From the start, Okonkwo's will seems to drive his ascent in Umuofia society. He rises from being the son of a debtor to being one of the leaders of the clan, thanks to his hard work and aggression. He becomes known for his wrestling prowess, and we are told that this cannot be attributed to luck: “At the most one could say that his chi or personal god was good. But the Ibo people have a proverb that when a man says yes his chi says yes also. Okonkwo said yes very strongly; so his chi agreed.”
However, once things start turning sour for Okonkwo, he begins to blame his fate. This begins with Ikemefuna's death. Ikemefuna, along with the infant twins of the novel, represent the most straightforward victims—they aren't given a chance to act, but are instead acted upon violently. (“The ill-fated lad was called Ikemefuna.”) Okonkwo blames the Oracle for his part in murdering Ikemefuna, though it could be argued—and is argued by the clan's oldest member, Ezeudu, and by Okonkwo's neighbor Obierika—that he had a choice in whether to take part or not. Later, when Okonkwo's gun splinters and he accidentally kills one of Ezeudu's sons, Okonkwo faces exile. Although his crops do well in the neighboring clan and he is allowed to return in seven years, Okonkwo is completely discouraged by the experience, and we find a reversal of the earlier quote: “A man could not rise beyond the destiny of his chi. The saying of the elders was not true—that if a man said yea his chi also affirmed. Here was a man whose chi said nay despite his own affirmation.”
Fate vs. Free Will ThemeTracker
Fate vs. Free Will Quotes in Things Fall Apart
Age was respected among his people, but achievement was revered. As the elders said, if a child washed his hands he could eat with kings.
And in fairness to Umuofia it should be recorded that it never went to war unless its case was clear and just and was accepted as such by its Oracle – the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves. And there were indeed occasions when the Oracle had forbidden Umuofia to wage a war. If the clan had disobeyed the Oracle they would surely have been beaten, because their dreaded agadi-nwayi would never fight what the Ibo call a fight of blame.
Unoka was an ill-fated man. He had a bad chi or personal god, and evil fortune followed him to the grave, or rather to his death, for he had no grave. He died of the swelling which was an abomination to the earth goddess.
But the Ibo people have a proverb that when a man says yes his chi says yes also. Okonkwo said yes very strongly; so his chi agreed.
Ezinma took the dish in one hand and the empty water bowl in the other and went back to her mother's hut. “She should have been a boy,” Okonkwo said to himself again. His mind went back to Ikemefuna and he shivered.
It was a crime against the earth goddess to kill a clansman, and a man who committed it must flee from the land. The crime was of two kinds, male and female. Okonkwo had committed the female, because it had been inadvertent. He could return to the clan after seven years…
Why should a man suffer so grievously for an offense he had committed inadvertently? But although he thought for a long time he found no answer.
A man could not rise beyond the destiny of his chi. The saying of the elders was not true—that if a man said yea his chi also affirmed. Here was a man whose chi said nay despite his own affirmation.
He told them that the true God lived on high and that all men when they died went before Him for judgment. Evil men and all the heathen who in their blindness bowed to wood and stone were thrown into a fire that burned like palm-oil. But good men who worshipped the true God lived forever in His happy kingdom.
Living fire begets cold, impotent ash.