Chinwe Achebe’s Things Fall Apart tells the story of Okonkwo, a man who struggles with learning what it means to be a man, a provider and an ideal citizen. The book gives an account of how Okonkwo is banned from his village for accidentally killing a clansmen, at the funeral of Ogbuefi Ezeudu, one of the village elders. Okonkwo is already in great distress, as before the funeral, he and some other men from the village were instructed by Ogbuefi Ezeudu to take Ikemefuma, a boy that was given to Okonkwo by a neighboring village, into the wildnerness to kill him. Okonkwo had become attached to Ikemefuma as a son, but kept his feelings to himself.
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Uchendu, Okonkwo’s uncle, tries to assist Okonkwo in regaining his confidence after he has to leave his village. Okonkwo and his family must settle in Mbanta, the village his mother is from, which is how he and his uncles are able to take often. Uchendu takes Okonkwo and his family in, and treats them warmly during their time in Mbanta. Uchendu also warns his nephew to be grateful for the reception he and his family have received, so that he won’t anger the dead—Uchendu is particularly referring to Okonkwo’s mother, who is buried in Mbanta.
Uchendu’s sound advice and easygoing nature are a direct contrast to Okonkwo’s impulsive and angry nature. Okonkwo’s pride and unrest, in part, comes from the disappointment and embarrassment his father, Unoka, has caused him. Okonkwo has been ashamed of Unoka since he was a little boy, as his father was aimless and never claimed a title for himself in the village. Unoka also borrowed money from several people in the village, and when he died, Oknonkwo had to take on the responsibility of repaying his father’s debts. Okonkwo’s failure to make peace with the feelings he has for his father is the primary motivation for the way he treats his own son. Nwoye, Okonkwo’s oldest son, is a sensitive boy who doesn’t exhibit overtly masculine qualities, such as being unafraid to fight or kill. Okonkwo also feels that Nwoye is lazy-just like Unoka. After spending time around Ikemefuma while the two live as brothers, Nwoye begins to adopt more of the characteristics that Okonkwo deems manly. Nwoye, however, is a very pensive child and doesn’t subscribe to all the mindsets and ideals that are commonplace in the village. When missionaries come to Oknonkwo’s home village to convert the citizens of the village to Christianity, Nwoye decides to become a Christian. Okonkwo views this decision as effeminate, which possibly prompts Okonkwo to continue behaving in a hot-headed manner throughout the story.
During Okonkwo’s time in Mbanta, Uchendu tells Okonkwo a story of a mother kite. The kite serves as symbolism for freedom, and the story’s moral is not to kill a man who says nothing. The mother kite represents the comfort and protection that children should find in the arms of a parent. This story, perhaps, prompts Okonkwo to remember how he didn’t help Ikemefuma when the boy was being attacked by the men in the village. Instead of helping Ikemefuma, he too strikes him with a machete so as not to appear weak in front if his clansmen.
The kite metaphor that Uchendu shares with Okonkwo stirs up feelings of guilt and confusion in Okonkwo, and he thanks his uncle for sharing his wisdom by saying “a child can not pay for its mother’s milk.” This indicates that the advice that Uchendu gave Okonkwo is invaluable. After all, all the gifts that a child can give his mother in childhood or adulthood can’t compare to the milk that a mother gives her infant during the first phases of the baby’s life.
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