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Chinua Achebe's novel, A Man of the People focuses on Odili, a teacher (who took the job when he refused a government job and all the "politics" that went with it). He is the lead male character and also narrates the story—a typical young man who still has a great deal to learn about life and himself. He is naive (at first taken in by Nanga, a corrupt man), but is also egotistical and "self-congratulatory." Here is a person who speaks first and thinks later.
Odili is not fond of his father as the story begins. With five wives and thirty-five (wow!) children, the elderly man only has a government pension, and with so little, is unable to support his younger wives and their children. As he gets to know his father better, however, Odili's opinion of his father changes. Later, by comparing his father with Nanga, Odili realizes his father is a man of integrity.
Another character in the story is Chief Nanga (a tyrant)—he is a man who seems to do whatever he wants: one of those things is seducing Odili's girlfriend, Elsie (a nurse). More distressing than Nanga's behavior with Elsie is Odili's realization that there is nothing he can do about it. Nanga is the "bad guy" in the story—his charm is easily discernible by the reader. He is good at making people believe the best of him, regardless of the immoral behavior he engages in. He is a force to be reckoned with.
Dogo is Nanga's one-eyed assistant. Simon Koko is also in league with Nanga. He can be extremely fearful, and perhaps even foolish—as seen when he thinks his coffee has been poisoned. (Actually, they have just switched coffee brands.)
In terms of women, Odili is a chauvinist. When looking at Nanga's wife, Odili has a hard time reconciling her beauty with her intelligence: as if a female cannot be both (in his mind). Edna, not very sophisticated, but an extremely intelligent woman, is another character, and she is sharp enough to avoid being seduced by Nanga. She nurses Odili back to health when he is beaten up at the end of the story. One more very strong woman in the story is Eunice—a lawyer and Max's wife. Eunice is strong and brave—it is she who kills Koko after Max is murdered
Another character is Odili's friend Max. Max is generally has more self-control than Odili; he is more mature and "committed to political action," where Odili tries to avoid politics. Max acts as a foil for our main character: by studying Max the reader can gain a clearer understanding of Odili. While Max is generally a wise and moral person, he takes a bribe (which deeply worries Odili, showing that he does have a "moral compass"). Max is eventually assassinated as he attempts to keep local politics "clean."
Achebe is able to weave his story with colorful characters that surround Odili as he changes through the course of the book, even developing a more positive relationship with his father. Odili learns to see the world and the people around him differently. He matures through the course of the story, becoming a better man in the process. For example, while he realizes that Nanga is deposed not because he was morally corrupt, but because the people wanted power for their children, there is a sense of hope at the end when Odili marries Edna, that people can "oppose tyrants," and the once politically-isolated Odili might be helpful in this regard.
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