“What are these/So wither’d and so wild in their attire,/That look not like the inhabitants o’ the earth,/And yet are on’t? Live you? or are you aught/That man may question?/You seem to understand me,/by each at once her chappy finger laying/Upon her skinny lips: you should be women,/And yet your beards forbid me to interpret/That you are so” (Shakespeare, Act I, scene III). Both in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Achebe’s Things Fall Apart the main characters’ lives seem to be controlled by fate: both Macbeth and Okonkwo play out their lives in ways that suggest each has a destiny he cannot escape. After all, the witches in Macbeth accurately prophesy about the events that take place later in the stories, and the chi – a person’s personal god – in Things Fall Apart are thought by the Igbo to dictate a person’s good or bad fortune. Are these two works really saying that a person’s destiny is decided by fate? Do they in fact say that a person’s destiny is decided by what he chooses to do in response to his personal situations that he finds himself in? Or, do Macbeth and Things Fall Apart have a combination of these two themes?
In Macbeth the great bard creates the title character as a troubled man who seems to have no control over his own fate. After all, the witches tell Macbeth exactly what will happen to him, right? Yes, the three sister witches prophesy that Macbeth will become thane of Cawdor and later king. However, Macbeth has a choice. After he becomes thane of Cawdor, his wife encourages him to kill his lord the King: “O, never/Shall sun that morrow see!/Your face, my thane, is as a book where men/May read strange matters. To beguile the time,/Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,/Your hand, your tongue: look like the innocent flower,/But be the serpent under’t” (Shakespeare Act I, scene V). Macbeth could have chosen to not murder the king and kill his friend Banquo. Instead, he was week-minded and overly ambitious and was swayed by the witches’ suggestions and his wife’s influence.
Okonkwo in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart believes in his chi, dutifully worships the Igbo gods, and listens to the oracles. He goes so far in his duty to his gods that when the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves pronounces that his adopted son must die, Okonkwo kills him as one of the most influential men in the village. However, one of the wisest men in the village tells Okonkwo, “that boy calls you father. Do not bear a hand in his death. . .Yes, Umuofia has decided to kill him. The Oracle of the Hills and the Caves has pronounced it. They will take him outside Umuofia as is the custom, and kill him there. But I want you to have nothing to do with it. He calls you his father” (Achebe 1126). It is clear that Okonkwo has a decision. He decrees his own destiny and establishes his insensitivity. When the Christians come, he wars against them, kills men, and then hangs himself. After all, the Oracle said that they would bring trouble to the settlement. However, it is not personal chis that cause the destruction of native life; it is the personal decisions that each member of the clan makes. Okonkwo decides his destiny by the way in which he responds to the situations that are presented to him.
Both Macbeth and Things Fall Apart are filled with witches and gods. It might seem that these supernatural beings, or people with supernatural powers, control the lives of the characters. However, it becomes apparent that the characters themselves control their own destinies. To a certain extent, though, “fate” does influence the destinies of the characters. For, these characters listen to the suggestions that the voices for “fate” make. So, both Shakespeare and Achebe suggest that fate and personal reactions to situations in conjunction decide the destinies of people.
Achebe, Chinua. “Things Fall Apart”. The Norton Anthology of World Literature, Volume 2. Ed. Peter Simon. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 1102-1190. Print.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Bookbyte Digital Edition.