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Archetype Trauma Essay

Many people experience trauma as they age. Certain individuals will experience a range of physically distressing events, from typical household injuries to brutal domestic violence. For some people, however, the effects are more severe. If the occurring events are particularly distressing, an individual can suffer lifelong symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Some commonly overlooked symptoms of this disorder include extreme guilt, vivid nightmares, and extreme irritability—for example, hundreds of soldiers after World War II experienced nightmares, hallucinations, crying fits, and hypersensitivity.

Unfortunately for these combatants, the ruthless effects war had on them lasted for years. However, in spite of the occurring events, some individuals recover from their symptoms within a matter of weeks. Regardless of the wide range of possible responses, these victims share a common denominator. Though individuals react differently to certain circumstances, each person will grow up with some variation of emotional instability. Thus, the traumatic events which an individual undergoes affect forthcoming decisions and judgments. These details, for example, are patently clear in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

Okonkwo, the protagonist in the novel, experiences scarring negligence and abuse from his father, Unoka, which ultimately leads to mislead decision making and Okonkwo’s own death. Therefore, throughout Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo’s childhood experiences serve as a basis for his decisions later in life, as the trauma which he undergoes in his youth ultimately affects the decisions made in adulthood, thereby limiting his ability to react to situations. In Things Fall Apart Okonkwo of Umuofia, son of Unoka, is renowned a brave and ruthless warrior as well as an influential clan leader.

As a child, Okonkwo was extremely underprivileged, suffering the consequences of his father’s laziness. His father, Unoka, was an effeminate “failure” who drank away what little income the family had (Achebe 5). Unoka later passed away in incredible debt, owing every neighbor some absurd amount of money. Okonkwo, as the offspring of this abomination, was ashamed of his family and craved the validation of his clan, as a man was “judged according to his worth and not according to the worth of his father. Thus, it becomes clear that – in spite of his father’s failure – Okonkwo had a chance at redemption (Achebe 8). Okonkwo was “clearly cut for great things”, and so the clan offered him a brighter future (Achebe 8). He was taken under the wing of an old man and prospered greatly under his care. Once he had gained the trust of the elders, Okonkwo asked a man to help him craft a yam farm (Achebe 8). The man arranged a deal with the young boy, and this yam farm would later be the source of Okonkwo’s wealth.

After time, Okonkwo’s yam farm proved profitable, and the man took on many wives (Achebe 2). He made himself one the most authoritative members in the tribe exclusively by his persistence and determination to do so, as Okonkwo worked “daily on his farm, from sun to sun” (Achebe 12). In Ibo culture, there was no accurate sense of time, and so this expression/ terminology, “from sun to sun”, is what a modern day individual would express as “day to day”. Thus, it becomes clear that Okonkwo put forth incredible effort to avoid being “found to resemble his father” (Achebe 13).

However, throughout the novel, Okonkwo makes extraordinarily irrational decisions in hopes to avoid any similarity to his childhood status. Okonkwo had one obsession: “to hate everything that Unoka had loved”, including gentleness and idleness” (Achebe 13). For this reason in particular, “Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand” (Achebe 13). In other words, he acted so maliciously as a result of Unoka’s paternal failures. Okonkwo went to great lengths to assure that he did not resemble his father’s laziness, and was consequently unable to act wisely in the novel.

However, Okonkwo’s desperation and obsessive fear of resembling his father also identifies with potential signs of trauma. Thus, one can conclude that Okonkwo’s actions were partially – if not entirely, influenced by his childhood experiences with his father. According to a study conducted by the National Society of PTSD, it is probable that Okonkwo was a victim of trauma. In a lifetime, approximately three in five people will experience either physical or emotional trauma.

According to medical practitioners from the National Society of PTSD, physical trauma is defined as any “life threatening injury to the body”, whereas psychological/emotional trauma is injury to the psyche “after living through an extremely frightening or distressing event” (“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms, Causes and Effects”). Either of these forms of trauma may ultimately result in operational challenges. Popular illustrations of physical trauma range from a soldier’s battle wounds to something as minor as a childhood concussion.

These injuries are often more visible to the eye, as the trauma affects the exterior or a person. However, regardless of the severity of psychological trauma, countless victims go unnoticed, as their wounds are not as clear to others as those of someone suffering from physical trauma. Commonly overlooked origins of psychological/emotional trauma include the passing of someone close, the breakup of a significant relationship, a humiliating or deeply emotional childhood experience, or something as minimal as a sports injury or household injury (“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms, Causes and Effects)”.

Astoundingly, however, more than sixty percent of the globe’s population reports at least one lifetime trauma (“Emotional and Psychological Trauma”). Various historical figures, in fact, have suffered some variation of trauma which has gone unnoticed by the public. Abraham Lincoln, for instance, the sixteenth president of the United States, underwent a series of traumatic events which ultimately influenced the decisions made in adulthood. At age seven, Lincoln near drowned in a river but was fortunately saved by a close friend (“PTSD – 30 Famous Trauma Survivors – Part 1”).

Moreover, two years after the river incident, after a “milk sickness” outbreak, Abraham’s mother passed away. Lincoln had approximately ten years after his mother’s passing to recover, but he was mortified when he had heard that his older sister, Sarah Lincoln Gisby, died in childbirth (“PTSD – 30 Famous Trauma Survivors – Part 1”). Life got better after these events; however, shortly after Lincoln proposed to his girlfriend, Ann Rutledge, she died of typhoid sickness. Furthermore, and unfortunately for Abraham Lincoln, once he remarried, his first born child died from illness.

