The two writers, Chinua Achebe and Arthur Miller, have done a great job in describing the main characters in their novels, “Things fall apart” and “Death of a salesman”. Although their behaviour might seem quite different from each other, especially considering that they live in two different ages and places, Okonkwo and Willy have a lot in common. Their behaviour towards their families, their life and their achievements are done in different ways but yet, there are some aspects which are shared by both of them.
Okonkwo is an African man living in a small village in Nigeria. He lives in his “obi” with his three wives and his numerous children. He is a very hard working man who had to build his way through society starting with nothing. The reason for this was his father Unoka, a very lazy man who did anything apart from caring about his family and his career.
Okonkwo is really admired by all the villagers, in fact he is one of the leading figures of the clan. Since he did not share a happy time during his childhood, Okonkwo grew up violent and aggressive. This type of personality got stronger and stronger to the point that he has always tried to use violence in order to solve any matter. He is aggressive mainly with his son Nwoye. Okonkwo does it because he feels that his son would grow weak as his father and, consequently, he would struggle in building up a good future.
During the last period of his life, Okonkwo copes with a complicated situation. This period makes him weaker and more aggressive, bringing him doing negative things and, at the end, to commit suicide.
Willy Loman is man on his sixties who has been dreaming for the whole of his life. He is a father of two sons, Biff and Happy, and he is married with a woman who always supports him in his decisions and always tries to defend him; her name is Linda. Willy has always been trying to be a successful man, unfortunately with no results. He tried to work hard and to be the idle of his sons, but this only made the situation worse. He was always spoiling his boys and never taught them to work hard enough in order to be successful.
During the last period of his life, Willy was being moody and lunatic. His life was becoming senseless and he started realising that he did not achieve anything during his existence. He started splitting himself into two characters: one was joyfully living in the past, remembering “the old good times”. The other one was fighting against the hard and depressing reality. This constant switching to past and present becomes more frequent as we get to the end of the play: he gets dismissed because of his age and his low performance as a salesman. At this point he falls and starts trying to commit suicide, but his wife stops him many times. One day he suddenly decides to end his agony and crashes with his car into a tree.
Are they that different?
This introduction of the characters gives us a better idea of how Okonkwo and Willy are different to one another. However, especially when comparing their tragic lives, we notice that they are indeed not so far apart. Just looking at how they both end their lives, we observe they die in the same way, by committing suicide. This aspect connects them because they both failed in doing something they were aiming for. Being this not the only aspect shared by them both, it is present another feature which can not be undervalued: the family. Despite the rudeness and the aggressiveness of Okonkwo towards his family, we notice that he often tries to defend his family. One good example is when the old woman takes her sick daughter to the oracle. Here Okonkwo stays up the whole night in front of the cave waiting for his daughter to come out safe. Another example is a hidden one: he always tries to persuade Nwoye to become a successful man, even if he uses violence. Willy, instead, tries to spoil his sons and never reproaches them.
As we can see, Okonkwo and Willy experience similar situations and life’ conditions, but they have different aspects at the same time. While Okonkwo is a strong man that has worked all his life and dedicated himself on achievements and family, Willy’s life is full of dreams and unfortunately frustrations. He is not as strong as Okonkwo, but the family is very important for him too. The way they treat their families, however, is different: Okonkwo tries to set his authority, whereas Willy always tries to make his family feel comfortable with him. Okonkwo’s habit is to use violence as a primal source of decision, instead Willy is a very good talker and persuades people with words.
As we could examine, we can now conclude that, for important aspects, Okonkwo and Willy are not completely different. Although they might have some strong differences regarding their personalities, and so the way they react to specific life’ situations, in some points they are almost alike.