Describe the character Unoka in Things Fall Apart and how his attitude influenced Okonkwo's life.

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The text describes Unoka as lazy and improvident and says that he lacked the ability to plan ahead. He was a prodigal and spent whatever money he (seldom) had on buying wine and having parties. He was always in debt and owed money to every one of his neighbors.

Physically, he was a tall, thin man with a slight stoop. We learn that he presented an unhealthy image and always looked sorrowful, except, of course, when he was drinking or playing his flute. Unoka was a skilled musician and loved playing in a band. He was at his happiest when he and his group were invited to play music in other villages, usually on market days.

Clearly, Unoka loved the good things in life and enjoyed nature. As a young boy he would sing at length to the kite when it returned after its sojourn in another clime. Because he loved all of this so much, he neglected what was important and this made him a failure as an adult. He was poor and could not provide for his family. He was laughed at because he was a loafer and nobody was prepared to lend him money for he never paid his debts. However, he had the charisma to always persuade someone to lend him money, which added to his burden. 

We also read that Unoka was a coward and that he hated the sight of blood. He would always avoid the topic of war. When he died he had taken no title and was heavily in debt. His family obviously had to carry the brunt of the shame that he had brought.

Okonkwo, because of who and what his father had been, lived a life dominated by fear--the fear to fail and of being weak. This fear was deeper and closer to him than any other he may have had. He feared mostly the possibility that he might be found wanting, that it might be said that he resembled his father. It was this fear that drove Okonkwo's entire being. He learnt to hate everything that his father represented, such as idleness and gentleness. 

Okonkwo remembered the hurtful remarks others had made of his father by referring to him as an agbala--a woman--and so he had to constantly prove that he was better than any man. This is why he gained so much respect as a wrestler: he would never give up and would give everything to defeat an opponent. His fame, in this regard, spread far and wide. He was a respected warrior and was always called upon to intervene in disputes between villages. This was part of the reason why he was also asked to take care of the boy, Ikemefuna, who had been given to his village in recompense for a crime that Ikemefuna's village had committed.

His own homestead was an epitome of hard work and prosperity. Okonkwo made sure that he worked long hours to ensure great harvests from his crops. He could maintain three wives as a result and provide for his family. His property was well developed and maintained and catered for every need of his and his extended family of eight children.

As far as discipline went, Okonkwo expected the best from his family. He imposed authoritarian rule on them and was sanctioned, for example, when he beat his youngest wife during the Week of Peace for neglecting her chores. He was especially harsh with his son, Nwoye, who he feared displayed too many of his own father's despicable traits. It was this that turned his eldest son into a sad-looking youth (ironically, much like his grandfather had been).

Okonkwo's harsh and uncompromising attitude was reflected in his regard for other men who he deemed weak. He was seen as arrogant in this regard for he could not stand seeing ineptitude in other men. It is also his fear of seeming weak that drove him to kill Ikemefuna, the boy in his care, when it was decided that he should be executed. This act widened the gap between himself and Nwoye, who came to love Ikemefuna as a brother and guide. Nwoye later relinquished his culture and turned to Christianity.

It was his great fear that also made Okonkwo take a stand against the colonialists and their religion and resulted in him killing one of their messengers. Ultimately, Okonkwo, in a supreme act of defiance, performed what was deemed in his culture as taboo. He took his own life rather than submit to the punishment of the imperialists.

MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Unoka is Okonkwo's father, and he serves as the guiding force for Okonkwo's life, in that Okonkwo is determined to never resemble him. Unoka possesses everything that Okonkwo hates-gentleness, lack of ambition, and sensitivity to people and nature. Unoka is also a gifted musician who loves fellowship, the change of the seasons, and children. Although Unoka is tall, his stooped posture bears the weight of the tribe's scorn. While the the tribe rejects him as well, it is more due to his perceived laziness and inability to carry through, than his sensitive nature. When he borrows money, he does not pay it back. He does not plant crops, leaving Okonkwo to take care of the entire family. These traits influence Okonkwo to entirely abandon his feminine side and live the other extreme, as a brutal, abusive tyrant.

Unoka is truly happy only when making music on his flute, or when drinking palm wine. This could be a result of his status within the tribe-his isolation leading him to drink. Tribal customs hold no interest for him, since he hates war and is sickened by the sight of blood. thus he carries no souvenirs of his battles: he has had none. He dies in disgrace, fittingly by a disease that denies him burial, and forces his body to be left in the Evil Forest. This ultimate shame drives Okonkwo to overcompensate for his father's weaknesses.