Compare and contrast Okonkwo and his father in Things Fall Apart.

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Okonkwo and his father Unoka have very little in common.  Although both are tall men, Unoka walks with a stoop, burdened by the scorn of his tribe.  The Igbo people value power and ferocity in their men, and Unoka is not like that.  Sensitive by nature, he appreciates music, children, and the beauty of nature.  Unoka is happiest when he is playing his flute and drinking palm wine, enjoying the company of his neighbors.  He abhors warfare and is sickened by violence, and is totally lacking in ambition.  Preferring to spend his days fellowshipping and making music, he neglects his crops and must borrow to feed his family.  Unoka is considered weak by his tribe, and is scorned for his lack of perceived "manly" qualities.

Okonkwo is the opposite of his father.  His very appearance communicates a sense of ferocity and barely contained fury.  He is tightly wound and has a fiery temper, and rules his family with an iron hand.  Okonkwo has distinguished himself on the field of battle, and is considered by his tribe to be the "greatest warrior alive".  An extremely proud man, he constantly strives to demonstrate his power and manhood, both in tests of strength among his own people and against his enemies in combat.

Ironically, despite his dominant demeanor, Okonkwo is more emotionaly fragile than his father.  The younger man lives in perpetual fear that he has somewhere within himself the traits he so hates in his progenitor, and his lust for manly achievement reflects his inner terror that he might, in reality, have inherited his father's weaknesses.  Thus, Okonkwo overcompensates to the point that he becomes less than complete.  Hating idleness and sensitivity of any sort, he never allows himself to show love or compassion towards anyone, not even to those family members closest to him, and he cannot tolerate these traits in others either.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Okonkwo and his father Unoka have opposite personalities that contrast greatly throughout the novel. Unoka is considered a weak, poor man who is unable to pay people back for the money he has borrowed. Unoka also has a terrible work ethic and possesses no titles. Unlike Okonkwo, Unoka hates violence and prefers playing his flute. Okonkwo resents his lazy father and is determined to become one of the greatest men in Umuofia. Okonkwo is an athletic, violent, and determined individual who earns titles and marries multiple wives. Okonkwo even earns enough status to become an egwugwu and judges various cases throughout his tribe. He is also a successful, hard-working farmer and is considered one of Umuofia's best warriors. However, Okonkwo's fear of becoming weak and in debt like his father makes him a callous man. Okonkwo does not possess sympathy or the ability to effectively communicate with others. His cold heart, excessive masculinity, and propensity for violence leads to his demise.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Unoka, Okonkwo's father who died ten years before the action in the novel takes place, was widely regarded as a failure, unlike the materially successful Okonkwo. Unoka was known for spending whatever money he had on gourds of palm wine that he shared with his neighbors. His basic idea in life was to make merry before he died, and he often was in debt to his neighbors. He was poor, and his family frequently went hungry. His happiest times were spent playing the flute, and he was known as a coward who abhorred violence. 

Okonkwo is ashamed of his father and tries to be everything his father was not. He is a wrestler who has acquired fame for his fighting prowess, and he is a highly successful farmer with two barns full of yams and three wives. He has also fought in two inter-tribal wars and is always willing to resort to using his fists. He is respected by elders and kings, and he considers himself their equal. While Unoka was a dream, Okonkwo is a man of action and worldly success.