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"Things fall apart" is among the most famous novels written by African writers. Written in 1958 by author Chinua Achebe, from Nigeria, it tells the tragic story of Okonkwo, described as an "archetype of the traditional African strongman." Among the book's many interesting characters, is Obierika, a close friend and confidant of Okonkwo. He is seen in many instances giving advice to his friend and counseling him when in trouble. He provides for Okonkwo during his days in exile and his concern for his welfare is evident throughout their relationship. The wedding of Obierika's daughter calls for celebration and is the cause for the village's festivals. Through Obierika, the author portrays Okonkwo as the tragic protagonist in the novel, and the relationship they share depicts the different views they hold, which have different end for both characters (Achebe, 1992).
In the novel by Chinua Achebe, Obiereka plays the role of being "the voice of reason", especially to the views held by Okonkwo, and sympathetically appeals for foresight on the protagonist's actions (Achebe, 1992). In the conversations between the two, Obierika is seen giving cautionary advice to the protagonist and urging him to rationally think through his approach and plan of action (p. 176). He is seen as one of the elders with a surprisingly clear vision in a village with leaders lacking such. Obierika is depicted as "a man who thought of things," a deep thinker who delves into much more than meets the eye and critically analyses some of the cultural customs that he deems to be of no benefit to the people (p. 125).
He questions on why they had "to throw away his own twin children", just because "the village clan of Umuofia" called such twin births "an offense on the land" (p. 125). He questions the traditions but just like the chief protagonist, he does not dispute or break them. Both characters bear allegiance to the customs of their people and the intrusion of "the white man" is viewed as a threat to both (p. 120). Both are successful men by the standards of the village and hold high positions in Umofia's society, after having earned the much sought after prestigious titles. Obierika is also seen as a hardworking man just like Okonkwo, but does not seemingly belief in projecting his masculinity in all that he does in comparison to the novel's protagonist. He is not seen as "a man of action" (p. 69). Achebe uses the same phrase in describing Okonkwo.
Okonkwo is described as "a man of solid personal achievements" (p. 1), a hard worker who manages to rise from an obscure family to the prestigious position in the village (p. ). He is seen as "a man of action" and to the "hero" to the reader in the initial sections of the novel. He brutishly employs physical strength in displaying authority in his household and strongly beliefs any display of affection towards the people he loves would be seen" womanly" and "weak." He does not tolerate any show of weakness in his son Nwoye, who he criticizes constantly in comparison to the "same weakness" displayed by Okonkwo's late father who he brands as a failure (p. 3). It is the relationship between Okonkwo and his "late father Unoka," that shapes and moulds much of his violent character and ambitious behavior seen in the story (p. 3). Okonkwo's rise to success is driven much more by the fear of failing like Unoka and being seen by other village folk as weak, as it is by his physical strength and hard work.
His perception on masculinity, that a man should not display any weakness whatsoever "like a shivering old woman", and ego drives the impression he strives to create within the village (p. 21). His actions revolve around this thinking and not much thought is given to rational thinking, as compared to Obierika, and in many matters uses physical strength instead and sees this as the solution in settling matters. This is what leads to his final downfall when he kills the messenger, in not just in response to the cultural conflict, but much more in wanting to regain his past image. Obierika precautions his friend on this matter, but he throws caution to the wind. The conflict in his view could not be approached by negotiation but through war; displaying his disposition towards physical power over thoughtful and rational approaches and a futile attempt of rallying the people for war. The writer uses Obierika as a foil to the tragic protagonist's personal view.
A look at the two characters displays deep "differences in their personalities and beliefs," which lead both characters to different ends in the novel. While Okonkwo deeply relies on his physical strength in all endeavors and constantly wanting to appear strong and not weak in the eyes of others, Obierika relies on rational thinking in his approach to all matters arising within the novel. He does not bow to pressure from other elders to play a hand in the killing of ikemefuna, but shows a strong will in contrast to his lack of manly strength and the effeminate picture painted of him, in comparison to Okonkwo. Critically analyzing their characters, Okonkwo can be seen as weak man driven by the fear of being considered weak like his father by others. He even fails to show his emotions for the same fear even when strongly compelled to. He doees not stand up to the people who love him, and who he cares about, in the face of cultural pressures like "his son ikemefuna."
Obiereka on the other hand displays real strength of will in adamantly sticking to his personal belief in not playing a hand in ikemefuna's death. In a memorable heated exchange with his friend, Obierika when asked on "why he did not" give a hand in his killing, responds giving his own personal view on the matter without fear. "What you have done will not please the earth." "If the oracle said that my son should be killed, I would neither dispute, nor be the one to do it (p. 67)." In direct contrast to what Okonkwo tragically did to "his son", in his desperate belief of not showing effeminate weakness as a man. Okonkwo blindly adheres to cultural traditions that also cause his expulsion outside his beloved Umuofia. His intolerance to the notion of cultural is mirrored by the tolerance portrayed by Obierika who paints the picture of the fallen state of their tradition (p.176).
Towards the close of the novel, the two converse on their opinion on the English colonialism. Okonkwo holds his easily perceived view; "we must fight these men and drive from the land" (p. 176). The response given by Obierika, strikingly pinpoints to the whole picture presented by the writer in "things fall apart. Obierika's thoughtful and rational approach to the issue is what the protagonist Okonkwo lacks. "But what of our own people who are following their way...how do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us" (p. 177). The writer uses Obierika's response in denoting the falling apart of the traditional culture. Though Obierika articulately displays the simple and essential truth to Okonkwo; that physical fighting and war would not solve the matter, he goes on to do the same.
Obierika's belief in quietly thinking through issues gives him the upper hand in foreseeing imminent problems associated with the wrong approach of the protagonist. This personal belief and approach is what differentiates the two friends in the end. Obierika clearly pinpoints and explains the tragic end of trying to fight the impending change which had already "put a knife to things that held us (the people) together", to Okonkwo (176). With this fore knowledge the protagonist, still goes on to kill the messenger and he finally hangs himself, rather than face the consequences. The suicide is the last rash action of the protagonist that leads to his tragic end, both to his life and the image and name he cherished. Obierika's approach would definitely have not had the same end.