Okonkwo gets all the attention. He’s the novels protagonist and a respected clan member in Umuofia. He gains notoriety at a young age after defeating the Cat at a wrestling match.
He is wealthy and driven to succeed, unlike his father, Ukona, who is lazy and irresponsible. Despite his success, Okonkwo brings much hardship on himself and his family through irrational temper tantrums and ill-advised actions. Okonkwo’s fall is brought on by his core beliefs that manliness is displayed through violence and domination.
Nwoye is the foil to Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart. He prefers his mother’s stories over his father’s, prefers Christianity to the tribe’s customs, and despises his father for the death of Ikemefuna. Okonkwo considers his oldest son effeminate and weak, and beats him frequently to make him tough.
Ezinma is the only child of Okonkwo’s second wife, Ekwifi, and Okonkwo’s favorite. Okonkwo fears displaying his love for Ezinma, it being a sign of weakness. He does, however, show his human side by waiting for her outside Agbala’s cave and making medicine when she is sick.
Okonkwo Exposed: Character Analysis
It’s important not to judge Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart through a modern day cultural lens. Okonkwo’s family, however, is dysfunctional even by Ibo standards. His dad’s a deadbeat. He’s overly abusive and hypercritical, thinks showing love is a sign of weakness, kills his stepson (although his death was ordered by the tribe, he did not have to take part in it), and acts rashly.
His ability to chop heads off with a machete is impressive but he needs to work on gun maintenance. If only he had been born a hundred years later, he could have been the most popular professional wrestler ever.
Although Okonkwo’s family and Okonkwo get most of the attention, other characters in Things Fall Apart play an important role.
Mr. Brown is the first white missionary at Umuofia. He shows respect for the tribe’s beliefs and adopts a policy of tolerance and non-aggression in order to win converts, even becoming friends with clan leaders. Mr. Brown builds a church, a hospital, and a school near the village.
The Reverend James Smith replaces Mr. Brown and adopts a policy of intolerance. He encourages aggressive actions against the clan and its traditions. Mr. Smith is a stereotypical colonialist.
Uchendu welcomes Okonkwo and his family after their exile from Umuofia. Uchendu encourages Okonkwo to respect the land of his mother by accepting his fate and living cheerily. He recognizes Okonkwo’s impetuousness and fears the consequences.
Obierika delivers news of the missionaries to Okonkwo while in exile and helps out his friend by selling his yams. Obierika questions some of the tribe’s traditions yet remains loyal to them Enoch, an overzealous Christian convert, unmasks an egwuwu. In retaliation the villagers burn down his house and the church.
The District Commissioner is the top colonial authority in the region. He tricks Okonkwo and other clan leaders and imprisons them. He’s the embodiment of colonial racism.
- Public Domain Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
- Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books. 1959.
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