Stories have long been an important fixture in societies and cultures by focusing on an antagonist and following them through the trials of their life. Oftentimes, these stories serve to provide a lesson. The struggle between the fate and the consequences of one’s actions are a common theme throughout literature—especially fairytales. However, through an analysis of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and Aschenputtel by the Grimm Brothers, the circumstances of a person are due to their actions rather than fate. The protagonists, Okonkwo and Aschenputtel had full autonomy in the outcome of their futures. Despite Aschenputtel’s unfortunate upbringing, her obedience to piety led to her to marriage with the prince. Okonkwo’s fear of turning into his unsuccessful father led him to be an honorable man, however, after intervening with the Oracle, Okonkwo’s action resulted in a notorious reputation from Nwoye. Okonkwo’s suicide was a result of his own actions; however, the cause of his suicide was due to the white men’s arrival to Umofia, which was fate.
In the beginning of Aschenputtel, by the Grimm Brothers, her dying mother says, “Dear child, be pious and good, and God will always take care of you, and I will look down upon you from heaven and will be with you.” (Paragraph 2). Aschenputtel’s step mother and sisters continuously torment her, forcing her to do strenuous housework as they live lavishly. One day as Ashenputtel’s father goes out to the fair, she asks for a twig which grows into a tree that is able to fulfil any of her wishes. Aschenputtel’s step mother and sisters continue to order her to do chores in order to gain permission to go to the prince’s ball, but continuously gets denied. Her stepsisters order her to do another chore and she calls for the doves, “The lentils that in ashes lie come and pick up for me! … and put all the good grains into the dish.” With the help of the tree and doves, Aschenputtel is able to go to the ball and marries the prince in the end. Aschenputtel’s mothers word to be pious and good leads to her good fortune and pushes her to be obedient; resulting in the happy marriage with the prince.
Okonkwo, from Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, was a highly respected, honorable man with many titles from Umofia. Driven by the unsuccessful reputation of his father, Okonkwo came to be one of the greatest men in his tribe and was a man of power and authority “Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements” (Achebe, 3). The oracle in Umofia which provides supernatural insight to the future of the tribe orders that Ikemefuna, who called Okonkwo “father”, be sacrificed due to a woman being killed. Okonkwo was warned to not intervene in Ikemefuna’s death due to the sensitivity of him calling him “father”, but as Ikemefuna was struck once, Okonkwo ultimately killed Ikemefuna, in fear of looking weak. One of Okonkwo’s major aspects as a character was the way he sets himself to be completely different from his father who was thought to be weak or not manly enough, resulting in Okonkwo killing Ikemefuna to show that he is a man and not like his father; despite others counselling him to not intervene in the death of Ikemefuna. As a result of Ikemefuna’s death, both Okonkwo and his son Nwoye were traumatized. Okonkwo was fond of Ikemefuna as he taught Nwoye more manly mannerisms and his death led to a period of depression. After finding out about the death of Ikemefuna, Nwoye recalls the feeling that he experienced when he heard a baby crying in the forest — a tragic reminder to him of the custom of leaving twins in the forest to die. Due to Okonkwo’s fear in resembling the weakness of his father, Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna despite the input of others and falls into a depression.
However, fate is shown as Okonkwo comes back to Umofia from his exile—he meets the white men and District Commissioner who have intentions to civilize Okonkwo and his tribal people which he has no power over. As the district commissioner tries to bring peace, Christianity, and civilization to the Igbo people, they had systematically destroyed many aspects of Igbo life, “They have broken the clan… we who are here this morning have remained true to our fathers, but our brothers have deserted us” (Achebe, 203). While doing so, Okonkwo cannot stop the changes happening in his tribe and cannot get men to fight against these changes. As it is not in Okonkwo’s power or control to stop the white men, it is fate they had come to his village. Okonkwo cannot cope with the changes and destruction of his culture, and the way for him to take authority again, is in the ending of his own life. Despite it being fate that the white men had come to Umofia, it ultimately led to the downfall of Okonkwo taking action and dishonorably committing suicide.
Many ponder what determines the course of our lives. Are our own decisions or actions truly in control of our lives, or is it fate? Through an analysis of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and Aschenputtel by the Grimm Brothers it is argued that the circumstances of the protagonists are caused by their actions, rather than their fate. Aschenputtel’s actions of obedience ultimately led to the unexpected marriage with the prince. Okonkwo’s accountability for Ikemefuna’s death lead to the notorious reputation seen by Nwoye. Although the arrival of the white men in Umofia was a result of fate, the circumstances of Okonkwo’s suicide was done under his own actions. We will never truly know our future and whether or not fate or action is the true determiner of our lives. People acknowledge fate as something uncontrollable by an individual where if our lives are determined by our actions, we are in control. Achebe and the Grimm Brothers stories follow the protagonists as their actions are held responsible for their lives.