What do you think of the ending? When the District Commissioner muses about the book he is writing on Africa and concludes that Okonkwo’s story might be “substantial” enough to merit a whole paragraph (after the reader has just read an entire book on Okonkwo), what are we to make of it?
One view is that Achebe aims to attack the tradition of Western ethnography. The book that the Commissioner aims to write (The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger) perhaps reveals more about such writers (colonialists) than about the subjects of the study (the local inhabitants). The title of the book is ironic as it indicates the failure of communication between Colonizer and Colonized.
The title is also ironic in linking the “pacification” to Okonkwo’s death. Does the death of Okonkwo at the end signify anything in particular? It could be argued that from the Commissioner’s perspective his death may well signify the end of a tradition (Igbo culture and customs) and the start of a new regime where indeed the Africans have been subjugated / pacified. If this is so, it is not merely his death, but his choice to violate Igbo tradition and commit suicide that signifies the end or the beginning of the end of that tradition.
It can be argued that Okonkwo’s death symbolizes the death of a culture. He represents the old ways of the culture and subscribes to all norms and beliefs of that culture. His values of manliness and bravery are the values of the Igbo people. When the colonizers arrive with their new religion and new customs, the culture begins to change. Okonkwo’s very high standards of masculinity and his cultural conservatism both lead to his downfall. In a sense, he “must” die as he represents the impossible resistance to the inevitable changes ahead.