Jessica MisakKristy JohnsonEnglish 10 Honors13 December 2017Transformation Through Exile: The Role of Isolation and Enrichment on the Development and Psyche of A Literary Character One of the leading causes of dismay throughout the world is monophobia, the fear of being alone. While psychologists have their own reasoning for monophobia, others believe this fear is because isolation forces one to be introspective about their deeply rooted flaws and their painful consequences. Though this process can be agonizing, it is vital for personal growth. In this regard, the Nigerian tome Things Fall Apart written by the father of modern African literature, Chinua Achebe, is no anomaly.
The book is centered upon Okonkwo, a harsh man hell-bent on achieving the highest rank in the clan that controls his Ibo village, even if it means hurting those he holds closest to his heart. The trajectory of Okonkwo’s life changes indelibly when the accidental misfire of his gun results in the death of a dominant clan member’s son, forcing him and his family to endure a seven year exile. In this stillness, Okonkwo takes the time to reflect upon his actions and the times that shaped his life-and unknowingly his death. When Okonkwo returns, he finds that a strange new religion is taking root in his homeland and what was once a stronghold of Ibo culture is now a land of Christianity.
Ultimately, the enriching yet isolating exile illuminates the literary work by building the reader’s connection and empathy toward Okonkwo through universal truths.The exile creates physical remoteness and cultural differences that lead to emotional distances between Okonkwo and the people of his homeland. A few months after his return, the villagers gather to hear the words of a Christian mission when Okonkwo decides to take drastic measures: “In a flash, Okonkwo drew his machete. The messenger crouched to avoid the blow. It was useless. Okonkwo’s machete descended twice and the man’s head lay beside his uniformed body.
The waiting backcloth jumped into tumultuous life and the meeting was stopped. Okonkwo stood looking at the dead man. He knew Umuofia would not go to war” (188). When Okonkwo returns to Umuofia, he is ignorant to the fact that the viewpoint of the village is shifting to support the Christians. After the killing of the messenger, Okonkwo finally realizes that he has nothing left to fight for because he and his beliefs no longer belong in Umuofia. This loss of purpose drives Okonkwo to go against his values and commit one of the most shameful acts in Ibo culture: suicide.
The correlation between Okonkwo’s exile and suicide illuminate the meaning of the work as a whole by proving that even the most resilient people need to be a part of something bigger than themself. Okonkwo’s feeling of isolation and eventual enrichment help the reader to have empathy for Okonkwo because the desire to be a part of something is a universal truth.Although exile proves to conduct negative effects, the positive enrichment of Okonkwo as a character also occurs. Because Okonkwo is not chasing titles and triumph during his exile, he finally takes the time to reflect upon the actions that resulted in his exile. An instance of this retrospect is when Achebe describes Okonkwo sitting in his hut, writing that “He Okonkwo saw the whole matter clearly. Living fire begets cold, impotent ash” (153). In this moment, Okonkwo is comparing himself to fire, an element that is unforgiving and treacherous. It simply burns through everything it touches, producing nothing.
Okonkwo connects how his explosive temper can only construct sons who are a disappointment in his eyes. An example of this is his son Nwoye. Okonkwo considers Nwoye to be “soft” and an “agbala”, meaning woman. These qualities only lead Okonkwo to be more harsh on his son, eventually chasing him into the arms of Christianity.
Okonkwo’s personal revelation is vital to the book as a whole because it shows the expansion of Okonkwo’s maturity and overall growth as a character. Character growth is vital because they instigate connection with the reader and create vivid figures in the reader’s imagination. Okonkwo’s development also creates an emotional response in the reader, encouraging empathy and personal connections. This empathy is building throughout the exile as many others have felt alone and cut off in the same way Okonkwo does.To conclude, the exile of Okonkwo is vital to the embellishment of Achebe’s masterpiece that is Things Fall Apart for multiple reasons. For the duration of his seven-year exile, Okonkwo lives in his mother’s homeland, fortifying depth in an otherwise peevish character and calling attention to the universal necessity of inclusion.
These additions embellish the work as a whole. Once Okonkwo’s connection to the Ibo tribe and his home village Umuofia dissipates, he throws caution to the wind and commits suicide, a crime unthinkable in the very culture he fought tooth and nail to protect. This is why including others and being benevolent is vital to the happiness and prosperity of people. When society and individuals are lacking these qualities, everyone suffers, so sit with the new kid at lunch and accept those who seek solace.