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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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Describe the character traits of Okonkwo, Nwoye, Obierika. 

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Okonkwo: Okonkwo is an ambitious, tenacious, and flamboyant man. He revels in brute strength and is focused on projecting an image of male virility. Okonkwo is most afraid of mediocrity and poverty. To that end, he has worked tirelessly to avoid the scandal of failure in his life. Because of Okonkwo's accomplishments and reputation, he is chosen as an emissary to carry a message of war to Umuofia's enemies. Rather than fight against a ferocious warrior like Okonkwo, the village of Mbaino decides to offer up a virgin and a young boy (Ikemefuna) as peace offerings to Umuofia.

In the story, Okonkwo is inwardly very fond of Ikemefuna. However, Okonkwo is never openly affectionate, behavior he considers the very height of effeminacy. We can see that Okonkwo is obsessed with outward appearances. His fixation eventually leads to his rejection of Ikemefuna at the moment the boy most needs him. In fact, Okonkwo is the one who inflicts the killing wound on the defenseless Ikemefuna. Later, Okonkwo's unyielding pride leads him to commit suicide after his fellow villagers refuse to join him in an uprising against the white occupiers.

Nwoye: Nwoye is the total opposite of Okonkwo. He is gentle, compassionate, and solicitous of others. Nwoye's mild manner irritates his father (Okonkwo), and he receives many beatings for it. Nwoye's mild manner is interpreted as a sign of effeminacy, and he suffers self-esteem issues growing up under Okonkwo's ferocious tutelage. Yet, Nwoye flourishes in his friendship with Ikemefuna. He is accepting of others in ways Okonkwo is not. To placate his father, Nwoye wears a facade in Okonkwo's presence: he pretends to enjoy Okonkwo's bloody war stories so that Okonkwo will cease tormenting him. In private, Nwoye still cherishes his mother's stories from long ago.

Obierika: Obierika is Okonkwo's friend. He is wise, tolerant, and loyal. It is Obierika who warns Okonkwo against participating in Ikemefuna's killing. Later, when Okonkwo is exiled, it is Obierika who visits his beleaguered kinsman. Above all, Obierika is a practical man. When Okonkwo asks him why the people of Abame did not drive the white occupiers from their land, Obierika answers: "Our own men and our sons have joined the ranks of the stranger. They have joined his religion and they help to uphold his government." Obierika is a man who thinks carefully before he acts; he is prudent, perceptive, and vigilant.

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Okonkwo is an insensitive, powerful individual who is attracted to violence. He is also a proud man who values titles and prestige throughout his tribe. Despite Okonkwo's achievements, he is ignorant and continually loses his temper. Okonkwo's anger stems from his insecurity. Okonkwo fears becoming like his father and deliberately represses his emotions in order to appear masculine. Okonkwo thrives off of emotion and struggles to communicate with others. His quick temper and stubbornness result in his downfall.

Nwoye is Okonkwo’s naive son. Throughout the novel, Nwoye does not understand Umuofia's culture and is confused about the fate of the twins and death of Ikemefuna. He is also sensitive and does not share Okonkwo's affinity for violence. Unlike Okonkwo, Nwoye is sympathetic and gentle. Nwoye eventually decides to join the Christian church in order to find a peaceful, structured life.

Obierika is Okonkwo's trustworthy, reasonable friend. Unlike Okonkwo, Obierika is thoughtful and intelligent. He is also compassionate and selfless. He tries his best to help his family, Okonkwo, and his tribe throughout the novel. Obierika gives Okonkwo advice and shares his wisdom, but Okonkwo rarely listens to him.

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