Achebe portrays Okonkwo throughout the novel as an excessively masculine character. He is driven by his fear of being “feminine” like his father, whose lack of title caused him to be called an agbala, or woman. But in his obsessive efforts to be the antithesis of his father, Okonkwo forms an outer shell, a twisted idea of masculinity, grown from the Igbo culture. It lauds heroism in war, it supports male aggression, and it is very much a patriarchal society, all things that Okonkwo comes to wrap himself within. Perhaps it is a defense mechanism. Achebe heavily implies, after all, that he was bullied at a young age: “He still remembered how he had suffered when a playmate had told him that his father was agbala” (Achebe 5). Perhaps, in fact, Okonkwo is but a man with a severe insecurities. It is explicitly stated that “down in his heart, Okonkwo was not a cruel man” (Achebe 5), a contrast to his current personality, born of his fear of himself and femininity. In many cases, it appears that Okonkwo does not even wish to be this violent. He pours himself into the aggressive Igbo culture simply because it is his only defense from himself and his fears. The result is that he goes far beyond what the culture expects. When he kills Ikemefuna it is because “he was afraid of being thought weak” (Achebe 22). When he shoots at his wife Ekwefi with a gun, he “jump[s] into the barn” (Achebe 14) and upon seeing his wife unhurt, he “heave[s] a heavy sigh” (Achebe 14), subtle signs that, given Okonkwo’s gruff personality, can even be seen as signs of relief. He acts this way because there is nowhere else to run from himself.
In this way okonkwo forms a powerful connection to Igbo culture. For him it represents a certain security, and gradually Okonkwo and Igbo culture have become one. Thus, when by the end of the novel the Igbo culture is dead, tainted by the softness of Christianity, it is only right that Okonkwo dies at the end as the Igbo culture dies. It is a suicide because the Igbo culture was not suffocated by any other than itself, as the villagers say, ” ‘How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us?'” (Achebe 176), but also because without the Igbo culture Okonkwo has adapted to, he is nothing. Too afraid to embrace the reality of himself or the inherent changes in Igbo culture, he instead chooses death. Thus, through Okonkwo, Achebe shows the negative effects of being unable to accept one’s self.
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