These scarring events patently explain Abraham Lincoln’s relentless battle with depression throughout adulthood. According to Henry McHenry, a farmer whom was close to Abraham and Anne Rutledge, “After that Event [Rutledge’s death] he [Lincoln] seemed quite changed, he seemed retired, & loved solitude, he seemed wrapped in profound thought, indifferent, to transpiring Events, had but Little to say, but would take his gun and wander off in the woods by himself, away from the association of even those he most esteemed, this gloom seemed to deepen for some time, so as to give anxiety to his friends in regard to his Mind. And so, although one may not have seen anything physically unusual, Lincoln became emotionally impaired and consequently acted character. Having seen trauma in a more familiar figure, it is now perhaps easier to see in Okonkwo, a figure likely more foreign to the reader. Okonkwo is an aggressive, influential clan leader, in spite of the incredible neglect from his effeminate, lazy father, Unoka. In his day, Unoka, a tall but thin man, was pronounced lazy and “quite incapable of thinking about tomorrow” (Achebe 4). In other words, Unoka lacked initiative and had no plan for the future.

When money would come into the man’s grasp, which it seldom did, Okonkwo’s father spent it on palm-wine or lost it in a gambling match. As a result of Unoka’s failures, Okonkwo and his mother rarely had enough to eat and would go many nights without a meal. When Okonkwo was twenty eight, Unoka passed away (“Things Fall Apart Chapter One”). Although Unoka’s death was difficult for his family, Okonkwo still begrudged his father, as he died whilst in incredible debt, and consequently left no legacy or money for Okonkwo to inherit.

For this reason, Okonkwo detested his late father and continuously went out of his way to evade any actions that may resemble his (Okonkwo’s father) fragility (Achebe 13). Nevertheless, and fortunately for Okonkwo, the Ibo tribe members noticed his potential, and therefore allowed him a chance to make up for his father’s weakness (Achebe 8). However, throughout Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo is ostracized for his quickness to violence and his irrepressible irritability. In fact, the very first chapter of the novel presents Okonkwo as “tall and huge” and walking as though “he was going to pounce on somebody. (Achebe 1). He inflicts inconceivable sums of pain on the people he loves, and went so far as to give his wife a “sound beating” during the week of peace, a major offense in the Ibo culture. During the New Yam Festival, Okonkwo’s second wife maimed a banana tree, which evidently disturbed Okonkwo. Without hesitancy, Okonkwo “gave his wife a sound beating” (Achebe 38). The other wives and spectators were too afraid to intervene, but the women pleaded for him to stop from afar (Achebe 38). Okonkwo’s absurd rage resulted in future punishment, but Okonkwo continued his irrational behavior throughout the novel.

He sacrificed his son, Ikemfuna, inadvertently murdered a teenage boy with his rifle, and thoughtlessly beheaded a European messenger. However, the combination of his remarkable quickness to violence and his childhood trauma suggests some symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I recognize that I am in no position to diagnose Okonkwo with an official disorder, however, his childhood experiences closely identify with particular signs of PTSD and archetypal trauma, thus providing a useful lens for Things Fall Apart.

Victims of trauma suffer from a wide variety of symptoms, some more severe than others. When discussing these symptoms, it is useful to turn to one type of trauma, PTSD, as it provides clarity about the effects of trauma. Some indications of PTSD and typical internal trauma include short term memory loss and various psychological repercussions, specifically extreme irritability, irrepressible anger, and hypervigilance. Besides these short term affects, there are also a variety of long term affects associated with trauma.

These individuals frequently struggle with trusting others, cognitive processing, and their bodies become hypersensitive to potential threats. After time, these symptoms lessen in severity, however – according to the majority of medical practitioners – they will rarely disappear. Moreover, according to a 2010 study conducted by the National Society of PTSD, ten percent of women and five percent of men in the United States will undergo psychological symptoms of PTSD for life.

Even so, Okonkwo is rarely seen as a victim, as his poor behavior and temperament throughout the story display him as a vicious and amoral man. He consciously beat his wife during a sacred week of peace, sacrificed his son, murdered a teenage boy, and slaughtered an English missionary. However, although Okonkwo knew the consequences of his actions, he experienced extreme mood swings and depression after the sacrifice of his son, Ikemefuna, which suggests some variation of guilt and depression.

Even so, if Okonkwo had felt no repentance for his actions, Okonkwo lived in such a way that – despite his disgraceful and malicious engagements- at least he did not resemble the feebleness of his father. His father, from a young age, neglected Okonkwo and inadvertently made him into an angry and hateful individual (Achebe 13). And so, Okonkwo acted blindly and without full knowledge of what he was doing. He had, in a sense, no choice but to act the way he did in Things Fall Apart. As a victim of depression, guilt, and irrepressible irritability, Okonkwo showed signs of trauma and even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

After disobeying the Oracle and slaughtering his own son, Ikemefuna, Okonkwo became depressed and overwhelmed with guilt (Achebe 62). Okonkwo hardly spoke and “didn’t taste food for two days” (Achebe 63). So, what makes him any more different than the United States’ sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln? Lincoln acted out-ofcharacter for months after the death of his first love, Ann Rutledge, and experienced extreme irritability and depression (“PTSD – 30 Famous Trauma Survivors – Part 1”).

Okonkwo underwent identical depression and irritability throughout the novel. This is not to defend Okonkwo’s actions, but rather to suggest that Okonkwo inadvertently proceeded the way he did to evade any resemblance to his traumatic childhood. Therefore, throughout Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo’s childhood experiences served as a basis for his decisions later in life, as the trauma which he underwent in his youth ultimately affected the decisions made in adulthood, thereby limiting his ability to react

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