Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements.
These are the first two sentences of the novel, and they provide a memorable image of Okonkwo as an achievement-oriented individualist who has won great respect through impressive feats of valor. Okonkwo’s individual achievements not only provide him with the elevated status he desires in his community. These achievements also bolster Okonkwo’s personal sense of pride. But Okonkwo’s pride is his greatest weakness. Throughout the novel, Okonkwo frequently comes into conflict with others when he feels that they expect him to compromise his pride and abandon his values. In such moments, Okonkwo digs his heels in deeper.
‘Let us not reason like cowards,’ said Okonkwo. ‘If a man comes into my hut and defecates on the floor, what do I do? Do I shut my eyes? No! I take a stick and break his head. That is what a man does.’
Okonkwo speaks these words during a clan assembly in Mbanta, when the men of the village convene to decide what action to take against a Christian convert who killed the royal python. In frustrated response to the other clan members’ pacifism, Okonkwo argues that the Christians must be forced out. The language he uses in this quotation underscores how his intolerance of the Christians represents an issue of pride. In order to maintain one’s pride, Okonkwo implies, a man cannot allow another man to desecrate his home. Instead, he must “take a stick and break [the other man’s] head.”
Okonkwo’s return to his native land was not as memorable as he had wished. It was true his two beautiful daughters aroused great interest among suitors and marriage negotiations were soon in progress, but, beyond that, Umuofia did not appear to have taken any special notice of the warrior’s return.
After spending the bulk of the novel attempting to build his status and maintain his personal pride, Okonkwo returns to Umuofia from seven years of exile to find that, in the end, his efforts have largely failed. Despite the fact that his two daughters are likely to marry well and help him forge significant new ties within the community, little remains of the recognition he enjoyed prior to his sojourn in Mbanta. With this major blow to his pride, Okonkwo seems fated for a downward spiral.