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Empathy and Respect in Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart is a novel by Chinua Achebe about the Igbo people and the changes they were experiencing during the British rule. The main protagonist is Okonkwo, a largely influential man in his village. Achebe evokes the empathy and respect of the readers through the experiences of the characters in the novel, particularly through the unfortunate experiences of Okonkwo and his family, and Achebe’s realistic portrayal of the African people. Empathy There are many ways in which Achebe evokes empathy towards his characters. The first instance in which readers are able to empathize with one of them is through Unoka, Oknonkwo’s father.

Unoka was considered as an agbala, an Igbo term used to refer to a woman. He was considered as such because he was unproductive when he was alive and had numerous debts. “Unoka […] was lazy and improvident […] was a debtor, and he owed every neighbor some money” (Achebe, 1996, p. 3). Although Unoka probably deserved all the embarrassment that resulted from his idleness, empathy towards him cannot be helped because of the excessive reference to him as a weak man. Thus, Okonkwo’s driving force to succeed stems from his desire to be different from his father and to be disassociated from his shamefulness.

Even the death of Unoka was considered a shameful death. The cause of his death was so taboo that he was not allowed to have a proper burial. “When a man was afflicted by swelling in the stomach and limbs he was not allowed to die in the house. He was carried to the Evil forest and left there to die” (Achebe, 1996, p. 13). Another way of evoking empathy from readers by Achebe is through the family members of Oknonkwo—Okonkwo constantly beats his wives and children, apparently as a sign of manliness and because of little, tolerable things that his family does.

In one instance, Okonwo’s youngest wife Ojiugo suffered her husband’s wrath when he beat her just because she failed to prepare a meal for him and his children. Ojiugo forgot to prepare their meals because she went out to braid her hair, “And when she returned he beat her heavily” (Achebe, 1996, p. 21). Okonkwo’s oldest son, Nyowe, also suffers from his father’s beatings because he is not “manly” enough for his father. The stern attitude of Okonkwo towards his family members makes readers empathize with them. However, despite appearing like the “bad guy” in this novel, Okonkwo too, triggers empathy in his own right.

The whole novel, in fact, is the tragic downfall of Okonkwo because of his inability to adapt to the changes happening in his town. Unable to cope with the changes, he commits suicide. Respect Achebe also evokes the readers’ respect by portraying the Igbo people as realistic as he possibly can. We often read works that do not seem to describe any flaws of the dominant race in the story. In this novel, Achebe was able to attain the respect of the people by writing both the negative and positive aspects about the Igbo people—the Igbo people, like all of us, have a potential for violence, as evidenced by the wars and killings in the story.

However, the Igbo people also strive for peace as much as possible. During a conflict with a neighboring town, the townsmen opted to have a settlement instead of having an all-out war. In another case, this time from a white missionary, Mr. Brown respected the culture of the Igbo people and did not force Christianity onto them. Ironically, the efforts of Okonkwo to outdo his father also garnered some respect. His determination to be everything unlike his father is commendable because his father was a lazy man.

Conclusion Empathy and respect are two of the emotions that Chinua Achebe successfully evokes from readers. Empathy towards the characters is achieved through their various situations and experiences, while respect is acquired through Achebe’s realistic portrayals of the Igbo people. Respect is also evoked from the readers through the character of Okonkwo–for his efforts to be as productive as possible. Reference Achebe, C. (1996). Things Fall Apart. Oxford, UK: Heinemann Educational Publishers.

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