The Characters (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Unlike his great-grandfather, the Okonkwo of Things Fall Apart, Obi is a passive man. Whereas Okonkwo aggressively struggled to make his way in the world and impose his will upon it, Obi is indecisive, unable to free himself from the conflicting influences of the people and events around him.
To a large extent, this passivity is a result of Obi’s alienation. He has been shaped by the traditional Igbo culture of Umuofia, the Christianity of his father, the idealism of English literature, and the corrupt sophistication of Lagos, but he is at ease nowhere. As a child in Umuofia, he dreams of the sparkling lights of Lagos. In England, he writes pastoral visions of an idealized Nigeria. Disillusioned by the corruption of Lagos, he returns to his home village only to witness a lorry driver attempting to bribe a policeman and to be greeted by his parents’ rejection of his proposed marriage. Obi naively tries to maintain the idea of his own integrity as a detribalized, rational, thoroughly modern man, but his reintegration into Nigeria is a failure, because he is unable to assimilate successfully any of the competing cultures through which he passes. He finds it impossible to mediate the conflicting duties that are thrust upon him, and his steady progress in the novel is toward despair and withdrawal.
Obi’s paralyzing cultural ambivalence leaves him hanging between the traditional Igbo acceptance of communal needs and the European...
(The entire section is 404 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Michael Obiajulu (Obi) Okonkwo
Michael Obiajulu (Obi) Okonkwo (oh-bee-ah-JEW-lew oh-KOHN-kwoh), a twenty-five-year-old Nigerian civil servant. A brilliant student, Obi received the first scholarship loan given by the Umuofia Progressive Union (UPU), whose members taxed themselves harshly to provide someone from their native village with an English education. He has graduated with honors but is less than successful in meeting expectations when he returns from London. His mission background and European values make him an alien in his own land. Naïve and idealistic, he is disillusioned by the contrast between corrupt Lagos and the idyllic Nigeria about which he wrote poetry in England. The UPU is equally disappointed in Obi. He lacks the superficial characteristics that they consider to be byproducts of an education. In addition, Obi is self-willed. At school, he studied English, not law. Now he wishes to take an unsuitable wife. Although he immediately gets a job, Obi finds the demands of its accompanying lifestyle difficult to meet. He dutifully wishes to give financial help to his family, and he must also repay his loan. He anticipates no problems in remaining aloof from the bribery practices so prevalent in public office. When he succumbs, it is less from greed than from passive acceptance of a system that he no longer has the strength or will to challenge.
(The entire section is 779 words.)