in terms of motivations to escape from aversive self-awareness. The causal chain begins with events that fall severely short of standards and expectations. These failures are attributed internally, which makes self-awareness painful. Awareness of the self’s inadequacies generates negative affect, and the individual therefore desires to escape from self-awareness and the associated affect. The person tries to achieve a state of cognitive deconstruction (constricted temporal focus, concrete thinking, immediate or proximal goals, cognitive rigidity, and rejection of meaning), which helps prevent meaningful self-awareness and emotion. The deconstructed state brings irrationality and disinhibition, making drastic measures seem acceptable. Suicide can be seen as an ultimate step in the effort to escape from self and world. The author Patrick Seave in Suicide tells us that ‘Suicide prevention is best addressed from the platform of the emotions’. Certainly, people with “emotional confidence” are least likely to engage in self harm (parasuicide) or suicide. The fact that we have an ‘epidemic of suicide in the country points to the fact that we are failing to bring our young people to this level of emotional maturity. My African friends would certainly agree that the emotions are crucial in reducing the numbers of suicide victims. However, the emotion on which they focus is shame (172).

Bibliography

  1. Achebe, Chinua. 1975. Chi in Igbo cosmology. Morning Yet on Creation Day. London : Heinemann. p.159-175.
  2. Achebe, Chinua. 1996. Things Fall Apart. Portsmouth: Heinemann.Andrew, Foley. “Okonkwo’s Fate and the Worldview of Things Fall Apart …” Okonkwo’s Fate and the Worldview of Things Fall Apart, AOSIS, 2001., 7 Aug. 2001, mafiadoc.com/okonkwos- fate-and-the-worldview-of-things-fall-apart-literator_59d8bde21723ddfb90b1f606.html.
  3. Sarma, S. Krishna. 1993. ‘Okonkwo and His Chi.’ In Indian Response to African Writing, ed. Ramakrishna Rao and C.R. Visweswara Rao. New Delhi: Prestige Books.
  4. Greenberg, Jonathan. “Okonkwo and the Storyteller: Death, Accident, and Meaning in Chinua Achebe and Walter Benjamin.” Contemporary Literature, vol. 48, no. 3, 2007, pp. 423–450. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27563759. Accessed 17 Apr. 2020.
  5. Gearing, Robin E., and Dana Lizardi. “Religion and Suicide.” Journal of Religion and Health, vol. 48, no. 3, 2008, pp. 332–341., doi:10.1007/s10943-008-9181-2.
  6. Okhamafe, Imafedia. “Genealogical Determinism in Achebe’s Things Fall. Apart.” Genealogy and Literature, edited by Lee Quinby, NED – New edition ed., University of Minnesota Press, 1995, pp. 134–154. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttttdmb.12. Accessed 16 Apr. 2020.
  7. Iyasere, Solomon O. “OKONKWO’S PARTICIPATION IN THE KILLING OF HIS ‘SON’ IN
  8. CHINUA ACHEBE’S ‘THINGS FALL APART’: A STUDY OF IGNOBLE DECISIVENESS.” CLA Journal, vol. 35, no. 3, 1992, pp. 303–315. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/44322495. Accessed 16 Apr. 2020.
  9. Anyokwu, Christopher. “Re-Imagining Gender in Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall
  10. Apart.’” Interdisciplinary Literary Studies, vol. 12, no. 2, 2011, pp. 16–31. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41210316. Accessed 16 Apr. 2020.
  11. Harris, Will. “OKONKWO IN EXILE: LESSONS FROM THE UNDERWORLD.” CLA Journal, vol. 47, no. 1, 2003, pp. 93–104. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/44325196. Accessed 16 Apr. 2020.
  12. Fraser, Robert. “A NOTE ON OKONKWO’S SUICIDE.” Obsidian (1975-1982) , vol. 6, no.1/2, 1980, pp. 33–37. JSTOR , www.jstor.org/stable/44489752. Accessed 10 Apr. 2020.
  13. Nnoromele, Patrick C. “The Plight of a Hero in Achebe s ‘Things Fall Apart.’” College Literature , vol. 27, no. 2, 2000, pp. 146–156. JSTOR , www.jstor.org/stable/25112519. Accessed10 Apr. 2020.
  14. Macdonald, Bruce F. “Chinua Achebe and the Structure of Colonial Tragedy.” The Literary Half-Yearly 21 (1980): 50-63.
  15. R. F, Baumeister. “Suicide as Escape from Self.” Psychological Review, 1990, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2408091.
  16. Seaver, Patrick. “Suicide.” The Furrow, vol. 60, no. 3, 2009, pp. 172–175. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27808821. Accessed 17 Apr. 2020.

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